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7 Benefits That Make Sunflower Seeds A Healthy Snack

Medically reviewed by Sarah Spann, Adv Dip (Nut Med), mATMS
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7 Benefits That Make Sunflower Seeds A Healthy Snack Hyderabd040-395603080 June 24, 2019

The sunflower plant is fascinating in many ways. True to its name, it follows the movement of the sun (a phenomenon called heliotropism). Its flower is an aesthetic asset. Moreover, sunflower seeds are milled to produce edible oils. However, the trivia doesn’t end here. Did you know you can eat sunflower seeds too?

Research has shown that sunflower seeds are a great source of vitamin E. They have almost zero cholesterol! Binging on them can be great for your skin, heart, liver, and overall health.

Want to know the science behind these benefits? Keep scrolling!

Sunflower Seeds: What, Why, And Where?

The gorgeous, bright, and summery sunflowers (Helianthus annuus and other species) are the origin of sunflower seeds. They are popular among the avian (birds and air-borne animals) community and are gaining popularity with health freaks too.

The back of the heads of mature sunflowers turn dry and brown, and the yellow petals wither and fall off. This is when the seeds become plump, which is the best time to harvest them (1).

Sunflower seeds are quite versatile. You can eat them raw and whole. The kernels can be eaten raw after hulling the outer shells. You can also roast and have them salted or plain. Hulled, raw, or roasted sunflower seeds are commonly used in baking too (1).

Sunflower seeds are reservoirs of essential fats, protein, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, iron, folate, and vitamins A, E, and B (2). That is why they are used in cooking.

The best thing about sunflower seeds? They have no cholesterol! They contain several critical precursors (phytosterols) for the production of hormones in your body (2).

No wonder sunflower seeds are touted to be an ideal keto-friendly snack! Eating them in fixed amounts can benefit your health in many ways. Check out the next section to find out more.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Sunflower Seeds?

Thanks to their nutritional value, sunflower seeds offer a range of health benefits. They may aid healthy weight loss and maintain hormonal balance in women and men. These seeds can also protect you from cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorder.

1. Lowers Blood Cholesterol Levels

Sunflower seeds can influence the metabolism and accumulation process as they are rich in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Saturated fats are found in butter, margarine, lard, and shortening. When you replace saturated fats with unsaturated ones, your cholesterol levels may fall (3).

Sunflower seeds may lower bad cholesterol (LDL) in serum. You also feel a sense of satiety when you eat them. This is because they are high in calories. Eating sunflower seeds can fill you up, so you don’t binge on high-cholesterol foods (3).

Also, a drop in cholesterol levels is good news for your heart!

2. Maintains Cardiovascular Health

Sunflower seeds may help in controlling your blood cholesterol levels. Low cholesterol level means a low risk of atherosclerosis and other heart diseases. Sunflower seeds also exhibit anti-hypertensive effects.

These seeds contain specific proteins, vitamin E, and phytochemicals like helianthin that scavenge free radicals in your blood. The proteins found in them (like pepsin and pancreatin) also block angiotensin-I converting enzyme (ACE). This is a vasoconstrictor, which means it narrows the blood vessels, thus increasing blood pressure (4), (5).

Consuming foods that have ACE-inhibitors can be beneficial in heart conditions like hypertension, ischemic attacks, and arrhythmia (5).

3. Exhibits Anti-inflammatory Properties

Sunflower and its oil and seeds are known for their anti-inflammatory effects as they contain active tocopherols (vitamin E), linoleic acid, linolenic acid, triterpenes, and miscellaneous polyphenolic compounds (4).

The flower, seeds, and seed oil may have a positive effect on inflammatory disorders as well. These include diabetes, arthritis, memory loss, gout, and cirrhosis (6), (7).

High sugar levels can trigger inflammation. Fortunately, sunflower seeds have plenty of dietary fiber that slows down the nutrient absorption from food and prevents sugar spikes after a meal (8).

Does that mean sunflower seeds have a low glycemic index (GI)? Let’s find out.

4. Good Snack For Those With Diabetes

Many healthcare providers suggest that diabetes can be controlled by eating the right foods. Eating high sugar, high-carb foods can cause undesirable sugar spikes in your blood. This worsens the condition if you are already dealing with diabetes (9).

Snacking on low cholesterol and low GI foods like sunflower seeds can help you manage your diabetes. Sunflower seeds have a low glycemic index of about 20. Eating them and pumpkin seeds can prevent your blood sugar levels from shooting up (hyperglycemia) (9).

The unsaturated fatty acids and polyphenolic compounds in sunflower seeds also have anti-diabetic effects. By controlling your sugar levels, you indirectly protect your liver, pancreas, and other vital organs as well (10).

5. Eases Constipation and Diarrhea

High fiber foods like sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, soy nuts, and other nuts/seeds work as laxatives to help ease constipation (11).

You can eat them by themselves or add them to smoothies, breakfast cereals, or yogurt. But, make sure you take just 20-35 g of these nuts and seeds per day. Too much or too less of fiber in the form of these seeds could worsen constipation or diarrhea.

The anti-inflammatory property of sunflower seeds can relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But, be mindful of drinking water along with them. Without water, the seed fiber can do more harm than good (12).

6. Regulates Estrogen Imbalances

Sunflower seeds are one of the richest sources of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant-based metabolites. These phytochemicals are structurally and functionally similar to hormones, especially estrogen and testosterone (13).

Studies reveal that phytoestrogens, lignans, and isoflavones have several beneficial properties that can help prevent breast cancer, prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and various postmenopausal disorders (13), (14).

These plant precursors also bind to estrogen receptors in your body and may positively affect the functioning of the brain, bone, liver, heart, and reproduction (13).

But, this property of phytoestrogens is highly debated and not a lot of researchers endorse these positive effects.

7. Might Possess Antimicrobial Property

Researchers claim that sunflower seed extract demonstrates antibacterial and antifungal properties.

These seeds can inhibit the growth of certain species of bacteria, like Salmonella typhi, Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, and Vibrio cholera. When it comes to fungi, these seeds might inhibit Aspergillus fumigates, Rhizopus stolonifer, Candida albicans, and Fusarium oxysporum (4).

The tannins, alkaloids, and saponins in sunflower seeds interfere with the cell cycle and protein synthesis, thus killing the bacterial and fungal pathogens (4).

Barring a few hiccups (which we will discuss later), sunflower seeds are a filling, healthy, and tasty snack. These seeds can be eaten by young and old, whether you have diabetes or are battling cancer.

What makes these seeds so wholesome and digestive? Their nutritional profile.

They are well-balanced in terms of nutrient distribution. Find out more below!

Nutritional Profile Of Sunflower Seeds

NutrientUnit1 cup, with hulls, edible yield 46 g
Waterg2.18
Energykcal269
EnergykJ1125
Proteing9.56
Total lipid (fat)g23.67
Ashg1.39
Carbohydrate, by differenceg9.20
Fiber, total dietaryg4.0
Sugars, totalg1.21
Sucrose>g1.15
Minerals
Calcium, Camg36
Iron, Femg2.42
Magnesium, Mgmg150
Phosphorus, Pmg304
Potassium, Kmg297
Sodium, Namg4
Zinc, Znmg2.30
Copper, Cumg0.828
Manganese, Mnmg0.897
Selenium, Seµg24.4
Vitamins
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg0.6
Thiaminmg0.681
Riboflavinmg0.163
Niacinmg3.834
Pantothenic acidmg0.520
Vitamin B-6mg0.619
Folate, totalµg104
Folate, foodµg104
Folate, DFEµg104
Choline, totalmg25.3
Betainemg16.3
Vitamin A, RAEµg1
Carotene, betaµg14
Vitamin A, IUIU23
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg16.18
Tocopherol, betamg0.54
Tocopherol, gammamg0.17
Tocopherol, deltamg0.01
Lipids
Fatty acids, total saturatedg2.049
14:0g0.012
16:0g1.017
17:0g0.009
18:0g0.777
20:0g0.053
22:0g0.147
24:0g0.034
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg8.523
16:1 undifferentiatedg0.009
17:1g0.007
18:1 undifferentiatedg8.455
20:1g0.039
22:1 undifferentiatedg0.013
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg10.643
18:2 undifferentiatedg10.603
18:3 undifferentiatedg0.028
18:4g0.006
20:5 n-3 (EPA)g0.006
Phytosterolsmg246

Sunflower seeds are composed of 20% protein, 35-42% oil, and 31% unsaturated fatty acids. They have abundant linoleic acid, oleic acid, dietary fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin E, and folate (4).

These seeds are also rich in active biochemicals. They contain flavonoids like heliannone, quercetin, kaempferol, luteolin, and apigenin, along with phenolic acid and trace elements. (4).

Phenolic acids like caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, caffeoylquinic acid, gallic acid, protocatechuic, coumaric, ferulic acid, and sinapic acids are also identified in sunflower seeds (4).

Alpha, beta, and gamma tocopherols are present in this plant’s tissues. They also possess alkaloids, tannins, saponins, terpenes, and steroids. This is why sunflower seeds have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects.

You can have this power-packed and nutritious snack in a hundred different ways! Here are a few quick ways you can check out.

How To Eat Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are truly versatile. You can eat them raw, dry roasted, or fried in butter. It is easy to hull them too.

Hulled raw sunflower seeds can be used in muffins, cookies, bread, and homemade granola and sprinkled on salads and cereal.

How To Hull Sunflower Seeds

  • To hull dried sunflower seeds, break them up with a rolling pin, hammer, or food chopper.
  • Drop the seeds and hulls into a large colander of water and stir vigorously.
  • The kernels will sink to the bottom, and the shells will float at the top, making them easy to separate.
  • Sun-dry the kernels before roasting or storing them.

 

I tried making a loaf of gluten-free bread with sunflower seeds. And guess what?

It turned out to be DELICIOUS!

Here’s the recipe.

Mixed-Seed Gluten-Free Bread Loaf

Mixed Seed Gluten Free Bread Loaf Pinit

Shutterstock

What You Need
  • Gluten-free flour (a blend of rice, potato, and tapioca flours, and xanthan gum): ~ 450 g (1 lb)
  • Salt: 1 teaspoon
  • Caster sugar: 2 tablespoons
  • Yeast (fast-action): 2 teaspoons
  • Full-fat milk: 310 ml (10 fl oz)
  • Cider vinegar: 1 teaspoon
  • Vegetable oil: 6 tablespoons (plus extra for greasing the tray)
  • Eggs: 3
  • Mixed seeds (such as sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds): 4-5 tablespoons
Let’s Make It!
  1. Grease and line a loaf tin (about 900 g/2 lb capacity). Set it aside.
  2. Pour the flour into a food mixer or processor with the balloon whisk attachment.
  3. Add the salt, sugar, and yeast one after the other.
  4. In a jug, whisk the milk, vinegar, oil, and two eggs together.
  5. Pour the egg mix into the mixing bowl.
  6. Add 4 tablespoons of mixed seeds.
  7. Switch on the mixer and whisk the ingredients for about 3-4 minutes.
  8. Transfer the batter to the greased tin.
  9. Cover the tin with cling film (preferably oiled) and leave it to ferment for about an hour or until doubled in size.
  10. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C or 350°F or Gas 4.
  11. Bake for about 35-45 minutes. Cover the tin with foil after the first 10 minutes.
  12. About 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, beat another egg in a bowl. Brush the loaf with this egg wash and sprinkle the seeds on top of the loaf. (You can skip the egg wash step and only sprinkle seeds if you don’t like the raw eggy flavor.)
  13. Remove the tray from the oven and leave it to cool on a wire rack.
  14. Slice the loaf into thin pieces
  15. Enjoy it with fresh cranberry jam dip or aged cheese on the side.

via GIPHY

The next question that might occur to you is, “Will something go wrong because I ate too many sunflower seeds?”

Read the next section to find out the side effects of binging on sunflower seeds.

What Are The Side Effects/Risks Of Sunflower Seeds?

  • May Cause Severe Constipation And Diarrhea

There have been cases of severe constipation and diarrhea in children who reportedly consumed unshelled sunflower seeds. Eating unshelled sunflower seeds can cause impaction (a condition in which the stool gets stuck and hardened in the rectum), causing a bezoar (15).

Hence, it is risky for both adults and children to eat unshelled sunflower seeds (15).

  • May Cause Allergic Reactions

There are also chances of developing an allergic reaction to sunflower seeds. The sunflower pollen and proteins are known to be potent allergens.

One might develop a skin condition, rashes, swollen tongue and larynx, allergic rhinitis, asthma, bronchitis, conjunctivitis, and/or edema after eating sunflower seeds (16).

If you notice any of these symptoms after eating sunflower seeds, consult a doctor at the earliest.

  • May Worsen Acne

One of the classic side effects of sunflower seeds or oil is worsened acne.

If you already have acne vulgaris, sunflower seeds can aggravate it because these seeds have high-fat content and trigger comedogenic sebum. Such high-lipid sebum can clog the skin pores and worsen acne (17).

On the contrary, the topical application of products with sunflower seed oil or extracts works well as these products show anti-inflammatory effects and heal skin conditions (17).

Further research is needed to determine whether sunflower seeds are helpful or not.

So, what’s the right thing to do? Should you eat or not eat sunflower seeds? Decide after you read the next section!

What’s The ‘Right Way’ To Eat Sunflower Seeds?

Here’s what you need to keep in mind when eating sunflower seeds:

  • According to a health claim for nuts established by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2003, eating 1.5 ounces (42 grams) per day of most nuts may be able to reduce the risk of heart disease. That means, three tablespoons of sunflower seeds each should do the magic!
  • You should balance the consumption of sunflower seeds with other seeds and nuts like cashews, peanuts, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and almonds.
  • Raw sunflower seeds have about 4.4 g of saturated fats (per 100g). Therefore, eating a lot of them might be harmful to your health.

In any case, you should consult a doctor or a nutritionist to determine the right portion size and alternatives for you.

Ever Wondered

How Sunflower Seeds Are Harvested?

This is an interesting procedure!

  • Cut off the entire flower head when you are ready to harvest the seeds.
  • Place it in a net bag or tie a piece of cheesecloth around it.
  • Hang the covered flower upside-down.
  • The flower head should be hung in a warm, dry place with good air circulation for about 3 weeks.
  • The seeds will drop out as they dry.
  • Get the rest of the seeds out of the head by knocking it against a table or counter or by rubbing two heads together gently.
  • Clean the seeds thoroughly before putting them in airtight containers for storage.

 

If you are motivated to try these seeds, you can buy a bag of these from here and snack on them.

You can also buy unshelled ones here and use them as and when needed. We’ve also got some tips to store them safely. Check them out!

How To Store Sunflower Seeds

The best way to store sunflower seeds is in an airtight container or bag in the pantry or any cool, dark place with a constant temperature.
Putting them in a fridge prolongs their shelf life, but make sure to store them in a glass or ceramic container as these seeds easily absorb harmful chemicals from plastic.

And how do you know if they’ve gone bad?

Just smell them!

Usually, sunflower seeds have a good, long shelf life. But when they start smelling rancid, it’s time to throw them out.

The fatty acids in them get oxidized by the oxygen in the air. Eating them at this point can be harmful to your health. So, check the stored containers every once a while.

In Short…

Sunflower seeds are a nutritious snack. They have fair amounts of linoleic, linolenic, and oleic acids. They are also full of tocopherols, tannins, alkaloids, polyphenols, and other active ingredients.

Hence, making them a part of your diet can benefit you in various ways. Add them to your cereal, baked foods, afternoon snack bowl, or meal smoothies. Their nutty flavor and texture will hit you in the right spot.

Try out the recipes we’ve shared here and tell us how you like them. Please send in your feedback, queries, and relevant suggestions using the comments box below.

Here’s to healthy eating!

References

  1. Sunflower seeds are for the birds – and people” MSU Extension, Michigan State University.
  2. Full Report (All Nutrients): 12036…” National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release, United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
  3. Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fat” US FDA.
  4. A review of phytochemistry, metabolite changes, and…” Chemistry Central Journal, US National Library of Medicine.
  5. Why nutritionists are crazy about nuts” Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
  6. Fighting Inflammation with Food” The Whole U, University of Washington.
  7. Anti-Gouty Arthritis and Antihyperuricemia Effects…” BioMed Research International, US National Library of Medicine.
  8. Fight inflammation with food” Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
  9. The importance of snacking when you have diabetes” MSU Extension, Michigan State University.
  10. Pumpkin and Sunflower Seeds Attenuate Hyperglycemia and…” Research Journal of Pharmaceutical, Biological and Chemical Sciences, Academia.
  11. What You Need to Know Constipation” Health Services, University of New Hampshire.
  12. IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME (IBS)” UNIVERSITY STUDENT HEALTH SERVICES, UNIVERSITY STUDENT HEALTH SERVICES, Virginia Commonwealth University.
  13. Lignans” Micronutrient Information Center, Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University.
  14. The association between dietary lignans, phytoestrogen…” Nutrition and cancer, US National Library of Medicine.
  15. [Severe obstipation due to eating unshelled sunflower seeds]” Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde, US National Library of Medicine.
  16. Sunflower seed allergy” International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, US National Library of Medicine.
  17. Sunflower Seed and Acne Vulgaris” Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, US National Library of Medicine.