Small and versatile, sunflower seeds can be a standalone snack or added to cereals, salads, breads and more. Despite these tasty seeds’ little size, they’re packed full of antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins and minerals. When they’re eaten in moderation, sunflower seeds are a wonderful way to get more seeds in your diet, and they come with benefits, too! Read on to discover the five surprising bonuses these tiny seeds bring to the table and how you can add them into your diet today.
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1. Helps Boost Heart Health
Sunflower seeds have two nutrients that are known to promote heath health, namely vitamin E and folate. Just a quarter-cup serving of these seeds has more than 60 percent of your daily recommended vitamin E intake. This vitamin is an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals to protect the health of your brain and cell membranes from swelling and redness. A study published in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal actually linked balanced vitamin E levels to a reduced risk of death from heart disease.
Folate occurs naturally in sunflower seeds and has been associated with heart health, promoting it from any early age. A review in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research noted that folate may even have a role in the prevention of a stroke.
2. Positively Impacts Cholesterol
These rich seeds are full of monounsaturated oleic acid, which research has shown can raise good, or HDL, cholesterol in the blood while lowering bad, known as LDL, cholesterol levels at the same time. According to Science Daily, they also contain phytosterols, and these plant chemicals are known to reduce your bad cholesterol and boost overall heart health.
3. Improves Nerves, Bones And Muscle Tone
A deficiency in magnesium can cause a whole host of health problems that impact your immune, nervous and cardiovascular systems, per the National Institutes of Health. Your skeletal system and muscles also need magnesium to function properly. Just one quarter-cup serving of the seeds can provide more than 25 percent of the recommended daily intake for magnesium.
Because of the magnesium levels, sunflower seeds may also help you relax. Your nerve cells need calcium to regulate neurotransmitter release, and magnesium is a regulator of calcium’s entry into your nerve cells. This action prevents the cells from becoming overstimulated, and it also keeps your muscles and blood vessels relaxed.
4. Protects Against Cancer
Sunflower seeds contain the essential nutrient, selenium. Studies have discovered that it plays an antioxidant role in your body, helps reduce swelling and redness and actually encourages the repair of DNA in damaged cells, the latter action helping to protect against cancer, per the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
5. Provides Antioxidant Protection
You’ll find many polyphenols, including caffeic acids, chlorgenic acids and quinic acids, in sunflower seeds. These are compounds that act as antioxidants, helping to protect your cells from oxidative stress and free radicals. Free radicals are associated with cancers, and oxidative stress is linked to premature aging and other chronic illnesses.
Quick Serving Tips:
Try the following quick and easy tips to work these wonder seeds into your diet today.
- Use sunflower seeds as a healthy snack all on their own. Stick to the serving size on the package, and feel free to try different varieties. Roasted and salted is common, but there are salt-free varieties out there if sodium is a concern. Watch out for brands with unhealthy additives, as this will cut into the health benefit you’re receiving.
- Sunflower seeds are great for adding a crunchy texture to your salads, and they’re quick and easy to use. Simply spread a handful on and enjoy!
- Use sunflower seeds to add dimension to your sautéed veggies, fried rice dishes or as a garnish. Experiment with different dishes to find new ways to enjoy the seeds.
- For a sweet pick-me-up, try coating the seeds with a little dark chocolate. They also work well in muffins, cakes and other baked goods, but don’t make it too much of a habit!
- With their sweet and nutty profile, these seeds work well in casseroles or in salad dressings. You can add to preexisting dressings, or make your own.
- If you’re allergic to peanuts or just want to try something new, there is sunflower seed butter available. Use it as you would normally use peanut butter, such as in sandwiches or as a dip for veggies and spread for crackers.
Looking For Fresh Seeds?
Sunflowers aren’t difficult plants to grow. They do best in full sun and don’t need stalking or fertilizers, but they will require adequate watering and some attention so you don’t miss the harvest time.
If you’re growing your own sunflowers for fresh seeds, harvest when the back of the flower’s head has turned brown. In colder areas, this tends to be after the first freeze. In warmer climates, the plant will naturally dry down. Just snip the plant’s head and rub your seeds out by hand into a container so you don’t lose any. They’re ready to eat as is after a cleaning, or you can roast and salt them on your own using the directions below.
Roasted Sunflower Seeds
Cover your unshelled seeds with water that has salt, using from 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of salt for every two quarts of water. Soak your seeds in this solution over one night. The next morning, drain your seeds and pat them dry to get rid of excess water. If you want unsalted seeds, skip the soaking process.
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F, and spread the seeds in an even layer on a shallow pan or cookie sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown, and stir occasionally. The seeds may develop a crack down their center as they roast, but this is normal. Test your seeds by tasting every time you stir to see if they’re fully roasted so you don’t burn them. After you’ve completed the roasting, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Store the seeds in an airtight container for use later.
A Word About The Shells
Sunflower seeds often come unshelled, but they do have hulls, and some varieties come with that hull still on. According to the National Sunflower Association, the hulls are edible and mainly made of fiber. However, eating too many hulls can result in impaction, a condition that affects the waste elimination process and has been observed in many cases involving children.
Additionally, hulls must be chewed thoroughly and properly to prevent pieces from puncturing or becoming attached to the digestive tract or the esophagus. Should you decide to eat the hulls to add some fiber into your diet, be sure to do so in moderation, and always chew the hulls completely before swallowing.