You may have heard about the health benefits of sunflower seeds, but did you know their sprouts are packed with protein and antioxidants? Not only is it beautiful, but the seed is an important source of plant-based protein and oils. Read more to learn why you should eat more sunflower seeds and three easy recipes!
What are they?
Sunflower, also known by its Latin name Helianthus Anuus, thanks its name to the round flowering head that resembles a sun. Sunflowers are one of the most common crops grown in the world. It grows as an annual plant and draws its origin from North America.
The sunflower seed is a flat, oval, and black seed that is considered the fruit of the sunflower. The kernel can be dehulled or it could come whole with the hull. Sunflower seeds are often toasted and salted and can come in a variety of flavors.
Sunflower seeds can be consumed as a snack or can be incorporated into meals. It is usually found in multigrain bread and chewy bars. Sunflower seed sprouts can be incorporated into salads and consumed raw. Sprouting sunflower seeds increases the amount of protein and essential amino acids available (Ghumman et al. 2016) which makes them an important plant-based protein and a great addition to salads and sandwiches.
Sunflower was first domesticated in 3000 BC by Native American Tribes throughout North America, and according to archeologists, it was domesticated before corn! Sunflower had various uses, including being ground up into a flour and used for cakes and bread, used as a snack, and pressed into oil (Sunflower Technology and Production, 1997). Sunflower also had other uses such as for textiles, body painting and even for medicine.
Why to eat more sunflower seeds
1. Improves Heart Health
Increasing consumption of seeds such as Sunflower seeds along with whole grains, nuts, and legumes is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. It also decreases heart disease risk factors, such as “bad” cholesterol and blood pressure (Ros & Hu, 2013). This is because sunflower seeds contain a significant amount of fiber, which helps to unclog arteries and clear “bad” cholesterol from the blood.
2. Reduces Inflammation
Sunflower seeds are very high in Vitamin E, a vitamin important for our immunity. A recent study suggests that Vitamin E enhances T-cell function by reducing production of T-cell suppressing factors (Wu et al. 2018). T-cells act like the hit men of our immune system, and they search and destroy infected and cancerous cells. They can also help trigger a larger immune response!
3. Can Reduce Blood Sugar
Sunflower seeds are full of complex carbohydrates, which are like the wiser sister of refined carbs. Complex carbs take longer for our body to digest, therefore our blood sugar does not immediately spike after a meal and instead steadily increases. This is especially important for Diabetics trying to control their blood sugar. A smaller surge in blood sugar means Insulin has to do less work!
4. Improves Bone Health
Sunflower is high in Phosphorus, which helps us build strong bones and teeth (Calvo & Lamberg-Allardt, 2015). Phosphorus works with Calcium in unison to maximize Calcium’s bone-building potential. Consuming enough Phosphorus in our diet helps to maintain our bone mineral content and density.
5. Lowers “bad” cholesterol
Sunflower seeds are one of the highest sources of phytosterols (American Chemical Society, 2005). Phytosterols lower “bad” cholesterol in our body due to their structure. They are structurally similar to cholesterol, and therefore compete with cholesterol for gut absorption. This in turn lowers our blood cholesterol.
6. Support our Nervous System
Sunflower seeds are rich in Magnesium, which is required for proper nervous system function. Magnesium itself is found in neural receptors called NMDA receptors found in nerve cells. They are required for proper memory, learning, and brain development (Newcomer et al. 2000).
7. Can prevent onset of Chronic Disease
Selenium, another mineral found in high amount in sunflower seeds, is also a powerful antioxidant. Selenium fights oxidative stress in our body, which is an imbalance of oxidant and antioxidant levels. Preventing oxidative stress in our body prevents the onset of chronic diseases (Moylan & Reid, 2007).
8. Great for our Bones
Sunflower seeds are also very high in phosphorus. Phosphorus is the second most common mineral found in our body and is equal to 1 % of our body weight. Sunflower seeds are also high in copper, which along with iron help us form red blood cells and works with manganese to improve bone mineral density.
9. Allows for Muscle Contraction
Sunflower seeds are high in Pantothenic acid, known as Vitamin B5. Pantothenic acid is an essential vitamin because it is involved in the synthesis of Coenzyme A, which is essential for fatty acid synthesis and breakdown in our body (Papet et al. 2019). Thanks to Coenzyme A being present, our muscles can contract!
10. Heart Healthy
A quarter cup of sunflower seeds can contain up to 14 g of fiber. Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that can either be soluble or insoluble. Soluble Fiber can lower both cholesterol and blood pressure. It does so by trapping bile salts in our small intestine, and then excretes them. Therefore it reduces cholesterol in the body that would otherwise be used to make bile salts. Lowering cholesterol lowers overall blood pressure and cleans our arteries.
11. Helps you Relax
As mentioned, sunflower seeds are a great source of Magnesium, which in one review showed to lower anxiety in patients (Lahkan et al. 2010). The researchers hypothesized it was because of Magnesium’s ability to improve brain function. In particular, consuming adequate amounts of Magnesium improves NMDA receptor function.
12. Great source of Antioxidants
These mighty seeds are also high in Vitamin E, a group of fat-soluble compounds called tocopherols and tocotrienols. Vitamin E is well known to be a powerful antioxidant, which gives it anti-aging properties, in particular improving the elasticity of skin.
The following nutrient profile is for ¼ cup of shelled, dry-roasted sunflower seeds (Self, n.d.).
- Vitamin B6: 51% of our daily value
- Vitamin E: 167% of our daily value
- Folate: 76% of our daily value
- Niacin: 45% of our daily value
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid): 90% of our daily value
- Did you know that ¼ cup of sunflower seeds contains almost double of your recommended daily value of Vitamin E and almost your entire daily value of Vitamin B5.
- Phosphorus: 148% of our daily value
- Copper: 117% of our daily value
- Manganese: 135% of our daily value
- Selenium: 145% of our daily value
Did you know sunflower seeds contain almost double of your recommended daily value of phosphorus, and your entire recommended daily value of copper, manganese, and selenium.
- Carbohydrates: 30.8 g
- Protein: 24.7 g
- Fat: 63.8 g
- Fiber: 14.2 g
3 Easy Recipes for Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds can be eaten plain, roasted, hulled, or whole. They can be a snack or incorporated into a meal. The possibilities are endless! To get you started, here at Good Food For Good we gathered three of our favourite recipes for sunflower seeds!
Try our roasted smashed baby potato recipe which can easily substitute pumpkin seeds for sunflower seeds!
This recipe for a chickpea sunflower sandwich by Minimalist Baker is vegan and will satisfy any sandwich lover! Find it here. Or try this garlic sunflower seed dressing by Elephantastic Vegan… it is vegan and can be poured on everything!