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.
Sunflower Seed Nutrition Facts
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1/4 cup (34g) of dry roasted sunflower seed kernels without salt.
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.
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.
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.
The health benefits of sunflower seeds come from the nutrients that they provide, most notably fiber and vitamin E.
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. 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.
Aids Healthy Weight Maintenance
Fiber aids in satiety (feeling full). Studies have shown that those people who eat high fiber diets tend to maintain healthier weights. Epidemiological and clinical studies have also demonstrated that the intake of dietary fiber is inversely related to metabolic conditions such as obesity and type two diabetes.
May Reduce Risk of Disease
Research has suggested that people who eat high-fiber diets tend to have a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. A high-fiber diet has also been shown to reduce the risk of hyperlipidemia (high concentration of fat in the blood), hyperglycemia (high blood glucose), and hypercholesterolemia (elevated cholesterol levels).
There is also some evidence that a higher-fiber diet is associated with a decreased risk of certain types of cancer, particularly colon cancer. Authors of one large study concluded that people who consume the highest intake of dietary fiber have reduced risks of different types of colon cancer.
Limits Cell Damage
Vitamin E is an important fat-soluble vitamin that aids in normal nerve function and maintains proper functioning of the immune system. Vitamin E is also known to have antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants help to protect that body from cellular damage that is caused by free radicals. Your body creates free radicals naturally, but environmental toxins (such as cigarette smoke) also contribute to free radicals in the body.
Experts suggest that you get antioxidants from food sources rather than supplements. Foods like fruits, vegetables, and seeds provide antioxidants along with other nutrients.
There are reports of allergic reactions to a variety of seeds, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). In addition, experts have noted that different types of seeds may cause cross-reactions, That means that if you have a known allergy to poppy seeds, you may also experience a reaction to sunflower seeds.
If you have a seed allergy or if you suspect an allergy to sunflower seeds, speak to your healthcare provider for personalized advice.
You may experience adverse effects from consuming whole sunflower seeds, especially if you eat a lot of them. The hull—or outer shell—can be sharp and hard to digest. Additionally, eating too many hulls can cause fecal impaction (FI), which is a severe form of constipation. The sharp hulls can also puncture or attach to the linings of the esophagus or digestive tract if not chewed properly.
It’s not uncommon to hear reports of children eating too many sunflower seed shells. In some cases, this may cause a rectal seed bezoar, a blockage that may require medical treatment by doctors.12 It often requires hospitalization to remove the blockage and restore normal bowel function. To avoid this risk, stick to snacking on just sunflower seed kernels.
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