Sunflower seeds are a nutrient wonder of the world. They are native to North America, but were introduced to Europe and Russia in the past few hundred years.
The primary product produced from sunflower seeds was sunflower seed oil.
Today you can purchase sunflower seeds in many forms: sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, sunflower flour, sunflower seed butter (alternative to peanut butter), and sunflower flowers.
It is always advised to know where your produce is coming from and to check labels to make sure that there has not been any additives added that will reduce the health benefits.
Sunflower seeds contain linoleic acid, which is a fatty acid.
Current culture is convinced that fat is bad for you. But this isn’t always the case.
Essential fatty acids are pivotal to a healthy diet and, you guessed it, an essential part of a healthy body.
Essential fatty acids can even help you lose weight, are good for your heart, and can reduce inflammation.
The fat in the sunflower seeds begin their benefits on the cellular level and just get bigger and better from there. (1)
1. Sunflower Seeds Are Packed with Vitamins and Nutrients
Sunflower seeds have a bunch of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals and have high amounts of fiber and protein as well.
In just 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds you will get (2) :
Protein: 23% Recommended Daily Value (DV)
Fiber: 31% DV
Folate: 40% DV
Pantothenic Acid: 47% DV
Vitamin B6: 27% DV
Niacin: 14% DV
Thiamin: 14% DV
Riboflavin: 11% DV
Omega 3 Fatty Acid: 53mg
Omega 6 Fatty Acid 25051 mg
Polyunsaturated Fat: 25.2 mg
Phosphorus: 78% DV
Manganese: 71% DV
Copper: 62% DV
Iron: 26% DV
Zinc: 24% DV
Magnesium: 22% DV
Potassium: 10% DV
Calcium: 4% DV
No, the Omega-6 Fatty Acid number is not a typo. In addition to all of these health benefits, there is no cholesterol associated with sunflower seeds.
It is extremely important to balance your Omega-6 Fatty Acids and your Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
While fatty acids are good for you, too much of anything is not good for you. (1) ; (3)
Take away: for an easy way to get a ton of nutrients, reach for sunflower seeds.
2. Sunflower Seeds Help Manage Cholesterol Levels
This is again due to the fat in the sunflower seeds. Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But without the fat, sunflower seeds would not be able to lower cholesterol.
They phytosterols in sunflower seeds stop the cholesterol from being absorbed into the body by not allowing the cholesterol into the bloodstream.
If the cholesterol does not have access to the bloodstream, it cannot wreak havoc on your body.
Additionally, sunflower seeds have no cholesterol so they also do not add cholesterol themselves.
Walnuts and other seeds are good for lowering cholesterol as well, but sunflower seeds take the cake.
It is important to make sure that sunflower seeds and other nuts are not coated in sugar or salt as this can impact how healthy they are.
Take away: Sunflower seeds, when not loaded with sugar or salt, reduce cholesterol.
3. Sunflower Seeds Encourage Cardiovascular Health
Lower cholesterol makes for a happy heart. But in addition to this, sunflower seeds have a large amount of vitamin E. (5); (2)
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cell structure, especially in the heart.
Sunflower seeds also have a lot of folate, 40% DV.
Whether in a young child or a senior, folate helps turn homocysteine, which is bad, into an amino acid, which is good. (5)
Their anti inflammatory characteristics also make the heart happy. (6)
Take away: Sunflower seeds are heart healthy.
4. Sunflower Seeds Improve Mood
There are many external factors that contribute to your mood. But there are some factors in your body that impact your mood as well.
Magnesium is an antidepressant that has been used for hundreds of years.
With it’s 22% DV of magnesium, it should come as no surprise that eating just 1/4 of a cup of these little seeds can increase mood and happiness. (5)
Being deficient in magnesium is one of the leading causes of depressed feelings or anxiousness.
This makes sunflowers seeds ideal for those with insomnia.
Sunflower seeds also contain tryptophan. Tryptophan increases serotonin production. While tryptophan is commonly known to make you sleepy, it also has wonderful benefits. (7)
Finally, sunflower seeds have phenylalanine. This increases the norepinephrine in your brain which is also an antidepressant. (8)
Take away: Sunflower seeds keep you happy.
5. Sunflower Seeds are Anti Inflammatory
Inflammation is a reaction by the body to unfavorable circumstances. This can be brought about by internal issues (something in your body) or it can be a response to external stimuli (something in your environment).
While inflammation is typically a response intended to keep your body safe, too much inflammation for too long can be a very bad thing.
There are a number of factors that make sunflower seeds anti inflammatory. Probably the most noteable is the Omega 6 Fatty Acids with a whopping 25,000+ mg worth.
But the key with fatty acids is balance. Too many Omega 6 Fatty Acids, and it can actually cause inflammation.
When you balance the Omega 6 with the Omega 3, the fatty acids are an anti inflammatory powerhouse. (9)
Next is vitamin E. As mentioned in the cardiovascular point, vitamin E in an anti inflammatory that is not just beneficial for the heart but for the whole body. (1)
Take away: Sunflower seeds are a powerful anti inflammatory for your entire body.
6. Sunflower Seeds Support a Healthy Thyroid
In particular, older women suffer from thyroid issues more than any other age/gender group. Either too much or too little thyroid activity can significantly impact the body.
The thyroid controls metabolism which means that the thyroid basically impacts the entirety of your body from brain, to heart to temperature control and everything inbetween.
If your thyroid is overactive, you can feel anxious, hot, and lose weight.
If you have an underactive thyroid you can feel cold, tired or gain weight.
Most commonly the thyroid will have issues because of a selenium and iodine deficiency.
A natural and yummy way to address hyper- or hypothyroidism?
Sunflower seeds have a high percentage of both selenium and iodine to make the thyroid function at its best. (11)
Take away: Sunflower seeds moderate thyroid function.
7. Sunflower Seeds Block Cancer
Cancer is one of the number one concerns for people.
It is terrifying in that it can happen in anyone and there is no rhyme or reason.
Free radicals, both from within our own bodies and from damaging sources in our environment can increase our chances of cancer or expeditie it.
There are a number of foods that you can eat that can at least reduce your risk of cancer.
Sunflower seeds are one of those foods.
Sunflower seeds are high in selenium. Selenium, in addition to all of the other benefits we have discussed, is critical in protecting cells and cell membranes.
Thereby keeping cells safe from the free radicals that destroy cells and cause cancer. (12)
The general nutrition of sunflower seeds is also credited with reducing oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is another cancer causing agent.
Finally, sunflower seeds have a lot of vitamin E per serving. Vitamin E is a cancer preventative especially in the lungs, breast and prostate.
So not only will sunflower seeds fight existing cancer, it will prevent it as well. (1)
Take away: Sunflower seeds are beneficial for stopping and slowing cancer.
8. Sunflower Seeds Have Antioxidants
One of the things that makes sunflower seeds so good at fighting cancer is that they have a ton of antioxidants.
Cancer is caused when free radicals become out of control in our bodies and begin damaging our cells and DNA. This leads to illness and tumors.
Antioxidants protect the cells and cell membranes, which means the free radicals are unable to damage DNA, thus preventing cancer.
But the nutrients in sunflowers don’t stop there.
Sunflower seeds have a high level of Selenium. Selenium is not just credited with slowing the growth of tumors and removing damaged cells but it will actually repair DNA that has already been damaged.
But antioxidants are not just good for fighting cancer, they are great for overall cell health.
Take away: Sunflower seeds have antioxidants that keep your body healthy and free of free radicals.
9. Sunflower Seeds are Good for Your Skin
Thanks again to the antioxidant properties of sunflower seeds, they can keep your skin healthy and glowing.
One of the most well known free radical causing elements is the sun. Sun damage is the cause of wrinkles, premature aging and skin cancer.
Because of the antioxidant, vitamin E, your skin repels the Sun’s UV rays and keeps itself happy and healthy and youthful. (12)
Sunflower seeds also contain copper, which promotes the overall health of your skin.
The fatty acids in sunflower seeds encourage elastin and collagen production, helping your skin stay young and keep it elasticity.
These same acids are credited with reducing issues stemming from dermatitis and eczema and can also act as a moisturizer.
Studies even show that the antibacterial properties of sunflower seed oil can protect a premature baby’s skin from infection. (13)
Take away: For great skin, add sunflower seeds to your diet.
10. Sunflower Seeds are Good for Your Hair
Sunflower seeds are a healthy hair must have!
Because sunflowers boast so many nutrients like zinc, biotin, copper, vitamin B, magnesium and fatty acids, just to name a few, sunflower seeds can not only make your hair grow, it can stop hair loss. (14)
The protein content is good for keeping hair strong and can even help prevent split ends.
Sunflower seeds are also a great supplement for expecting mothers to keep their hair and skin nourished. (15)
The overall nutrition content is great for those who just want shinier, healthier hair. (14)
Take away: To keep your hair, and even grow it back, eat sunflower seeds for optimal hair health.
11. Sunflower Seeds Promote Bone Health
Nutrient deficiency is a huge problem in many parts of the world, but very much so in America. This leads to a whole host of issues including osteoporosis.
Specifically, a lack of magnesium contributes to poor bone health.
Magnesium is very important because it aids in bone calcification (strong bones). Additionally, magnesium helps with migraines, blood clotting, constipation and as we discussed in another point, mood.
Fortunately, by eating just 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds, we can combat this nutrient deficiency.
But sunflower seeds aren’t just great for the actual bones. Sunflower seeds promote healthy connective tissue and joints.
When the skeletal structure works efficiently as a whole, that is better for your body and does not cause any additional stress. This keeps everything happy and healthy and functional.
Manganese, copper, folate, B1,B6 and other trace minerals are the key ingredients to healthy bones and cartilage. (16)
Take away: Bone health isn’t just from milk anymore.
12. Sunflower Seeds are Good for Your Brain
A balanced diet full of fruits, nuts, proteins and vegetables are paramount for a healthy brain.
But sunflower seeds are a great addition to your diet if you are worried about brain health.
Tryptophan is the very important amino acid that the brain converts to seratonin. Serotonin not only contributes to mood improvement, but also helps you sleep.
Sunflower seeds also have an impressive amount of thiamine which is a B vitamin that improves cognitive function and memory. (17)
Additionally, the anti inflammatory properties and antioxidants play a key role in protecting the brain itself.
Inflammation can hinder the brain's ability to function while antioxidants protect the brain cells from damage.
Some studies even suggest that the 90% DV of vitamin E in just a 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds can prevent Alzheimer's. (18)
Take away: good for the mind and they body.
13. Sunflower Seeds Can Reduce the Effects of Gout
Gout is caused by an over abundance of uric acid and it can also be hereditary.
However, diet plays a huge role in how frequently gout happens, how long it stays and how bad it is.
Generally speaking most nuts and seeds are a great addition to gout diet. However, there are exceptions and there are nuts and seeds that are more beneficial than others.
Purines and oxalic acid are what you need to look out for.
Foods that have less than 50 mg of purines per 3.5 oz are the best for gout. Foods that have more than 50mg of purines per 3.5 oz should be avoided.
Sunflower seeds have closer to 40mg per 3.5 oz, making them a little high on the purine scale, but still within acceptable limits.
As far as oxalic acid, sunflowers have a very low amount, so dive on in! (19)
Take away: Gout is miserable. But have a healthy serving of sunflower seeds to ease the misery!
14. Sunflower Seeds Can Help You Lose Weight
Anyone who has ever started a weight loss program can attest that the hardest part of losing weight is getting over the mental block.
Thanks to the tryptophan and other mood boosting characteristics of sunflower seeds, they are a natural choice to add to your new healthy diet.
But looking at sunflower seeds specifically from a physical weight loss standpoint, they are awesome.
Sunflower seeds, as long as they are unsalted, can help by making you feel less hungry, more full, give you more energy and focus, and balance your blood sugar.
Because of the high amount of fiber and protein, sunflower seeds are a great snack to make sure you feel less hungry. This can help you stick to your diet.
The other nutrients make your body function better overall and can balance thyroid levels and thereby, give you more energy. Which can help you stick to your workout routine.
The fatty acids in sunflower seeds help balance your glucose levels. When the body is able to process sugar in the proper way, the body runs more efficiently and can help you lose weight.
Selenium is also important because it speeds up metabolism. While selenium can be toxic in super high doses, a serving of sunflower seeds provides approximately half of your daily recommended dose.
A new factor being considered in the relationship between weight loss and sunflower seeds is the impact that chlorogenic acid might have.
While there are no studies regarding this relationship at this time, there is strong support that that the 13 mg/ounce of chlorogenic acid in sunflower seeds would support weight loss. (20)
Take away: sunflower seeds are an easy addition to your weight loss routine.
15. Sunflower Seeds Can Help Reduce the Chance of Kidney Stones
Kidney stones can happen because of any number of reasons.
Health, hydration, diet, and acid imbalance are all factors in getting kidney stone.
Again, the largest factor is going to be nutrient deficiency, specifically magnesium.
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 functions in your body including calcium absorption and kidney stones.
Merely increasing your intake of magnesium can encourage the body to work how it was supposed to and keep kidney stones from happening.
With 22% DV of magnesium per 1/4 cup serving, sunflower seeds should be a natural choice if avoiding kidney stones is on your to-do list.
Take away: Add sunflower seeds or oil if you want to reduce your chance of kidney stones.
8 Delicious Recipes
The beauty of sunflower seeds is the diversity of how they can be used. You can get the same health benefits from the oil and you can from the seeds as you can from the butter. Here are 8 delicious recipes to help you get all of the wonderful benefits of sunflower seeds into your diet.
1. Sunflower Butter
Sunflower butter is not always easy to find. Here is a recipe from DetoxInista to make your own butter at home. The added benefit is you know exactly what is in your butter. And, since sunflower seeds are seeds, not nuts it is a great substitute for nut butters.
3 cups sunflower seeds (out of the shell)
1/4 cup sugar, coconut is recommended but regular or alternative sugar is fine (check conversion amounts)
3-4 large pinches of salt
Spread sunflower seeds on baking sheet
Toast in oven at 350 degrees until golden brown (about 25 minutes)
Check seeds every 5-10 minutes and mix for even toasting
Put seeds into food processor
Process for about 6 minutes until seed particles begin to stick together
Blend for an additional 5 minutes until buttery
Add salt and sugar and process for another 3-5 minutes until well incorporated
Can be put into airtight container and stored in the refrigerator.
2. Sunflower Oatmeal Cookies
Who says you have to be healthy while trying to be nutritious? This recipe from AllRecipes shows you how to get the best of both worlds.
1 Cup sugar
1 Cup brown sugar (packed)
1 Cup softened butter
2 Cups flour, all purpose
2 Cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Cup sunflower seeds, salted and roasted
3/4 cranberries OR raisins (or combine)
1 Cup slivered almonds (optional)
Mix the sugars and the butter together in a large bowl
Add one egg and combine, then the second egg and the vanilla and combine
In a separate bowl add baking soda, baking powder and flour together, then add to the other mixture
Stir until just combined
Add sunflower seeds, oats, raisin, cranberries and/or almonds and mix together
Put one tablespoon of cookie mixture onto a baking sheet with about an inch between each
Cook for 10-12 minutes in a 350 degree oven
3. Pomegranate Yogurt Bowl
Most often than not, sunflower seeds will be a delightful accent to a dish rather than a star. Here is a great breakfast idea from 101 Cookbooks.
3/4 Cup Greek Yogurt
2-3 Tablespoons pomegranate juice
Honey, to taste
Granola (or puffed quinoa)
Sunflower seeds to taste (about 1/4)
Other additions: Orange slices, pomegranate pips, grapes, raisins, bananas
Combine all ingredients in a bowl
4. Mini Sunflower Balls
For a quick snack, sunflower seeds can be combined with other good-for-you stuff for a double whammy of nutrients. This simple and easy recipe from The Healthy Apple shows you how easy it can be!
1 Cup rolled oats
1/2 Cup flaxseed
1/2 Cup sunflower seed butter
1/3 Cup honey
1/4 Cup dried cranberries or raisins or craisins
1/4 Cup sunflower seeds
2 Tablespoons slivered almonds or walnuts
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix all ingredients into a bowl
Chill in refrigerator for an hour
Once chilled, roll mixture into balls, about 1 inch
5. Sunflower Seed Crackers
This is a phenomenal snack from Bon Appetit because it not only has sunflower seeds which are packed with nutrients, but it contains other nuts and healthy things too! Plus it has a great crunch for those mid afternoon snack attacks.
1 Cup oats
1/3 Cup sunflower seeds (shelled)
2/3 Cup pumpkin seeds (shelled)
3 Tablespoons each of sesame seeds, chai seeds and poppy seeds
1/3 Cup Crasins
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1/3 Cup water
Combine all dry ingredients in large bowl
Combine vegetable oil, water and syrup/honey in a smaller bowl
Add wet ingredients to dry and let sit for 10-15 minutes
Using a tablespoon, measure out tablespoon sized portions of the mixture
Flatten each portion to form a 1/8 inch thick chip
Place on baking sheet
In a 375 degree oven, bake for 20 minutes (checking at 15 minutes for doneness)
Turn all crackers over and cook for an additional 15 minutes
Allow to cool
**Alternatively, you can roll out the mixture so that it is 1/8 inch thick on the baking sheet and break crackers into smaller portions after cooking**
6. Trail Mix
An oldie, but a goodie! Trail mix can be adapted to anyone’s tastes and you can put almost anything you want in it! Greatist.com has over 20 great trail mix recipes for any occasion.
1 Cup whole almonds
1 Cup sunflower seeds (shelled)
1 Cup pumpkin seeds (shelled)
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Teaspoon onion powder
1 Teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
In large bowl combine
7. Linguini with Blue Cheese and Sunflower Seeds
Yum yum yum! This dish from The National Sunflower Association really shows the diversity of the sunflower as this recipe includes sunflower oil and sunflower seeds.
1 Package linguine (10 oz)
3 green onions, chopped
1 Tablespoon sunflower oil
3-4 oz blue cheese
1 3/4 cup sour cream
Pepper to taste
1/3 Cup sunflower seeds, roasted and shelled
Cook noodles as directed
In large sauce pan, cook chopped onion in sunflower oil and butter untill slightly transparent
Add sour cream and heat until thickened
Crumble blue cheese and add to pan, stirring while the blue cheese melts
Add pepper to taste
Set aside a handful of sunflower seeds for garnish
Add the remaining sunflower seeds to the sauce
Combine noodles and sauce and garnish with the rest of the sunflower seeds
8. Summer Corn Salad
This recipe from 101 Cookbooks is great addition to any summer BBQ. It is super simple and requires no cooking
5-7 ears of corn
3 green onions, choppped
1/3 Cup lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt
3 Tablespoons sunflower oil
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 Cup sunflower seeds (shelled)
3/4 Cup pumpkin seeds (shelled)
Cut corn off cob (do not cook)
Add corn and onions to large bowl
As you serve, add seeds and dressing and combine
**Optional-add oregano and toss before serving**
Combine lemon juice, salt, brown sugar and drizzle in oil and whisk until combined
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.