“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life that the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life” (Helen Mirren)
Sunflower seeds are the gift of the beautiful sunflower, the quintessential embodiment of health and happiness. They provide with a wealth of nutrition that is available throughout the year.
Nutrients in Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are a health-promoting snack packed with many essential nutrients. The seeds are a rich source (20% or higher of the Daily Value, DV) of protein, dietary fiber, many B vitamins and vitamin E. The seeds also contain high levels of dietary minerals, including magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, iron and zinc. Sunflower Seeds are naturally cholesterol-free and gluten-free.
What makes Sunflower Seeds different?
- Sunflower seeds are one of the richest sources of vitamin E.
- Sunflower seeds are one of the richest sources of phytosterols.
3 Major Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
1. Sunflower seeds lower the blood cholesterol levels
Sunflower seeds contain phytosterols. Phytosterols are plant sterols, similar to cholesterol, which occur in plants and vary only in carbon side chains and/or presence or absence of a double bond.
The richest naturally occurring sources of phytosterols are vegetable oils, especially sunflower oil. According to the paper “Sunflower seeds, pistachios among top nuts for lowering cholesterol”, published in the Science Daily in 2005, phytosterols contribute toward lower levels of blood cholesterol.
The United States’, Canadian and European Health Authorities concluded that blood cholesterol can be reduced on average by 7 to 10% if a person consumes plant phytosterols regularly. They provided the following health advisory: “Plant sterols have been shown to lower/reduce blood cholesterol. Blood cholesterol lowering may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease”.
Published in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry,” a study states the amounts of phytosterols present in nuts and seeds commonly eaten in the United States:
- Sesame seeds have the highest total phytosterols content (400-413 mg per 100 grams)
- Sunflower seeds and pistachios are the second best sources of phytosterols (270-289 mg/100 g), followed by pumpkin seeds (265 mg/100 g)
- English walnuts and Brazil nuts have the lowest (113 mg/100grams and 95 mg/100 grams). (100 grams is equivalent to 3.5 ounces.)
2. Sunflower seeds have anti-inflammatory benefits due to a high content of vitamin E
Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E: a 100-gramm serving provides 234% of its daily value. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that interrupts the propagation of reactive oxygen species that spread through cell membranes. As an antioxidant, vitamin E acts as a peroxyl radical scavenger, disabling the production of damaging free radicals. Vitamin E travels throughout the body neutralizing free radicals. It has significant anti-inflammatory effects that result in the reduction of symptoms in asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Vitamin E has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, help decrease the severity and frequency of hot flashes in women going through menopause, and help reduce the development of diabetic complications.
Vitamin E deficiency can cause:
- myopathy, a disease of the muscle in which the muscle fibers do not function properly resulting in muscular weakness
- peripheral neuropathy, a disease affecting nerves, which may impair sensation, movement, gland or organ function, or other aspects of health, depending on the type of nerve affected
- skeletal myopathy
- retinopathy, a damage to the retina of the eyes, which may cause vision impairment
- impairment of the immune system
- red blood cell destruction
According to the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM), the Estimated Average Requirements for vitamin E for women and men ages 14 and up is 12mg/day. The Recommended Dietary Allowances is 15mg/day.
3. Sunflower seeds may calm your nerves due to a high content of magnesium
A 100-gramm serving of sunflower seeds provides 92% of magnesium daily value. Over 300 enzymes require the presence of magnesium ions for their catalytic action, including all enzymes utilizing or synthesizing ATP, or those that use other nucleotides to synthesize DNA and RNA.
Magnesium has many duties in our body and calming down our nerves is one of them. Magnesium counterbalances calcium, thus helping to regulate nerve and muscle tone. It can affect muscle relaxation through direct action on cell membranes. Magnesium ions close certain types of calcium channels, which conduct positively charged calcium ions into neurons. By blocking calcium’s entry, magnesium keeps our nerves relaxed. With an excess of magnesium, more channels will be blocked and nerve cells activity will decrease.
How Many Sunflower Seeds Can You Eat Per Day?
A typical serving of shelled sunflower seeds is around one to two ounces (approximately 1/8 to 1/4 cup of kernels or 1/2 to 3/4 cup unshelled seeds). This serving is fine, even if eaten daily as part of a balanced diet.
Health Risks of Sunflower Seeds
Eating too many sunflower seeds may provoke vitamin E hypervitaminosis, a state of vitamin E toxicity. Since vitamin E can act as an anticoagulant and may increase the risk of bleeding problems, many agencies have set a tolerable upper intake levels for vitamin E at 1,000 mg (1,500 IU) per day. Hypervitaminosis E counteracts vitamin K, leading to a vitamin K deficiency.