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Sunflower Seeds Nutrition and 7 Impressive Health Benefits

Protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals—this iconic ballpark snack pretty much has it all

By Kaly JohnesPublished about a month ago 5 min read

The bright petals of sunflowers are an iconic symbol of summer, and it's just an added bonus that these big, cheerful blooms produce the ultimate snack—sunflower seeds. Fun fact: Sunflower seeds are actually tiny fruits produced from the large, dark head of the sunflower.

A handful of sunflower seeds is not only a tasty, nutty, and satisfying snack, but also a nutritious option full of fiber, healthy fats, and even protein. Here are all the reasons why sunflower seeds are an excellent, healthy snack or addition to both savory and sweet recipes.

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Sunflower Seeds Nutrition Facts

“Sunflower seeds are hidden gems of nutrients,” says Rhyan Geiger, RDN, award-winning plant-based dietitian. They contain impressive macro- and micronutrients, including notable amounts of protein, fiber, unsaturated fats, vitamin E, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, selenium, manganese, and B vitamins including niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, and folate. Sunflower seeds are also rich in plant compounds including flavonoids, tocopherols, and phenolic acids.

Here’s a closer look at the nutrients found in sunflowers, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) database, for one ounce of dry-roasted, unsalted sunflower seed kernels.

Macronutrients

Calories: 165 calories

Protein: 5.5 grams (g)

Total Carbohydrates: 7 g

Fiber: 3 g

Fat: 14 g

Saturated Fat: 1.5 g

Monounsaturated Fat: 3 g

Polyunsaturated Fat: 9 g

Cholesterol: 0 milligrams (mg), 29 percent of Daily Value (DV)*

Micronutrients

Niacin (Vitamin B3): 2 mg, 13% DV

Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5): 2 mg, 40% DV

Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg, 15% DV

Folate (Vitamin B9): 67 micrograms (mcg), 17% DV

Vitamin E: 7.4 mg, 49% DV

Iron: 1 mg, 6% DV

Zinc: 1.5 mg, 14% DV

Magnesium: 37 mg, 10% DV

Copper: 0.5 mg, 56% DV

Selenium: 22.5 mcg, 41% DV

Manganese: 0.6 mg, 30% DV

Sodium: 1 mg, 0% DV

*Daily Value is based on the average adult needs for males and females without pre-existing conditions per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds

As you might imagine, these nutrients translate into some remarkable health benefits. In terms of serving size, “try to stick to around 1 ounce of sunflower seeds at a time for the greatest health benefits,” Geiger recommends.

1. Promotes Heart Health

“Because sunflower seeds don’t contain any cholesterol and offer a good amount of fiber, they can be beneficial for heart health—if you pick the unsalted kind,” Geiger notes. Choosing unsalted sunflower seeds is key to reaping these benefits as excessive amounts of sodium from salt over longer periods of time can contribute to elevated blood pressure levels (also known as hypertension).

Meanwhile, the soluble fiber in sunflower seeds binds to dietary cholesterol in the small intestine, helping to rid it from the body instead of being absorbed into the bloodstream and negatively impacting blood cholesterol levels. High levels of circulating cholesterol can lead to plaque build-up on the veins and arteries, also known as atherosclerosis, which is a key feature of certain heart diseases.

“Sunflower seeds also contain an unsaturated, healthy fat called linoleic acid which helps to promote blood vessel relaxation and lower cholesterol,” Geiger adds.

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2. Supports Thyroid Health

As a fantastic source of selenium, sunflower seeds can encourage thyroid health as this mineral is concentrated in the thyroid glands. 2023 research even points to low selenium levels increasing the risk for a handful of thyroid disorders.

3. Encourages Metabolic Health

The fiber, protein, and healthy fats found in these tasty seeds support metabolic health. Their nutrients help slow down digestion and dull the blood sugar response, resulting in a slower rise and fall in sugars after eating. This is particularly beneficial for those with metabolic concerns like type 2 diabetes who require close management of their blood sugar levels. It also helps increase feelings of satiety, making it a smart snack or meal addition.

4. Strengthens Immune Health

“If you’re looking for ingredients to help the immune system, consider sunflower seeds as they contain selenium and zinc, both of which support immune health,” Geiger says. In addition to zinc and selenium, these seeds also offer high amounts of vitamin E, copper, and plant compounds. All of these micronutrients act as antioxidants which help to reduce inflammation and ward off disease-causing free radical molecules in the body.

5. Boosts Digestive Health

Sunflower seeds definitely count as a gut-healthy food. They contain both insoluble and soluble fiber, both of which support digestive regularity. Soluble fiber acts as a prebiotic, or a food source for the healthy bacteria living in your gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is primarily located in the large intestine and is closely linked to several aspects of health beyond just digestion, including immunity and brain health (to name only a few).

6. Facilitates Growth, Development, and Repair

These snackable seeds also encourage healthy growth, development, and repair throughout the body. “Sunflowers offer cholesterol-free protein to help build and maintain muscle,” Geiger explains. This protein is also a structural component of nearly every vital structure in the body that you can think of, while speeding up wound- and tissue-healing as well. Plus, the zinc and folate in sunflower seeds are essential during pregnancy to promote healthy growth and development of the baby.

7. Bolsters Skin Health

The healthy fats and vitamin E in sunflower seeds nourish glowing, healthy skin. Both nutrients offer anti-inflammatory benefits for the skin, while vitamin E in particular offers some protection against harmful ultraviolet (UV) light rays.

Who Should Avoid Sunflower Seeds?

The health benefits associated with sunflower seeds are plentiful and enticing, certain groups may need to avoid them.

While sunflower seed allergies are far less common than peanut and tree nut allergies, they do exist, and those who suffer from them should steer clear.

“Sunflower seeds are also higher in calories, and, if they’re salted, can contain a lot of sodium,” Geiger adds. Overdoing it on salted sunflower seeds may result in difficulty managing blood pressure levels in those with hypertension (again, if salted!).

“Eating excessive amounts of sunflower seeds may also lead to too much cadmium intake, a heavy metal that sunflowers absorb from the soil while growing,” Geiger says. Thankfully, this would only become a major concern with copious sunflower seed consumption (upwards of 5 to 10 ounces, four or more times per week).

Tips for Buying Sunflower Seeds

Look for unsalted varieties at the grocery store to moderate the sodium load. If you can, opt for sprouted sunflower seeds, as the process of sprouting (also known as germination) can increase the bioavailability of many of its nutrients. Defer to personal preference for whether or not you purchase sunflower seeds with their inedible black and white hulls intact—but be very careful to not swallow them when enjoying!

Incorporating Sunflower Seeds Into a Healthy Routine

There are so many delicious ways to use sunflower seeds. Add them to homemade trail mix, granola or granola bars, baked goods like desserts and bread, cereal, oatmeal, chicken or tuna salad, roasted vegetables, pastas, casseroles, salads, and stir fries. They’re also delicious ground into breading for proteins. You also can’t go wrong enjoying them straight out of the bag for a satisfying snack. “Sunflower seeds can be made into sunflower butter, too, which serves as a great nut-free alternative at school,” Geiger adds.

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Kaly Johnes

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    Kaly JohnesWritten by Kaly Johnes

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