Brighten the day — and help improve your diet, health — with sunflower seeds

This seed is rich in unsaturated fatty acids, notably linoleic acid, which has been linked with health benefits.

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Sunflowers seeds are small yet mighty.

Sunflowers seeds are small yet mighty.

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Raw or roasted, shelled or unshelled, the sunflower seed has a huge following.

The folklore

For thousands of years, Native Americans used sunflower seeds as well as the sunflower plant’s roots, stem and flowers for medicines and dye pigment.

Native to Mexico and Peru, sunflower seeds were introduced to this country in the 16th century, making it one of the first cultivated plants in the U.S.

Today, the sunflower seed is as American as baseball. But this fan fave stands out from the crowd of unhealthy ballpark fare, running nutritional bases around the competition.

The facts

Spiraled inside the flowering head of the sunflower (Helianthus annus), the many small, tubular flowers become sunflower seeds.

Each plant produces an average of 800-2,000 seeds depending on size, which can reach upwards of twelve feet with a one-foot flower diameter.

Thin shells of black, gray, or gray and white stripes encase gray-green or black seeds. Both are edible, but black seeds are generally pressed into sunflower oil, while the others are more commonly eaten.

This seed is rich in unsaturated fatty acids, notably linoleic acid, which has been linked with health benefits. A one-ounce serving, about a quarter cup, boasts 47% DV (DV=Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) of heart healthy vitamin E and is a good source of thiamin, manganese, magnesium, and selenium, as well as 10 percent and 12% DV of dietary fiber and protein, respectively.

The findings

Sunflower seeds contain proteins, oils, and 18 minerals, according to a study in the journal, Plants (2021). The seed also contains valuable antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, wound-healing, and cardiovascular benefits due to its plant compounds, unsaturated fatty acids, and vitamins (Chemistry Central Journal, 2017).

Sunflower seeds may help reduce glucose levels. They contain components, like chlorogenic acid, which are involved in the management of insulin resistance and insulin production.

The finer points

The freshest unshelled seeds have firm shells that aren’t broken or dirty.

Avoid shelled seeds that are yellow or smell off.

High in oil, the seeds are prone to rancidity, so refrigerate or freeze in an airtight container.

These seeds are a good snack and they also pair well with meals. Saute with veggies, sprinkle atop fresh fruit, fold into an omelet, or mix into ground meats, bread and cookies.

Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts.

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