Are Sunflower Seeds Healthy

These nutrients may play a role in reducing your risk of common health problems, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Are Sunflower Seeds Healthy?

You may have memories of crunching on sunflower seeds at a ballgame. But unlike some other ballpark food (nachos dripping with cheese, foot-long hot dogs, cotton candy, etc.), you can feel good about eating these little seeds on the regular. Sunflower seeds come from the large flowers of sunflower plants, and can be purchased roasted, raw, salted or unsalted, and shelled or in-the-shell. Although sunflower seeds aren’t terribly big, they pack plenty of nutrition into their black-and-white striped shells—and are equally delicious sprinkled over a salad as they are eaten out of hand for a portable, delicious snack.

Green Goddess Broccoli Salad
Pictured Recipe: Green Goddess Broccoli Salad

Sunflower seed nutrition

Serving size: 1 oz. (1/4 cup), sunflower seed kernels, dry roasted, without salt

  • Calories: 165
  • Total fat: 14 g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5 g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 2.5 g
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 9 g
  • Sodium: 1 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 7 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Protein: 5.5 g
  • Calcium: 20 mg
  • Iron: 1 mg
  • Magnesium: 37 mg
  • Zinc: 1.5 mg
  • Selenium: 23 mcg
  • Folate: 67 mcg
  • Vitamin E: 7.5 mg

Health benefits of sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds haven’t been the focus of very many research studies. But they’re rich in nutrients, healthy fats, fiber, protein and antioxidants like vitamin E and selenium. That combination makes them a heart-healthy addition to your diet that can help keep you full and help keep chronic diseases at bay.

Healthy fats, fiber and protein: Sunflower seeds are particularly rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats. One ounce (about 1/4 cup) of sunflower seeds has 2.5 grams monounsaturated fat and 9 grams of polyunsaturated fat, which can help lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation and improve heart health. And with 3 grams of fiber per serving, sunflower seeds can help keep you regular and aid weight loss by slowing digestion. They also provide 5.5 grams of protein. Eaten together, the combo of fat, fiber and protein can help you feel fuller for longer.

Antioxidants: One serving of sunflower seeds has 7.5 mg of vitamin E—exactly half the recommended daily amount for adults. A powerful antioxidant, vitamin E helps clear free radicals or can stop production of them all together, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Free radicals damage cells and increase inflammation in the body, which over time can increase risk of heart disease and cancer. Taking vitamin E supplements can do more harm than good for some people, so it’s best to get vitamin E from food sources like sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds also contain zinc, which helps develop and maintain immune cell function.

Selenium: Sunflower seeds have 23 mcg of selenium per serving, which is almost half the recommended dietary allowance for adults (55 mcg per day). Selenium plays an important role in thyroid health, and because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, preliminary research suggests it may be associated with lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Keep in mind: Sunflower seeds are naturally low in sodium, but packaged brands with added salt can pack more than half of the recommended daily maximum in one serving. Check nutrition labels to keep an eye on sodium numbers—particularly if you are following a low-salt diet or have high blood pressure. And keep an eye on your portion sizes too: one ounce has 165 calories, and it’s easy to eat far more of these tasty little seeds in one sitting.

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sunflower seeds
Credit: Getty Images/ Luis Benitez / EyeEm

How to eat sunflower seeds

You can buy sunflower seeds in the shell or shelled. If eating them with the shell, scoot the seeds to the back of your mouth and crack the shell with your back molars (rather than with your front teeth). Spit out the shell and enjoy the seeds. If you’re eating sunflower seeds as a snack and also trying to keep an eye on portion sizes, go for the unshelled seeds, as the pile of shells next to your plate may help you keep a better eye on how many seeds you’ve actually eaten. If you’re short on time (or just don’t feel like shelling them), it’s easy to buy shelled sunflower seeds, which are ready to be enjoyed on salads, mixed into homemade granola or energy balls, stirred into yogurt or oatmeal or eaten plain. You can also buy sunflower oil or sunflower butter, which is a good alternative to other types of nut butters (and often a good stand-in for people with nut allergies).

Are Sunflower Seeds Good for You? Nutrition, Benefits and More

Are Sunflower Seeds Healthy

Sunflower seeds are popular in trail mix, multi-grain bread and nutrition bars, as well as for snacking straight from the bag.

They’re rich in healthy fats, beneficial plant compounds and several vitamins and minerals.

These nutrients may play a role in reducing your risk of common health problems, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Here’s everything you need to know about sunflower seeds, including their nutrition, benefits and how to eat them.

Are Sunflower Seeds Healthy

Sunflower seeds are technically the fruits of the sunflower plant (Helianthus annuus) ( 1 ).

The seeds are harvested from the plant’s large flower heads, which can measure more than 12 inches (30.5 cm) in diameter. A single sunflower head may contain up to 2,000 seeds ( 2 ).

There are two main types of sunflower crops. One type is grown for the seeds you eat, while the other — which is the majority farmed — is grown for the oil ( 1 ).

The sunflower seeds you eat are encased in inedible black-and-white striped shells, also called hulls. Those used for extracting sunflower oil have solid black shells.

Sunflower seeds have a mild, nutty flavor and a firm but tender texture. They’re often roasted to enhance the flavor, though you can also buy them raw.

Summary

Sunflower seeds come from the large flower heads of the sunflower plant. The edible variety has a mild, nutty flavor.

Sunflowers pack many nutrients into a tiny seed.

The main nutrients in 1 ounce (30 grams or 1/4 cup) of shelled, dry-roasted sunflower seeds are (3):

Sunflower seeds
Calories 163
Total fat, which includes: 14 grams
• Saturated fat 1.5 grams
• Polyunsaturated fat 9.2 grams
• Monounsaturated fat 2.7 grams
Protein 5.5 grams
Carbs 6.5 grams
Fiber 3 grams
Vitamin E 37% of the RDI
Niacin 10% of the RDI
Vitamin B6 11% of the RDI
Folate 17% of the RDI
Pantothenic acid 20% of the RDI
Iron 6% of the RDI
Magnesium 9% of the RDI
Zinc 10% of the RDI
Copper 26% of the RDI
Manganese 30% of the RDI
Selenium 32% of the RDI

Sunflower seeds are especially high in vitamin E and selenium. These function as antioxidants to protect your body’s cells against free radical damage, which plays a role in several chronic diseases ( 4 , 5 ).

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Additionally, sunflower seeds are a good source of beneficial plant compounds, including phenolic acids and flavonoids — which also function as antioxidants ( 6 ).

When sunflower seeds are sprouted, their plant compounds increase. Sprouting also reduces factors that can interfere with mineral absorption. You can buy sprouted, dried sunflower seeds online or in some stores ( 6 ).

Summary

Sunflower seeds are excellent sources of several nutrients — including vitamin E and selenium — and beneficial plant compounds that can help prevent chronic diseases.

Sunflower seeds may help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar as they contain vitamin E, magnesium, protein, linoleic fatty acids and several plant compounds ( 1 , 6 , 7 , 8 ).

Furthermore, studies link sunflower seeds to multiple other health benefits.

Inflammation

While short-term inflammation is a natural immune response, chronic inflammation is a risk factor for many chronic diseases ( 9 , 10 ).

For example, increased blood levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes ( 11 ).

In a study in more than 6,000 adults, those who reported eating sunflower seeds and other seeds at least five times a week had 32% lower levels of C-reactive protein compared to people who ate no seeds ( 11 ).

Though this type of study cannot prove cause and effect, it is known that vitamin E — which is abundant in sunflower seeds — helps lower C-reactive protein levels ( 12 ).

Flavonoids and other plant compounds in sunflower seeds also help reduce inflammation ( 6 ).

Heart Disease

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, which can lead to heart attack or stroke ( 13 ).

A compound in sunflower seeds blocks an enzyme that causes blood vessels to constrict. As a result, it may help your blood vessels relax, lowering your blood pressure. The magnesium in sunflower seeds helps reduce blood pressure levels as well ( 6 , 7 ).

Additionally, sunflower seeds are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, especially linoleic acid. Your body uses linoleic acid to make a hormone-like compound that relaxes blood vessels, promoting lower blood pressure. This fatty acid also helps lower cholesterol (14, 15 ).

In a 3-week study, women with type 2 diabetes who ate 1 ounce (30 grams) of sunflower seeds daily as part of a balanced diet experienced a 5% drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading) ( 7 ).

Participants also noted a 9% and 12% decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, respectively ( 7 ).

Furthermore, in a review of 13 studies, people with the highest linoleic acid intake had a 15% lower risk of heart disease events, such as heart attack, and a 21% lower risk of dying of heart disease, compared to those with the lowest intake ( 16 ).

Diabetes

The effects of sunflower seeds on blood sugar and type 2 diabetes have been tested in a few studies and seem promising, but more research is needed ( 7 , 17).

Studies suggest that people who eat 1 ounce (30 grams) of sunflower seeds daily as part of a healthy diet may reduce fasting blood sugar by about 10% within six months, compared to a healthy diet alone ( 7 , 18).

The blood-sugar-lowering effect of sunflower seeds may partially be due to the plant compound chlorogenic acid ( 19 , 20).

Studies also suggest that adding sunflower seeds to foods like bread may help decrease carbs’ effect on your blood sugar. The seeds’ protein and fat slow the rate at which your stomach empties, allowing a more gradual release of sugar from carbs ( 21 , 22 ).

Summary

Sunflower seeds contain nutrients and plant compounds that help reduce your risk of inflammation, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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