16 Amazing Benefits of Sunflower Seeds

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

There are quite a few impressive health benefits of sunflower seeds, including their ability to stimulate hair growth, promote heart health, aid in weight loss, lower cholesterol levels, and anticancer effects.

Available as one of the most popular and readily available snack foods, sunflower seeds are not only great to eat on the go but they also provide a number of health benefits.

What are Sunflower Seeds?

Sunflower seeds are the fruiting bodies of the sunflower plant, which bears the scientific name Helianthus annuus. There are three types of commonly used sunflower seeds – one that is pressed for oil and two others, which have varying levels of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. This is where the potential health benefits of sunflower seeds truly come into play. The seeds that are most frequently consumed are striped or mottled in color, rather than having a solid black shell.

These seeds are primarily consumed as snack food in many parts of the world. They can be eaten both in their full form, as well as their de-hulled form, in which only the kernel is eaten. Both the shell and the inner kernel have a different nutrient profile. They make a tasty and nutrient-dense treat, particularly when eaten salted. [1]

Sunflower Seeds Nutrition Facts

Sunflower seeds are more than just a snack. They deliver a significant amount of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) and B6 to the body. According to USDA FoodData Central, they also provide us with various antioxidants and carotenoids, which support the immune system of the body. There is a moderate amount of thiamine, sodium, magnesium, selenium, manganese, and phosphorus in sunflower seeds, while the outer shell provides dietary fiber. You can also find small amounts of zinc, copper, and iron in these seeds, along with numerous B family vitamins. Perhaps, the most important thing is the level of polyunsaturated fats in sunflower seeds including notable amounts of phytosterols. A 1/4th cup serving of dried sunflower seeds contains over 200 calories. [2]

A bowl of dried sunflower seeds and peeled sunflower seeds on a wooden table

Do you add sunflower seeds to your morning granola? Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Benefits of Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds provide many health benefits such as promoting heart and skin health, stimulating hair growth, aiding in weight loss, lowering cholesterol, fighting cancers, and balancing hormonal levels, among others.

Nutrition Facts

Seeds, sunflower seed kernels, dried
Serving Size :
Water [g]4.73
Energy 584
Energy [kJ]2445
Protein [g]20.78
Total lipid (fat) [g]51.46
Ash [g]3.02
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]20
Fiber, total dietary [g]8.6
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]2.62
Sucrose [g]2.5
Calcium, Ca [mg]78
Iron, Fe [mg]5.25
Magnesium, Mg [mg]325
Phosphorus, P [mg]660
Potassium, K [mg]645
Sodium, Na [mg]9
Zinc, Zn [mg]5
Copper, Cu [mg]1.8
Manganese, Mn [mg]1.95
Selenium, Se [µg]53
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]1.4
Thiamin [mg]1.48
Riboflavin [mg]0.36
Niacin [mg]8.34
Pantothenic acid [mg]1.13
Vitamin B-6 [mg]1.35
Folate, total [µg]227
Folate, food [µg]227
Folate, DFE [µg]227
Choline, total [mg]55.1
Betaine [mg]35.4
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]3
Carotene, beta [µg]30
Vitamin A, IU [IU]50
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]35.17
Tocopherol, beta [mg]1.18
Tocopherol, gamma [mg]0.37
Tocopherol, delta [mg]0.02
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]4.46
14:0 [g]0.03
16:0 [g]2.21
17:0 [g]0.02
18:0 [g]1.69
20:0 [g]0.12
22:0 [g]0.32
24:0 [g]0.08
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]18.53
16:1 [g]0.02
17:1 [g]0.02
18:1 [g]18.38
20:1 [g]0.09
22:1 [g]0.03
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]23.14
18:2 [g]23.05
18:3 [g]0.06
18:4 [g]0.01
20:5 n-3 (EPA) [g]0.01
Phytosterols [mg]534
Tryptophan [g]0.35
Threonine [g]0.93
Isoleucine [g]1.14
Leucine [g]1.66
Lysine [g]0.94
Methionine [g]0.49
Cystine [g]0.45
Phenylalanine [g]1.17
Tyrosine [g]0.67
Valine [g]1.32
Arginine [g]2.4
Histidine [g]0.63
Alanine [g]1.12
Aspartic acid [g]2.45
Glutamic acid [g]5.58
Glycine [g]1.46
Proline [g]1.18
Serine [g]1.08
Sources include : USDA [3]

Skin Care

A study conducted by a group of researchers, published in The Journal of Nutrition [4], suggests that sunflower seeds are a powerhouse of antioxidants. One of the best components of sunflower seeds is high vitamin E content. With roughly 80% of your daily requirements fulfilled by a 1/4 cup of these seeds, you will get a major antioxidant boost from adding these to your diet. Vitamin E can act as an antioxidant for the skin and is known to rejuvenate the skin by increasing blood circulation and reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

Improve Brain Health

sunflower seeds are considered to be one of the best foods for your brain. They are rich in vitamin E, a nutrient that is associated with healthy brain aging. According to a 2014 study published in the Nutrients journal, vitamin E can also help delay functional decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Another 2017 study suggests that the efficacy of vitamin E can be increased when taken in combination with antioxidants or anti-inflammatory compounds. [5] [6]

Apart from this, sunflower seeds are also rich in choline. Choline is a neurotransmitter required to produce acetylcholine and is necessary for healthy brain and nervous system functions. [7]

Prevent Cellular Damage

Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E, which is a vital component of your day-to-day nutritional needs. These seeds are great antioxidants that stop the extensive spread of free radicals within the human body, as free radicals can lead to a variety of cellular damage and diseases. This also aids in the proper functioning of the circulatory system. Vitamin E also helps the blood clot readily when you experience external wounds, thereby helping speed up the healing process. The selenium present in sunflower seeds repairs cellular damage and eliminates the spread of cancerous cells.

Hair Care

A study by Dr. D. H. Rushton, University of Portsmouth, UK reveals that hair shedding is directly related to nutrition. [8]

A 2010 research study shows that tocotrienol, which belongs to the vitamin E family, is a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce hair loss. [9]

When you connect the dots between both the studies, it simply indicates that the food you eat helps boost hair growth. Sunflower seeds contain vitamin E is not only good for the skin but also the hair. If you regularly consume these seeds, it can give your hair great texture. In addition to the minerals and antioxidants, the seeds contain iron, which can stimulate circulation and drive the blood flow to the scalp thus stimulating hair growth.

Control Cholesterol Levels

A research study in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology has proven that phytosterols are a great cholesterol-controlling compound. [10]

Phytosterols are found in the highest concentrations in sunflower seeds and pistachios. Therefore, a handful of these seeds every day can help protect your heart by lowering LDL cholesterol levels and plaque deposition in the arteries and blood vessels.

Balance Hormone Levels

Research has linked sunflower seeds to better functioning of the thyroid gland. These seeds are rich in essential fatty acids like omega 3s and omega 6s and so they help the thyroid gland to maintain optimal metabolism.

Improve Digestion

Sunflower seeds have a large amount of dietary fiber that helps bulk up the stool and promote peristaltic motion. If your body is deficient in fiber, you may be at a higher risk of developing a host of other health problems like constipation, piles, and hemorrhoids. Severe digestive problems can even increase toxicity within your intestines.

The recommended amount of fiber is around 30 grams per day for an adult. However, it has been noted in surveys that most people fail to consume even 15 grams per day. By including sunflower seeds in your diet, you can easily get a rich supply of the dietary fiber and reduce the possibility of digestion-related problems. It can also improve the bacterial balance in your gut and make the nutrient uptake more efficient.

Increase Energy Levels

Most athletes enjoy eating sunflower seeds, as these seeds offer high amounts of protein and carbohydrates. They aid the liver’s discharge of glycogen into the bloodstream, which (glycogen) is a form of sugar; thereby providing an extra boost of quick energy. [11]

Anticancer Properties

Phytosterols, in sunflower seeds, have the potential to reduce the risk of colon cancer and increasing immunity (Ruchika Nandha et al., 2014). Sunflower seeds contain a decent amount of selenium and studies have connected selenium to preventing the spread and occurrence of cancer. This trace mineral functions as a powerful antioxidant in the body. It can slow down the oxidative stress and neutralize the free radicals before they can cause too much damage. [12]

According to a review study by Shuangshuang Guo, et al. researchers conducted various studies and found that sunflower seeds may have anticancer effects and antioxidant properties because of the presence of oleic acid and conjugated linoleic acid. [13]

It also contains vitamin E (tocopherol) antioxidant and research suggests that it may possibly be effective against cancer. However, additional research and clinical evidence are required to support the anticancer effects. [14]

Improve Mood

Magnesium has been linked to an improvement in mood and temperament. This is one of the minerals present in a moderate concentration within sunflower seeds. If you regularly suffer from anxiety or depression, this might be the snack for you. [15]

Aid in Sleep

In terms of improving sleep, magnesium can help the body convert tryptophan into serotonin. It is a feel-good hormone that can help relax the body and prepare it for sleep.

Promote Growth & Development

Proteins contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of the body. Although the amount of protein in these seeds is minimal, it can still help in the growth and development of the body.

Manage Hypertension

Magnesium plays a key role in the calcium channels of the body, which can have a major impact on electrolyte balance and blood pressure. Nearly 30% of your daily requirement of magnesium is fulfilled by a 1/4th cup of these seeds. Therefore, it can be an excellent remedy for the symptoms of hypertension.

Strengthen Bones and Muscles

The iron in sunflower seeds distributes oxygen to your muscles, while zinc strengthens your immune system and helps you avoid coughs and cold. Magnesium, found in these seeds, is also essential for strong bones and energy production. Almost 2/3 of the magnesium in the human body is stored in the bones. Magnesium aids the bones in their physical structure and strength, while the remaining magnesium is found on the surface of the bones, which is used up by the body as required.

Relieve Arthritis Pain

Some people rely on sunflower seeds due to their vitamin E content. This antioxidant vitamin has been directly connected to the reduced symptoms of arthritis and other inflammatory conditions throughout the body.

Helpful During Pregnancy

Sunflower seeds are abundant in folate content, also known as folic acid, which is a type of vitamin B. Folate is very good for pregnancy, as it helps in the production of new cells in the body, thereby promoting the replication of DNA and RNA, which is very significant for the growth and development of the fetus. It works in association with vitamin B-12 to form hemoglobin in the red blood cells. By having enough folate in your body, you also lower your chances of heart ailments.

Side Effects of Sunflower Seeds

The potential side effects of eating too many include weight gain, skin rashes, kidney issues, and elevated blood pressure. Fortunately, most of these side effects can be avoided by consuming a moderate amount of these seeds.

  • Kidney Issues: Due to the high level of phosphorus in sunflower seeds, one should avoid excessive intake of these. Too much of this mineral in your system can be quite serious and may lead to kidney issues. Only a moderate amount of seeds, not more than 1/2 a cup, is necessary for most of the potential health benefits.
  • Skin Rashes: These seeds are also high in a somewhat rare mineral, selenium. If you consume too many seeds, you can develop an inflammation of the skin, chronic fatigue or suffer from mood swings.
  • Weight Gain: Approximately 200 calories are present in every 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds. So, if you are regularly snacking on these seeds, you are increasing your calorie intake significantly. While these seeds are delicious, they must be eaten in moderation to prevent excessive weight gain.
  • Blood Pressure: An excessive number of these seeds, despite their health benefits, can lead to high levels of sodium. It can be dangerous for your blood pressure and overall heart health. [16]

Best Ways to Eat Sunflower Seeds

As mentioned earlier, there are various ways to eat sunflower seeds.

  • The most popular way is to simply eat them raw, either with the shells or de-hulled. By eliminating the shell, you can often cut down on the sodium intake, but you will also lose out on some of the dietary fiber and mineral content.
  • Some people also like to roast sunflower seeds. You can do this by boiling 1 cup of sunflower seeds in salted water for 5-10 minutes. Let the seeds dry on a baking pan. Lightly salt or season the seeds if you wish to. Bake the seeds at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes, or until the seeds have acquired a brown color.
  • You can find sunflower seeds or the dehulled kernels in everything from salad and bread to cookies and various sauces or curries.
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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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