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Sunflower seeds Nutrition facts

Sweet, nutty sunflower seeds are an excellent source of essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Sunflower kernels are actually employed to extract edible oil at commercial levels. Besides being eaten as popular snacks, they are also used in the kitchen to prepare a variety of recipes.

Sunflower is a tall, erect, herbaceous annual plant belonging to the family of Asteraceae, in the genus, Helianthus. Its botanical name is Helianthus annuus. It is native to the Middle American region from where it spread as an important commercial crop all over the world through European explorers. Today, the Russian Union, China, the USA, and Argentina are the leading producers of sunflower crops.

sunflower seeds sunflower kernels
Sunflower seeds. Note black conical seeds with smooth surface and gray stripes. Sunflower kernels

Sunflower flourishes well under well-drained moist, lime soil. It prefers good sunlight. Domesticated varieties produce a single large flowerhead (Pseudanthium) at the top. Unlike its domestic cultivar type, the wild sunflower plant exhibits multiple branches with each branch carrying its own individual flower-head. The sunflower head consists of two types of flowers. While sterile, large, yellow petals (ray flowers) grow near its perimeter, the central disk is made up of numerous tiny fertile flowers arranged in concentric whorls, which subsequently convert into achenes (edible seeds).

sunflower field
Sunflower field.

Sunflower seeds are about 6 mm to 10 mm in length, conical with a smooth surface. Their black outer coat (hull) encloses a single, gray-white edible-kernel inside. Each sunflower head may hold several hundreds of edible oil seeds.

Health benefits of Sunflower seeds

  1. Delicious, nutty, and crunchy sunflower seeds are widely considered healthy foods. They are high in energy; 100 g seeds hold about 584 calories. Nonetheless, they are one of the incredible sources of health-benefiting nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins.

  2. Much of their calories come from fatty acids. The seeds are especially rich in poly-unsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid, which constitutes more than 50% fatty acids in them. They are also good in mono-unsaturated oleic acid that helps lower LDL or "bad cholesterol" and increases HDL or "good cholesterol" in the blood. Research studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet which is rich in monounsaturated fats helps to prevent coronary artery disease, and stroke by favoring a healthy serum lipid profile.

  3. Like in other seeds and nuts, sunflower also is an excellent source of proteins loaded with fine quality amino acids such as tryptophan that are essential for growth, especially in children. Just 100 g of seeds provide about 21 g of protein (37% of daily recommended values).

  4. Also, sunflower seeds contain health-benefiting polyphenol compounds such as chlorogenic acid, quinic acid, and caffeic acids. These compounds are natural anti-oxidants, which help remove harmful oxidant molecules from the body. Further, chlorogenic acid helps reduce blood sugar levels by limiting glycogen breakdown in the liver.

  5. Further, the seeds are indeed a very rich source of vitamin-E; contain about 35.17 g per 100 g (about 234% of RDA). Vitamin E is a powerful lipid-soluble antioxidant required for maintaining the integrity of cell membranes of mucus membranes and skin by protecting it from harmful oxygen-free radicals.

  6. Sunflower kernels are one of the finest sources of the B-complex group of vitamins. They are very good sources of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, folic acid, thiamin (vitamin B1), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), pantothenic acid, and riboflavin.

  7. Sunflowers are incredible sources of folic acid. 100 g of kernels contains 227 µg of folic acid, which is about 37% of recommended daily intake. Folic acid is essential for DNA synthesis. When given to anticipant mothers during the peri-conceptional period, it may prevent neural tube defects in the baby.

  8. Niacin and pyridoxine are other B-complex vitamins found abundantly in the sunflower seeds. About 8.35 mg or 52% of the daily required levels of niacin are provided by just 100 g of seeds. Niacin helps reduce LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. Besides, it enhances GABA activity inside the brain, which in turn helps reduce anxiety and neurosis.

  9. The seeds are incredibly rich sources of many essential minerals. Calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium, selenium,, and copper are especially concentrated in sunflower seeds. Many of these minerals play a vital role in bone mineralization, red blood cell production, enzyme secretion, and hormone production, as well as the regulation of cardiac and skeletal muscle activities.

Just a handful of sunflower kernels a day provides much of the recommended level of phenolic antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and protein.

See the table below for in depth analysis of nutrients:

Sunflower seeds nutrition(Helianthus annuus), kernels, dried, values per 100 g. (Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)
Principle Nutrient Value Percent of RDA
Energy 584 Kcal 29%
Carbohydrates 20 g 15%
Protein 20.78 g 37%
Total Fat 51.46 g 172%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 8.6 g 23%
Folates 227 µg 57%
Niacin 8.335 mg 52%
Pantothenic acid 1.130 mg 22%
Pyridoxine 1.345 mg 103%
Riboflavin 0.355 mg 27%
Thiamin 1.480 mg 123%
Vitamin A 50 IU 1.7%
Vitamin C 1.4 2%
Vitamin E 35.17 mg 234%
Sodium 9 mg 1%
Potassium 645 mg 14%
Calcium 78 mg 8%
Copper 1.800 mg 200%
Iron 5.25 mg 63%
Magnesium 325 mg 81%
Manganese 1.950 mg 85%
Phosphorus 660 mg 94%
Selenium 53 µg 96%
Zinc 5.00 mg 45%
Carotene-ß 30 µg --
Crypto-xanthin-ß 0 µg --
Lutein-zeaxanthin 0 µg --

Selection and storage

In the farm fields, sunflower heads can be ready for harvesting once they turn brown and dry. In general, the seeds intended to be used in confectionery are somewhat larger, sweet, and have striped hulls. Oil-type sunflower seeds are characterized by small size, have more oil content, and feature black hulls. However, both types of seeds can be used for either purpose.

In the stores, one may choose whole seeds, hulled, roasted, salted, etc., for use. Avoid thin, shriveled seeds or old stocks, as they tend to be out of flavor.

At home, store whole seeds at room temperature in a bin or jar. However, sunflower kernels should be placed inside an airtight container and stored in the refrigerator.

Culinary uses

At present, sunflower seeds are used mainly to press cooking oil. They are still favored in the confectionery and as bird feed. As in pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds also are popular, tasty, low-fat snack items.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Roasted and salted, they can be enjoyed as a healthy snack.

  • They add crunchiness to salads.

  • Sprinkle sunflower kernels over fried rice dishes or sautéed vegetables as garnish.

  • The seeds can be coated with chocolate, candied, or added to cakes, and muffins.

  • The seeds can be added to salad dressings, casseroles, or baked goods.

  • In Germany and other Central European regions, the flour made from the seeds is used in making dark bread, sonnenblumenbrot (sunflower bread).

  • Sunflower seed butter, sold as SunButter, is a suitable alternative in peanut allergies.

Safety profile

Sunflower seed allergy is relatively rare, unlike peanut or tree nuts (cashew, walnuts, hazelnut, etc.) allergies. In some susceptible individuals, however, its reactions may include itchiness of the skin, sneezing, itchiness in the eyes, gastritis, vomiting, etc. It is advised, therefore, to avoid the use of seeds in known allergic persons. (Medical Disclaimer).

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Further Resources:

  1. USDA National Nutrient Database.

  2. Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.

  3. Production guidelines-Sunflower-PDF.

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