Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are the kernel of the sunflower plant (Helianthus annuus L.). Sunflower seeds have enjoyed a surge in popularity during recent years in nutrition and health spaces. In fact in 2007, sunflower seeds were thought to be the ‘most important oilseed crop grown in the world’. In my view sunflower seeds are very palatable and quite versatile. They are relatively cheap and easy to add to meals. Nutritionally, sunflower seeds can give your usual snack-time favourites like almonds and peanuts a run for their money. I have no doubt the research on sunflower seeds will continue to grow, as already the promising health benefits are becoming more apparent.

Sunflower seeds are slightly tear-shaped and grow in the head of the sunflower. Each seed has an outer shell or hull and an inner seed or kernel. Sunflowers are of course the big, bright sunny yellow and black flowers that grow over 5ft fall. They famously turn to face the sun across the day and do well in hot weather. Sunflowers themselves belong to the Asteraceae family and are related to daisies, marigolds, chrysanthemums, echinacea and yarrow. Sunflowers originated in America, with Indigenous Americans cultivating sunflower seeds as early as 3000 BC. 

Widespread production of sunflowers began in Europe in the 16th century. Commercially the outer husk of the seeds appears either solid black or striped. They are used in cereals and baked goods or processed to yield sunflower oil for cooking. The three varieties of sunflower seeds include linoleic, high oleic and regular sunflower oil seeds. Each has a special profile of healthy fats, varying in monounsaturated, saturated or polyunsaturated fats.

Bowl of unpeeled sunflower seeds with sunflowers in the background

Sunflower Seed Nutrient Snapshot

  • Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, folate, choline
  • Magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc
  • Amino acids, diterpenoids, polyphenols
  • Vitamin E & C
  • High in polyunsaturated fats and linoleic acid

Some Sunflower Seed Health Benefits

The benefits of sunflower seeds are comparable to the benefits of many nuts. In fact sunflower seeds could rival almonds for their vitamin E content. They are also fairly high in protein as far as seeds go. They have historically been used in traditional European cultures to treat upper respiratory conditions, including coughs and the common cold. Sunflower seeds have a range of beneficial therapeutic actions. Here’s what the data shows:

  • Antioxidant
  • Anticancer
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial
  • Hormone support
  • Weight management
  • Dermoprotective

Small bowl of sunflower seeds on a wooden background

Sunflower Seeds & Ovarian Cycle Function

This may well be a long bow to draw, but it’s not a bad concept if it means getting more sunflower seeds into your daily diet. Sunflower seeds feature in the relatively popular fad of seed cycling. Here, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are used interchangeably at various times in a woman’s ovarian cycle. The goal is to improve the nutrient reserves that affect hormones as they peak and fall over the course of the follicular and luteal phases. I go into more detail on this protocol together with a healthy recipe here.

Sunflower Seed Extract Supports Healthy Weight

A 2019 study demonstrated the metabolic effects of sunflower seeds in a group of overweight participants. The authors noted improvements in body weight and cholesterol and concluded sunflower seeds to be a healthy addition in obesity-related conditions. 

Soaking Sunflower Seeds Boosts Antioxidant Potential

The antioxidant properties of sunflower seeds are prone to degradation over time. A process known as osmopriming, which involves soaking seeds in a solution of low water potential, appears to reinvigorate aged seeds. This process progressively restores antioxidant defence systems of sunflower seeds. This was demonstrated not only by an increase in substances such as superoxide dismutase and glutathione reductase, but also the reduction in lipid peroxidation of the cell wall. 

Sunflower seeds in a bowl

How to Enjoy Sunflower Seeds

  • Enjoy them raw or roasted with seasoning as a snack. 
  • Make a praline by dousing them in caramel and setting on a baking tray. 
  • Toss them in a salad
  • Throw them in your homemade granola or add to your porridge. 
  • Sunflower seeds are also used in Russia to make halva. 
  • Alternatively you can eat them sprouted in a salad for an extra dose of dietary zinc. 

Because of their mild taste they really can go into all kinds of dishes, both sweet and savoury. 

Nut Butter Alternative? Try Sunflower Seed Butter

Sunflower seed butter is a wonderful alternative to traditional nut butters if you’ve got nut allergies or just want to try something new. High in protein and healthy fats, and often cheaper than some nut butters, sunflower seed butter has a mild flavour and makes a great pairing with sliced strawberries on sourdough. Yum! Have a look at some delicious nut butter ideas here

How to Store Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are sensitive to oxidation and going ‘off’ just the same as other seeds and nuts. Keeping your sunflower seeds in an airtight container in the fridge is ideal. However, storing sunflower seeds on a shelf away from direct sunlight is also fine. They should last for several months.

Recipe

Linguine with Blue Cheese and Sunflower Seeds

A bit special in more ways than one. This pasta dish is elegant with just a few ingredients. Not everyone likes blue cheese, and that’s totally fair enough! However the sauce is balanced well and the sunflower seeds give added texture and depth. I hope you give it a go.

Ingredients

1 packet of linguine or spaghettini

1 shallot or small onion, peeled and chopped

90g blue cheese

1 tbsp. Sunflower oil

1 ¾ cup sour cream

½ tsp. Pepper

40g roasted sunflower kernels

Chopped parsley to serve

Method

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, until just al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a pan on medium heat, fry shallot or onion in butter.
  3. Add sour cream and warm slightly until sauce thickens.
  4. Crumble blue cheese with a fork, add to sour cream mixture, and stir until melted.
  5. Season with pepper.
  6. Add 20g sunflower seeds to the blue cheese sauce and stir through.
  7. Add the pasta to the sauce and coat evenly.
  8. Serve with chopped parsley and remaining sunflower kernels.

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Article References

(14) (PDF) Nutritional and therapeutic potential of sunflower seeds: A review. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263340213_Nutritional_and_therapeutic_potential_of_sunflower_seeds_A_review#fullTextFileContent[accessed Aug 12 2021].

Bailly, C., Benamar , A., Corbineau, F.. and Côme, D.. (1998), Free radical scavenging as affected by accelerated ageing and subsequent priming in sunflower seeds. Physiologia Plantarum, 104: 646-652. https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1399-3054.1998.1040418.x

Leverrier, A., Daguet, D., Calame, W., Dhoye, P., & Kodimule, S. P. (2019). Helianthus annuusSeed Extract Affects Weight and Body Composition of Healthy Obese Adults during 12 Weeks of Consumption: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. Nutrients, 11(5), 1080. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051080

Nandha, R. ., Singh, H. ., Garg, K. ., & Rani, S. . (2014). THERAPEUTIC POTENTIAL OF SUNFLOWER SEEDS: AN OVERVIEW. International Journal of Research and Development in Pharmacy & Life Sciences, 3(3), 967-972. Retrieved from https://ijrdpl.com/index.php/ijrdpl/article/view/335 

Pal, D., 2011. Nuts and Seeds in Health and Nutrition. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) Seeds in Health and Nutrition, 1st ed. Pp.1097-1105. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-375688-6.10130-6
Wikipedia Contributors. (2021, August 12). Sunflower Seed. Retrieved from Wikipedia website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflower_seed, viewed 12 August 2021