Are Sunflower Seeds Good for You?

Snack on Sunflower Seeds
Scientific name: Helianthus annuus

Sunflower seeds Nutrition Facts

Well-loved from birds to baseball players, sunflower seeds are a great snack to munch on, with their irresistible flavor and satisfying crunch. They’re also an excellent ingredient for appetizers, salads, desserts and other dishes.

Aside from their taste and texture, sunflower seeds are notable for their nutritional content. Read on to learn more about the benefits and uses of sunflower seeds, and how you can cook them at home.

What Are Sunflower Seeds?

Sunflower seeds, despite their name, are technically not seeds — they’re actually the fruit of the sunflower plant.1 Known for its vibrant yellow color, a sunflower plant can grow up to 20 feet tall, with a flower head that can reach up to 30 inches in diameter.2

The center of the flower head is studded with tear-shaped “seeds” that come in a black or striped gray-green color.3 The outer part of the sunflower seed is known as the pericarp or hull, whereas the inner part is called the kernel.4 The kernel, which is the edible part of the sunflower seed, has a slightly nutty flavor and a firm, yet tender texture.5

Sunflower seeds are sold raw, dried, roasted or flavored, with or without their hull. The world’s leading producers of sunflower seeds are Russia, Spain, Argentina, France, China and Peru. In the U.S., the states that produce the highest amount of sunflower seeds are North Dakota, Minnesota and California.6

Where Do Sunflower Seeds Come From?

As mentioned above, sunflower seeds come from the center of flower head of a sunflower plant. However, not all sunflower seeds are the same, as they’re categorized according to the sunflower hybrid that they’re harvested from. The two varieties of sunflower hybrids are known as the oilseed type and the non-oilseed type.

Seeds from non-oilseed type are also called confectionery sunflower seeds. They are characterized by their larger size and striped hulls, and are primarily grown for human consumption or used in birdseed mixes.

Alternatively, oilseed type sunflowers produce small solid black seeds that are primarily used to produce vegetable oil. These seeds are also called black oil sunflower seeds. They can be further divided into three categories according to their fatty acid profiles: standards or linoleic, NuSun or mid-oleic, and high oleic.7

Sunflower seeds are harvested once the back of the flower heads turn pale yellow and their edges turn to brown. The seeds, which are initially white, will also darken once they’re ready for harvesting. The buds on each seeds will dry up and fall off as well to expose their full surface. Harvesting sunflower seeds at the right time is important to ensure that they have larger kernels and better nutritional value.8

Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are a rich source of phenolic acids and flavonoids, which contribute to their medicinal properties, including:9

Antioxidant

Antimicrobial

Antidiabetic

Anti-inflammatory

Antihypertensive

Antiviral

They‘re also an excellent source of the following vitamins and minerals:10

  • Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) — Alpha tocopherol may help protect your cells against free radical damage by inhibiting the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). As a result, it lowers your risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, arthritis and cataracts. It may also help inhibit inflammation and promote healthy immune function.11
  • Thiamin — Also known as vitamin B1, thiamine plays a role in energy production, muscle contraction and transmission of nerve signals.12
  • Vitamin B6 — It plays a role in protein metabolism and is involved in more than 100 enzyme reactions in the body.13 It’s also linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, premenstrual syndrome, and morning sickness during pregnancy.14
  • Magnesium — It helps promote brain and heart health, support detoxification, maintain healthy cellular function, and optimize your mitochondria. It may also help slash your risk for heart failure, stroke, diabetes and even all-cause mortality.
  • Selenium — An essential mineral that provides antioxidant, antiviral and anticancer properties, selenium may help reduce your risk of heart disease, asthma and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Other vitamins and minerals in sunflower seeds include niacin, riboflavin, folate, copper, manganese, phosphorus, iron, calcium and zinc.15 They also contain sulfur-rich proteins that may be useful for various human metabiological processes such as insulin production and muscular and skeletal development.16

Do You Know How to Eat Sunflower Seeds?

Sunflower seeds that are sold without shells can be eaten as is, but what about those that still have hulls? While it may be fun to crack the sunflower seeds using your teeth and spit out the hulls, this technique is not suitable if you’re planning to use the kernels for a recipe, and it may damage your teeth over time.17 Here’s how to remove the shells from sunflower seeds the easy way, according to Leaf:18

  • Fill a reusable bag with a half cup of sunflower seeds, making sure they’re in a single layer.
  • Seal the bag and slowly roll a rolling pin over the seeds. Exert a bit of force to crack their hulls.
  • Pour the contents of the bag in a bowl of water to separate the hulls from the kernels. The hulls will float at the surface of the water while the kernels sink to the bottom.
  • Remove the shells from the surface of the water using your hands or using a skimmer or slotted spoon.
  • Drain the water from the bowl and remove the kernels. Once they’ve dried, they’re ready to be eaten or used in cooking.

How to Cook Sunflower Seeds

There are many ways to enjoy sunflower seeds. You can cook them with or without their shell, depending on how you plan to use them in a recipe. Here are some of the cooking methods you can use to incorporate sunflower seeds into your diet.

How to Roast Sunflower Seeds With Shells

Roasting enhances the flavor of sunflower seeds. Here’s the proper way to roast shelled sunflower seeds, according to Simply Recipes:19

Ingredients:

1 cup in-shell sunflower seeds

1 cup water (optional)

2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Rinse the sunflower seeds thoroughly and place them in a medium pot.
  2. Fill the pot with a cup of water and add salt. Bring the water a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let it simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. If you don’t want to flavor your seeds with salt, then you can skip this step and proceed to the next.
  3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Spread the sunflower seeds in a single layer on a baking pan and then place them in the oven. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes.

How to Roast Hulled Sunflower Seeds in a Skillet

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of removing shells from sunflower seeds, you can simply buy hulled seeds and roast them on a skillet. Follow this step-by-step procedure from Leaf:20

Ingredients:

1 cup hulled sunflower seeds

Salt, to taste

Procedure:

  1. Heat a dry skillet over medium heat.
  2. Pour the sunflower seeds on the hot skillet. Roast them until golden brown, stirring often to prevent burning.
  3. Transfer the roasted sunflower seeds in a paper towel and allow them to cool. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, if desired.

How to Toast Sunflower Seeds

Oven-toasted sunflower seeds make for a great snack or garnish. Follow these steps from “Scoop Adventures” by Lindsay Clendaniel to toast them perfectly:21

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 cup hulled sunflower seeds

Salt, to taste

Procedure:

  1. Heat the coconut oil on a skillet over medium heat. Make sure the surface of the skillet is fully coated with coconut oil.
  2. Add in the sunflower seeds, stirring lightly to make sure they’re fully coated with oil.
  3. Sprinkle salt over the seeds if desired. Cook until the seeds start to brown and become fragrant, stirring occasionally, about five minutes.

How to Bake With Sunflower Seed Meal: Tips to Keep in Mind

Sunflower seeds are not just great for adding a crunchy texture and nutty flavor to various dishes, but they’re also a good substitute to flour for baking. People who are allergic to nut flours may also benefit from sunflower seed meal.

When substituting with sunflower seed meal, use the same measurement of flour that the recipe calls for. Keep in mind that a cup of sunflower seeds is equivalent to a cup of flour. If you’re unsure about the ratio, it’s best to add it in small amounts before gradually increasing the serving size until your get the right consistency for your recipe.22,23

Sunflower Seed Recipes You’ll Surely Love

Sunflower seeds are a worthy addition to your meals, with their noteworthy health benefits and satisfying taste. Since they’re a versatile ingredient, you can enjoy them any time of the day. Here are some sunflower seed recipes that you can try:

Paleo Roasted Spicy Sunflower Seeds Recipe

Paleo Roasted Spicy Sunflower Seeds Recipe

Serving size: 1 cup

Ingredients:

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

Procedure:

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Assemble sunflower seeds on a baking sheet that’s lined with parchment paper.
  3. In a small bowl, stir together the oil, paprika, cumin and salt.
  4. Pour the oil mixture on the sunflower seeds and toss until the seeds are evenly coated.
  5. Bake the seeds in the oven for about 15 minutes or until they turn a golden brown color. Let them cool before serving.
(Recipe adapted from Paleoholic24)

Sunflower Power Salad Recipe

Sunflower Power Salad Recipe

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1 large red cabbage, shredded

1 pound spinach

2 cups packed sunflower sprouts

1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

 

Ingredients for the basil-cider vinaigrette:

1/4 cup Dr. Mercola's apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, pressed

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

 

 

Procedure:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place sunflower seeds in a rectangular glass dish and place in the oven to brown, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine and mix all of the dressing ingredients in a separate bowl.
  3. Place the cabbage, spinach, sunflower sprouts and cilantro in a large bowl, and then add in the dressing and toasted sunflower seeds. Serve immediately.

Sunflower Seed Pesto Recipe

Sunflower Seed Pesto Recipe

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

1/2 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds

1 small garlic clove

2 cups arugula leaves

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt, to taste

Procedure:

  1. Rinse the sunflower seeds and soak them in water overnight at room temperature. Drain and rinse them before proceeding to the next step.
  2. Purée the sunflower seeds, garlic, arugula, basil, oil, honey and lemon zest, and juice until smooth. Add water to the pesto if it’s too thick. Season with salt.
(Recipe adapted from Epicurious25)

Super Seedy Sunflower Butter Recipe

Super Seedy Sunflower Butter Recipe

Serving size: 13 servings

3 cups hulled sunflower seeds, roasted

1 tablespoon chia seeds

1 tablespoon flaxseed meal

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon shelled hemp seeds

1 tablespoon unsalted pumpkin seeds, roasted

Salt, to taste

Honey, to taste

   

Procedure:

  1. Put the roasted sunflower seeds in a food processor and pulse until a butter forms, scraping down the sides as needed.
  2. Add in the salt, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds, and mix to combine. Taste and adjust the flavor as needed, adding more salt or honey if desired.
  3. Serve with toast and other baked goods. You can store this spread at room temperature for one to two weeks, or in the refrigerator for up to one month.
(Recipe adapted from Minimalist Baker26)

Carson Crackers Recipe

Carson Crackers Recipe
Ingredients:

3 free-range eggs

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup hemp seeds

1/4 cup flaxseeds

1 teaspoon Dr. Mercola's Himalayan salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon mixed dried Italian spices

Procedure:

  1. Combine eggs, seeds, spices, garlic powder and salt in a bowl. Stir well.
  2. Use a spatula to transfer the mixture onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  3. Shake the cookie sheet and tilt it around until the mixture is spread across the cookie sheet.
  4. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 18 minutes. Break into pieces. They should be crunchy. If they do not break with a snap, put them in the oven on warm until they are completely dry.

Sunflower Seed Nutrition Facts

Before you snack on sunflower seeds, it’s important to take a look at the nutritional value of this food to determine how it will impact your diet. A cup of dried sunflower seed kernels provides 29.09 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber. As mentioned above, these seeds are also rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals.

However, you should keep in mind that sunflower seeds are high in calories and carbohydrates. In fact, a cup of them contains 818 calories and 28 grams of carbohydrates. This is why sunflower seeds are best enjoyed in moderation.27 To learn more about the nutritional content of this food, check the table below:28

Sunflower Seed Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 1 cup, dried kernels — 140g
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 818  
Total Fat 72.04 g 111%
Saturated Fat 6.237 g 31%
Trans Fat - g  
Cholesterol - mg -%
Sodium 13 mg 1%
Total Carbohydrates 28 g 9%
Dietary Fiber 12 g 48%
Sugar 3.67 g  
Protein 29.09 g 58%
Thiamin 2.072 mg Vitamin C 2 mg
Calcium 109 mg Iron 7.35 mg

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Sunflower Seed Side Effects You Should Know About

Despite their wide array of health benefits, sunflower seeds are not without a few side effects. First off, consuming excessive amounts of sunflower seeds in one sitting may lead to unwanted weight gain, as it makes you more prone to exceeding your daily calorie needs.29

You should also consider food sensitivities before consuming sunflower seeds, as they may cause allergic reactions such as breathing difficulties, swelling of the pharynx, retention of saliva, and swelling of the mouth and tongue.30

Is Sunflower Seed Oil as Good for Your Health as Sunflower Seeds?

Sunflower seeds are primarily cultivated for the extraction of sunflower seed oil. While the seeds of the sunflower plant are good for you because they’re in whole form, its oil is a different story. I don’t recommend consuming sunflower seed oil because of its high omega-6 fatty acid content, which could disrupt the balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your body.

Excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids may put you at higher risk of chronic diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer. If you’re looking for healthy alternatives to sunflower oil for foods, try using extra virgin coconut oil.

Choosing and Storing Sunflower Seeds

When buying sunflower seeds, make sure to purchase from a trusted organic brand. This can guarantee that they’re not contaminated with potentially harmful agricultural chemicals. You should also choose seeds that are not broken and limp. Avoid seeds that are yellow in color, as they may have already turned rancid. To improve the shelf life of your sunflower seeds, store them in an airtight glass container and keep them in the fridge. Shelled sunflower seeds may last longer than hulled seeds.31

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Sunflower Seeds

Q. Are sunflower seeds healthy?

A. Yes, sunflower seeds are a boon for your health, as they provide a wide array of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals such as phenolic acids, flavonoids, alpha tocopherol, B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, calcium, zinc and iron, to name a few. These valuable nutrients contribute to the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antihypertensive, antiviral, antimicrobial and antidiabetic actions of sunflower seeds.

Q. Are sunflower seeds considered nuts?

A. No, sunflower seeds are not botanically true nuts.32

Q. Can you eat sunflower seed shells?

A. Sunflower seeds should not be eaten with their hulls still attached, since the sharp pieces of the shell may injure the linings of the esophagus or digestive tract. Prolonged consumption of in-shell sunflower seeds may also lead to bezoars, a solid mass formed in the digestive tract as a result of consuming indigestible substances. There have been several reports of children suffering from bezoars after consuming too many shelled sunflower seeds.33

Q. Are sunflower seeds fattening?

A. Sunflower seeds may lead to unwanted weight gain if consumed in excessive amounts, since they’re high in calories.34

Q. Can you eat raw sunflower seeds?

A. Yes, you can snack on raw sunflower seeds. You can also use them as garnish for different dishes.35

Q. Do sunflower seeds go bad?

A. Yes, just like other foods, sunflower seeds will also spoil. Their shelf life is affected by age, storage conditions and temperature.36 One way to tell if sunflower seeds have already turned rancid is by checking their color. Rancid seeds have a yellow color.

Q. Are sunflower seeds paleo?

A. Yes, sunflower seeds are one of the foods you can enjoy if you’re on a paleo diet.37

Q. Are sunflower seeds gluten-free?

A. Raw, unflavored sunflower seeds do not contain gluten. However, hulled and flavored varieties sold commercially may not be gluten-free, so be sure to check the label before you eat sunflower seeds, especially if you’re sensitive to gluten.38

Q. What happens if you eat a lot of sunflower seeds?

A. Eating too many sunflower seeds may cause you to exceed your daily calorie needs, putting you at risk of unwanted weight gain.39

Q. Can sunflower seeds cause cancer?

A. Sunflower seeds themselves do not cause cancer. However, there have been cases wherein sunflower seeds have been contaminated by aflatoxin, a myotoxin produced by molds that’s linked to liver cancer. This is exactly why you should double-check the source of your sunflower seeds. Make sure that you only buy them from safe, organic brands.40

Q. Are sunflower seeds addictive?

A. Sunflower seeds do not contain any substances that may cause addiction. However, munching on these seeds can be a great way to keep busy or pass time, which is why many people develop the habit of eating them regularly.41

Q. Can sunflower seeds give you gas?

A. Yes. Sunflower seeds can be hard to digest, so consuming excessive amounts of them could cause flatulence.42

Q. Is eating sunflower seeds bad for your teeth?

A. Yes, long-term consumption of hulled sunflower seeds may lead to teeth damage. A study published in the Journal of Conservative Dentistry showed that cracking the shell of sunflower seeds contributes to the loss of hard tooth structure, a condition also known as tooth surface loss (TSL).43

Q. Are sunflower seeds good for high blood pressure?

A. Sunflower seeds may aid in maintaining normal blood pressure levels as they’re a good source of magnesium,44 a mineral that helps improve blood flow by relaxing your arteries and preventing your blood from thickening.

Q. Are sunflower seeds good for your skin?

A. Yes. Sunflower seeds contain antioxidant properties that may help protect your skin against free radical damage.45


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