Sunflower seeds boast lots of potential health benefits, including fight inflammation, improve heart health, support the immune system…
When you think of sunflower seeds, you might think of baseball games when players are eating sunflower seeds by the handful. You crack open the hard exterior and enjoy the small seed. You can also turn them into delicious snacks using other ingredients to make something filling and healthy. Or, you can just pop them in your mouth!
Although seeds are known to have some healing powers, it’s important you know which ones to grab off the shelves. Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND award-winning nutrition expert, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Diabetes Create Your Plate Meal Prep Cookbook breaks down the health benefits of eating sunflower seeds.
1. Sunflower seed nutrition facts
Sunflower seeds come from the sunflower plant (Helianthus annuus). While whole sunflower seeds can be consumed, many people prefer to eat just the kernel—or the “meat” of the seed. On the outside of the kernel is a fibrous hull that can be difficult to digest.
Sunflower seeds are a lower carbohydrate food and rich in vitamins, minerals and better-for-you fats. Since they’re available year-round, they make a healthy snack and are great additions to salads and other simple dishes.
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1/4 cup (34g) of dry roasted sunflower seed kernels without salt.
Carbs: One-fourth of a cup of of sunflower seed kernels contains about 207 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrate. About half of the carbs come from fiber (nearly 4 grams) and the rest is starch.
Since there is little to no sugar in sunflower seeds, they are considered to be a low-glycemic food. The estimated glycemic load of a single serving of sunflower seed kernels is 0.
Fats: Most of the calories in sunflower seeds come from fat. You’ll get just over 19 grams of fat in a single 1/4 cup serving. However, most of it is better-for-you fat, a mix of polyunsaturated fat (12.6g) and monounsaturated fat (3.6g). There are about 2 grams of saturated fat in a serving of sunflower seed kernels.
Protein: You’ll get almost 6 grams of protein in a 1/4 cup serving of sunflower seeds.
Vitamins and Minerals: Sunflower seeds are a vitamin and mineral powerhouse. They are an excellent source of vitamin E, providing about 7.4mg or just under 50% of the daily value set by the FDA. They are also a good source of thiamin, and other nutrients in smaller quantities such as niacin, vitamin B6, and folate.
Minerals in sunflower seeds include copper (68% of your daily intake), magnesium (10%), phosphorous (31%), manganese (31%) and selenium (35%) and smaller amounts of zinc, iron, and potassium.
2. Health benefits of eating sunflower seeds, Says Dietitian
According to Amidor, sunflower seeds provide both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Per one ounce of sunflower seeds, you’ll find about three grams and nine grams of each.
Having a healthy dose of mono- and polyunsaturated fats in your diet may help lower inflammation. “Unsaturated fats have been shown to help decrease inflammation,” says Amidor.
You may go over your daily sodium recommendation
“Choosing salted sunflower seeds can certainly send your daily recommended amount of sodium through the roof,” says Amidor.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend choosing nuts and seeds that have no sodium.
An example Amidor provides is with one serving of David’s Original Sunflower Seeds. These seeds contain 123% of your daily recommended amount or 2,820 milligrams of sodium.
“The recommended daily maximum per the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines is 2,300! If you choose to have sunflower seeds opt for no added salt varieties,” suggests Amidor.
Improve heart health
“A study published in the journal Circulation found that participants who ate more seeds, including sunflower seeds, were associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and CVD risk factors including high cholesterol,” explains Amidor.
Similarly, sunflower seeds can help lower blood pressure. If your blood pressure is too high, it can damage the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. This may potentially cause a heart attack or heart failure if worked too hard.
Control blood sugar in people with diabetes
According to the Cureus Journal of Medical Science, sunflower seeds contain chlorogenic acid, which studies have shown to lower blood sugar. Other studies have also suggested that sunflower seeds provided better glycemic control, meaning these seeds have anti-diabetic properties.
“A study published in the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research looked at the effects of sunflower seed consumption on blood sugar levels in people with diabetes,” explains Amidor.
Therefore, this study suggested that those taking sunflower seeds showed a positive and faster decrease in their fasting blood sugar levels compared to those who were in the control group.
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.
Supports healthy digestion
Foods with fiber help you to maintain a healthy digestive system. Fiber is the indigestible part of a carbohydrate. It helps to regulate bowels by regulating food ingestion, digestion, absorption, and metabolism.3 Some fibers are fermentable and provide a healthy bacteria environment for your large intestines.
The kernel of a sunflower seed provides some fiber, but if you eat the whole seed, you can benefit from more as the hull is almost entirely fiber.
The sunflower kernel provides fiber that may provide a ease your stools to prevent constipation. For some people, this may be a health benefit. Studies have also shown that improving your dietary fiber intake can increase stool frequency in people with constipation. But authors of one study noted that it does not necessarily improve stool consistency, decrease laxative use, or ease painful defecation.