Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are harvested from the flower head of the sunflower plant. While the seed itself is encased in a black and white striped shell, sunflower seeds are white and have a tender texture. Known for their distinct nutty flavor and high nutritional value, you can eat the seeds raw, roasted, or incorporated into other dishes. 

Health Benefits

Studies link the consumption of sunflower seeds to a number of health benefits, including lowering your risk of developing diseases like high blood pressure or heart disease. They also contain nutrients that can support your immune system and boost your energy levels. 

Here are some of the health benefits of sunflower seeds:

Reducing Inflammation

For those with short-term or chronic inflammation, sunflower seeds can offer anti-inflammatory benefits. Sunflower seeds contain vitamin E, flavonoids, and other plant compounds that can reduce inflammation. A study found that consuming sunflower seeds and other seeds five times or more each week resulted in lower levels of inflammation, which also lowered risk factors for several chronic diseases. 

Improving Heart Health

Sunflower seeds are rich in ‘healthy’ fats, including polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. A three-fourths cup serving of sunflower seeds contains 14 grams of fat. Studies found that consumption of seeds — including sunflower seeds — was linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Supporting the Immune System

Sunflower seeds are a source of many vitamins and minerals that can support your immune system and increase your ability to fight off viruses. These include both zinc and selenium. Zinc plays a vital role in the immune system, helping the body maintain and develop immune cells. Selenium also plays a role in reducing inflammation, fighting infection, and boosting immunity.

Boosting Energy Levels

While the high levels of protein in sunflower seeds already help boost your energy levels, other nutrients like vitamin B and selenium can help keep you energized. The vitamin B1 (also known as thiamin) present in sunflower seeds can help you convert food to energy, which can keep you active throughout the day. Selenium can increase blood flow and deliver more oxygen to your body. 

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Nutrition

Sunflower seeds are high in protein and rich in healthy fats, as well as antioxidants that can lower your risk of developing serious conditions. 

It’s also an excellent source of: 

Nutrients per Serving

According to the USDA, ¼ cup of dry roasted sunflower seeds without salt contains: 

  • Calories: 207
  • Protein: 5.8 grams
  • Fat: 19 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 7 grams
  • Fiber: 3.9 grams

Portion Sizes

While sunflower seeds are rich in nutrients, they’re also relatively high in calories. It’s important to keep servings to a quarter cup at a time. In order to slow the caloric intake while snacking, many eat the seeds in the shell, as it takes time to crack open and spit out each shell. 

However, keep in mind that the shells are often coated in salt — about 70 mg per 1 oz of sunflower seeds. If you’re watching your salt intake, look for unsalted sunflower seeds and moderate your portions. 

How to Eat Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are typically sold inside the shell and are eaten roasted or raw. Eating shelled sunflower seeds requires you to crack them open with your teeth and spit out the shell — which shouldn’t be eaten. 

Using your tongue, position the shell vertically or horizontally between your molars. Crack the shell with your teeth and separate the seed from the shell. Then spit the shell out and eat the seed. 

You can also eat sunflower seeds in a variety of dishes. Here are a few ways you can incorporate them into meals: 

  • Sprinkle on top of a salad
  • Add to trail mix 
  • Stir into oatmeal 
  • Sprinkle over stir fry or mixed vegetables
  • Add to veggie burgers
  • Mix into baked goods 
  • Use sunflower butter in place of peanut butter 
  • Cook with sunflower oil instead of other oils
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 18, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Journal of Epidemiology: "Nut and Seed Consumption and Inflammatory Markers in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis"

Antioxid Redox Signal: "The Role of Selenium in Inflammation and Immunity: From Molecular Mechanisms to Therapeutic Opportunities"

Circulation: "Consumption of Plant Seeds and Cardiovascular Health: Epidemiologic and Clinical Trial Evidence"

National Institute of Health: "Thiamin"

Nutrients: "A Review of Dietary Selenium Intake and Selenium Status in Europe and the Middle East

Mol Med: "Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells"

US Department of Agriculture: "Seeds, sunflower seed kernels, toasted, without salt"

US Department of Agriculture: "Sunflower seeds"

US Department of Agriculture: “Sunflower seeds, plain, salted”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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