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 prevent certain cancers.
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 a 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 a nutrient-dense treat, particularly when eaten salted.
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. 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.
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, prevent certain cancers, and balance hormonal levels, among others.
One of the best components of sunflower seeds is the 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
It has been proven in several studies that sunflower seeds can actually have a calming effect on your brain and they also help uplift your mood. This property of sunflower seeds is due to the high content of tryptophan present in the seeds. When you have foods containing tryptophan, it effectively increases your brain’s fabrication of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter. Serotonin also effectively reduces tension, thereby creating a relaxed feeling. The choline content in these seeds plays a vital role in memory and vision functions.
Sunflower seeds have high amounts of betaine, which effectively protects against cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure. Moreover, the presence of arginine in these seeds is also responsible for a healthy heart. The lignans keep blood cholesterol at appropriate levels, thus preventing heart attacks and atherosclerosis.
While these seeds are notoriously high in calories, they also possess a good amount of dietary fiber. This can help speed the digestive process and lower cholesterol levels. Furthermore, fiber helps make the body feel full, preventing the occurrence of overeating.
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 a 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. Sunflower seeds also help to lower the risk of cardiac diseases and diabetes. The selenium present in sunflower seeds repairs cellular damage and eliminates the spread of cancerous cells.
If you regularly consume these seeds, it can give your hair a great texture and tone. Vitamin E is not only good for the skin but also the hair. 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
Phytosterols are found in the highest concentrations in sunflower seeds and pistachios. They are proven to be a great cholesterol-controlling compound. 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. This gland controls many of the hormonal activities in the body.
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 experience a host of other health problems like constipation, piles, hemorrhoids, and colon cancer. 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.
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.
Magnesium has been linked to an improvement in mood and temperament. This is one of the minerals present in a moderate concentration within the seeds. If you regularly suffer from anxiety or depression, this might be the snack for you.
Aid in Sleep
Promote Growth & Development
Although the amount of protein in these seeds is minimal, it can still help in the growth and development of the body. Proteins contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of the body.
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 treating 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 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. The high magnesium content in sunflower seeds lowers your blood pressure; thus reducing the possibility of a heart attack or stroke.
Relieve symptoms of Arthritis
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 an 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, a 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 an 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 the overall heart health.
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.