Lowly sunflower seeds are a surprisingly nutritious snack, providing a variety of important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Sunflower seeds are easily available and can be a great substitute for high-calorie candy bars or other less healthy snack options. Replacing a package of potato chips with a handful of sunflower seeds can go a long way toward increasing the nutritional value of a day's food intake.
Nutrients in Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are packed with vitamins, including vitamin B1 and B5, vitamin E and folate. They also provide a healthy dose of copper, magnesium, selenium and phosphorous--important minerals. Just a quarter of a cup--four tablespoons--of seeds holds half the daily requirement or more of these important nutrients. The fats present in sunflower seeds are also good quality, heart healthy fats that can help increase "good" cholesterol and protect the heart and cardiovascular system.
Of these nutrients, vitamin E in particular is a powerful antioxidant, helping preserve cardiovascular health. Sunflower seeds are quite high in vitamin E, with ninety percent of the recommended daily allowance of this vitamin in a quarter cup. Also helpful to cardiovascular health and cholesterol maintenance are lignans, arginine and phenolic acids. While these substances are less well-known to most people, studies increasingly show benefits from increasing their intake.
Other substances found in sunflower seeds include tryptophan and choline. Also found in pumpkin seeds, tryptophan can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Choline appears to help increase brain function, particularly helping to improve memory. With this wide combination of phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, sunflower seeds are a surprisingly nutrient dense food.
Adding Sunflower Seeds to the Diet
With their mild, nutty flavor, sunflower seeds can enhance a wide range of foods, making it easy to add them to the everyday diet. Some quick and easy ways to add sunflower seeds to a daily nutritional regimen include:
- Add to breads or muffins for a nutty, crunchy flavor
- Sprinkle on salads at lunch time
- Add to yogurt for a breakfast treat
Of course, sunflower seeds are also easy to eat straight out of the package. Remember, though, that even sunflower seeds can provide too much of a good thing, so be careful not to overindulge. About a quarter of a cup per day of these tasty seeds is plenty to provide the wide nutritional benefits. Try a tablespoon at breakfast or lunch, sprinkled on salad or yogurt, plus a tablespoon or two for an afternoon snack.
Another precaution to be aware of is to avoid flavored or salted sunflower seeds. Most sunflower seeds in the grocery store have been heavily salted. Dieters who are watching sodium intake due to high blood pressure or other issues should be aware of this. Flavored seeds are fun in small quantities, but again the sodium levels can be quite high.
While some people are used to salty snacks, they aren't as healthy as unsalted varieties. Those used to raw seeds and nuts will find the salt levels in many sunflower seed brands to be quite unpleasant. Look for unsalted seeds or even raw seeds for the best health benefits.