Sunflower Seed Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

sunflower seeds nutrition facts and health benefits
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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 rich in vitamins but low in carbohydrates. 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.

  • Calories: 207
  • Fat: 19g
  • Sodium: 1mg
  • Carbohydrates: 7g
  • Fiber: 3.9g
  • Protein: 5.8g

Carbs

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.

Fats

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 healthy fat, a mix of polyunsaturated fat (12.5g) and monounsaturated fat (3.6g). There are about 2 grams of saturated fat in a serving of sunflower seed kernels.

Protein

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 your daily intake. They are also an excellent source of thiamin, and a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, and folate.

Minerals in sunflower seeds include copper (50% of your daily intake), magnesium (23%), phosphorous (18%), manganese (27%) and selenium (21%) and smaller amounts of zinc, iron, and potassium.

Health Benefits 

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.

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.

Eases Constipation

If you eat a lot of foods with fiber, you may get a laxative effect. 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.

The sunflower kernel provides fiber that may provide laxative benefits. The whole seed provides more fiber but may create other digestion problems. For this reason, if you are experiencing constipation, whole sunflower seeds may not be the smartest choice.

Aids Healthy Weight Maintenance

Fiber aids in satiety (feeling full). For some people, a feeling of fullness helps avoid mindless eating that can lead to overeating and weight gain. 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 boosts immunity. 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.

Allergies

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 allergic 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.

Adverse Effects

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. 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.

Varieties

Most sunflower seeds that you buy in the store are called "non-oilseed." These seeds are black and white striped and are packaged to eat as a snack or included in other foods such as bread. 

When buying sunflower seeds it's helpful to read the package label carefully and examine the contents inside (if possible). Some sunflower seed packages use the word "seed" even though they're only selling the kernel. When you buy "sunflower kernels," the hull has been mechanically removed.

Sunflower kernels or whole seeds can be sold raw, roasted, or seasoned. Often, the kernels or the seeds are dusted with salt, which changes the nutritional profile. For example, a 1-ounce serving of salted seeds may contain 45mg or more of added sodium; some brands even contain up to 186mg of added sodium. If the seeds or kernels are roasted in oil, you'll also consume more fat with each serving.

When It’s Best

Sunflowers typically bloom in the summer, but whole sunflower seeds have a long shelf life and are therefore available all year long in most markets.

Storage and Food Safety

Because sunflower kernels have a high fat content, they are prone to go rancid if not stored properly. It is best to store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three months. You can also store them in the freezer.

When buying whole sunflower seeds in the store. Check the "best by" date (as some may have been on the store shelf for some time). The whole seeds are often good up to four months past that date and up to one year past that date if frozen.

How to Prepare

You can eat sunflower kernels seeds on their own for a quick snack. To help control portions, measure out the seeds instead of just reaching into a bag or bowl. Try to keep your portion to no more than 1/4 cup (without the shell), which is more or less the equivalent to a single dry ounce.

If you plan on pairing your seeds with a serving of fruit, try cutting your portion in half. If, on the other hand, you are adding your seeds to your salad or side dish, you can keep your portion to about 1 tablespoon. Adding sunflower kernels to side dishes adds fiber, texture, and heart-healthy fat to the food. Simply roast them or include them raw.

To roast sunflower seeds, place the kernels on a baking sheet and place in a 400-degree oven. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and seasoning if you prefer. Keep an eye on them as they will start to brown in 3–4 minutes.

Sunflower seeds also can be ground and used to dust meat and fish. Toss some seeds into your yogurt, cottage cheese, or low-fat smoothie for additional flavor. They can also be added to muffins, breads, pancake mix, and desserts or used as an ingredient in homemade granola and trail mix.

Lastly, sunflower seeds are also used to make sun butter, which is a good spread alternative if you have a peanut allergy. The seeds are also used to make sunflower oil.

Recipes

Healthy Sunflower Seed Recipes to Try

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