Sunflower seeds provide plenty of protein, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, and minerals – making them an extremely healthy snack. If the delicious seeds end up on the plate regularly, they can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Sunflower seeds – popular worldwide
Whether in bread, in muesli, in a patty, or in a salad – sunflower seeds give many dishes a nutty taste and a pithy bite. In some countries and regions of the world, such as Russia, Turkey, and the Middle East, salted or roasted sunflower seeds are very popular as a snack: the seeds are usually sold there with the shell, which is then packed with the teeth being cracked open. In Central Europe, on the other hand, it is more common to buy kernels that have already been peeled.
Worshiped by the Incas: the sunflower
Sunflower seeds are the fruit of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus). The Incas worshiped the sunflower because it was considered to be the image of their sun god “Inti”. The plant originally comes from America, from where the Spanish conquerors brought it to Europe in the 16th century.
Today, sunflowers are grown all over the world – mainly for the production of sunflower oil, which is pressed from the kernels. The largest producers of sunflower oil include Ukraine, Russia, the countries of the European Union, and Argentina.
Sunflower seeds in low-carb and vegan cuisine
Sunflower seed flour can also be produced from the so-called press cake, i.e. the de-oiled kernels that remain after the oil have been produced. This is used in bread, rolls, and crackers, especially in low-carb recipes, as it has only half the carbohydrate content of conventional flour (35 percent versus 60-70 percent).
Spreads made from pureed sunflower seeds that are reminiscent of cream cheese have been on the market for a long time, e.g. B. from dwarf meadow (Prank) or good for life (Ibi). The basic recipe can then be combined with other ingredients, such as paprika, onions, chives, wild garlic, chili, curry, basil, etc. so that there are countless extremely delicious variations of these spreads for every taste. Of course, you can also prepare these spreads and dips yourself.
The nutritional values of sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are extremely healthy because they contain many valuable ingredients. For example, they are good sources of protein and fiber.
Sunflower seeds and sunflower oil: Omega 6 or Omega 3?
Sunflower seeds provide plenty of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially linoleic acid – one of the best-known omega-6 fatty acids (17,000 mg per 100 g). The content of omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid), on the other hand, is low (26 mg per 100 g). The content of monounsaturated fatty acids is about 6,500 mg. This is mainly oleic acid, which is contained in very large quantities in olive or almond oil.
When it comes to choosing the right cooking oil, sunflower oil is often not recommended. The omega-6-omega-3 ratio is too bad (because it contains too much linoleic acid/omega 6), which is why the oil could have a pro-inflammatory effect. The ideal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is generally stated to be 4:1 (4 times more omega 6 than omega 3). In sunflower oil, however, the ratio is 120 to 270: 1. So if you constantly and exclusively use sunflower oil, you could promote inflammatory diseases.
Nonetheless, linoleic acid (like alpha-linolenic acid) is an essential fatty acid that must be obtained from the diet. So it’s not inherently bad. The only problem is a large excess of linoleic acid – and not always. It always depends on the total package of a diet. For example, one could pay more attention to consuming more omega-3-rich foods.
Sunflower seeds have an anti-inflammatory effect
So even if sunflower oil may not be ideal for health (if it is used in too large quantities), the consumption of sunflower seeds is healthy in any case and even has an anti-inflammatory effect. This was shown by an observational study of 6000 people published in the American Journal of Epidemiology:
People who ate a portion of sunflower seeds (30 g) five times a week had lower levels of inflammation in their blood than people who ate the seeds less often or never. This also applied to the consumption of other kernels and nuts, such as pine nuts or walnuts. It is assumed that the consumption of seeds and nuts is therefore also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The Calories of Sunflower Seeds
With 480 kcal per 100 g, sunflower seeds are in the normal range in terms of calories – at least compared to other seeds and nuts. For example, 100 g of walnuts contain 650 kcal and pumpkin seeds contain 565 kcal. This may seem like a lot, but seeds and nuts shouldn’t be eaten as additional snacks but should either replace unhealthy snacks like chips and sweets or – even better – simply be considered a staple food. So they are eaten instead of bread and rolls or instead of meat, sausage and cheese.
This is how sunflower seeds affect health
In folk medicine, sunflower seeds are used for heart diseases, infections, coughs, and colds, among other things. Studies have also identified the following effects – sunflower seeds work:
Below we present a few uses of sunflower seeds as home remedies and a few studies in which the health effects of sunflower seeds were examined.
Sunflower seeds for heartburn
Eating a small handful of sunflower seeds for heartburn can provide short-term relief. Because the kernels and other seeds and nuts are said to bind the excess acid in the stomach when chewed well and lie protectively over the gastric mucosa.
Sunflower seeds for constipation
Since sunflower seeds contain plenty of fiber, they can also have a positive effect on digestion. If you are prone to constipation, you can eat a small handful of sunflower seeds every day as a preventive measure. Fiber (and indeed any food) should be chewed well, as it can cause bloating in sensitive individuals.
Sunflower seeds help with obesity
It is already known that the chlorogenic acid contained in sunflower seeds activates fat metabolism and lowers blood sugar levels and LDL cholesterol levels. For this reason, French researchers tested how sunflower seeds affect obesity.
A total of 50 overweight subjects were recruited for the study – 30 subjects received 500 mg of sunflower seed extract daily for 12 weeks, and the remaining 20 subjects received a placebo. In addition, all subjects were instructed to consume 500 kcal less per day than before.
After the 12 weeks, weight, BMI, waist circumference, body fat percentage, glucose, and cholesterol levels were measured. All values had improved in both groups, but the greater successes were measured in the sunflower seed group. Women over 30, in particular, responded to the sunflower seed extract: on average, they lost three times more waist circumference than the over 30-year-old women in the placebo group.
Since obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and many other diseases, the researchers concluded that the chlorogenic acid contained in sunflower seeds could reduce the risk of these diseases. However, this effect is not only to be expected from an extract that is known to contain standardized levels of ingredients, but also from the normal consumption of sunflower seeds, as you will learn in the next paragraph.
Sunflower seeds lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels
Indian researchers investigated the influence of the consumption of sunflower seeds: 60 subjects with type 2 diabetes received nutritional advice, half of whom were also instructed to eat 2 grams of sunflower seeds daily for 6 months.
After 6 months, the blood sugar and cholesterol levels in the sunflower seed group had improved significantly compared to the control group. The researchers also attributed this result to chlorogenic acid, among other things. So, the results show that sunflower seeds are a valuable part of a balanced diet and may reduce the risk of the mentioned conditions.
Buying sunflower seeds – you should pay attention to this
Sunflowers are grown worldwide, but the harvest in Europe is too small to meet demand. Therefore, the kernels are sometimes also imported from other countries. When buying, make sure that the kernels come at least from Europe to avoid long transport routes.
Sunflower seeds are sometimes offered salted or seasoned in some other way – however, the western diet is usually very high in salt, which is why it is better to use unsalted seeds. With seasoned kernels, you should make sure that they do not contain any flavor enhancers (recognizable by the three-digit E numbers in the table of contents with a 6 at the beginning: E6xx).
Pesticides and molds in sunflower seeds?
In 2015, the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety examined various foods for pesticide residues. The 170 sunflower seed samples examined did not contain any pesticide residues. The Federal Office also examined sunflower oil for the mold toxins aflatoxin and ochratoxin A – neither was detected. Sunflower seeds were no longer tested in more recent studies.
Do sunflower seeds store cadmium?
Like many other foods, sunflower seeds extract heavy metal cadmium from the soil and store it. Cadmium is associated with kidney dysfunction, among other things, and is only excreted extremely slowly. Germans take in around 1.5 µg of cadmium per kilogram of body weight through food every week and vegetarians around 1.8 µg.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, the maximum tolerable level is 2.5 µg per kilogram of body weight per week. Smoking, iron, and calcium deficiencies also cause the body to absorb more cadmium.
Cadmium is found in animal and plant-based foods and is so widespread that intake can hardly be avoided. However, plant foods contain many secondary plant substances that contribute to detoxification and protect against the development of diseases. A varied plant-based diet and a good supply of iron and calcium are therefore important. Then the benefits of the sunflower seeds far outweigh them and the cadmium that may be present cannot do any harm.
Growing sunflowers from sunflower seeds
If you have a birdhouse in your garden and occasionally fill it with sunflower seeds, you may be surprised next year with a sunflower in the garden that has grown from fallen seed. Because peeled and unpeeled kernels usually germinate without any problems. Therefore, they are also wonderfully suitable for sprout cultivation.
Sunflowers also do well in pots, as long as they are in a sunny spot and the pot offers enough space (diameter approx. 30 cm). Sunflowers not only add color to the garden – after flowering, the seeds can also be harvested.
Harvest sunflower seeds
The seeds of the sunflower are in the center of the flower, surrounded by yellow petals. A single sunflower provides up to 1500 sunflower seeds, depending on the variety. The kernels are harvested from late summer to autumn. When the petals begin to wilt and the back of the flower turns yellow-brown, it’s time to harvest. Now you can cut off the flower with part of the stem, attach it to a string and hang it upside down indoors to dry.
When the sunflower is completely dry, the seeds fall out almost by themselves – this should be the case after a few days. It is best to put a bag over it so that the seeds are caught directly. The remaining cores can be easily detached by hand. Now wash the harvested sunflower seeds to remove dust and other dirt and spread them out on a towel to dry so that they don’t start to mold when stored.
Store sunflower seeds properly
Sunflower seeds are best stored in a dry, dark place in an airtight container. They will keep for two to three months. If you want to keep the seeds longer, you should keep them in the refrigerator, where they will keep for up to a year. They will keep for at least a year in a freezer bag in the freezer. When sunflower seeds go bad, they start to smell a little rancid and sour and taste strange.
Grow sprouts from sunflower seeds
It is very easy to grow sprouts from peeled and unpeeled sunflower seeds, which are then e.g. B. can be enjoyed in a salad, on bread, or as a nutritious snack:
- Wash the sunflower seeds in a colander.
- Then put in a glass (e.g. mason jar) with at least twice the amount of water and soak in it. Then use a rubber band to attach a thin, water-permeable piece of cloth or a fine sieve to the opening. Peeled kernels need about 8 hours of soaking time – unpeeled for about 12 hours.
- After the soaking time, the first germs sometimes appear. The water is now poured off through the sieve.
- Now the glass is tilted slightly so that the water can run off. It is best to place a small plate underneath and lean it against something. Purchased sprouting jars have a device that allows them to be tilted, e.g. B. on the drainer next to the sink. However, the jar should be in a place that gets as little sun as possible, because sunflower seeds germinate best in the dark. The ideal room temperature for germination is between 18 and 22 degrees.
- From now on, the glass should be rinsed with water two to three times a day. For rinsing, the sieve or the fabric remains on it and the glass is swirled a few times. Then the glass is tilted again.
- After a day or two, the sunflower sprouts can be eaten.
If you let the sprouts germinate longer, small leaves will form after about a week. You can use these “microgreens” wonderfully in salads. Unpeeled kernels are a little better suited for this, as they are less susceptible to bacteria and mold.
Shell the sunflower seeds
Whether you eat sunflower seeds with or without the shell is a matter of taste. The peel can be eaten, but it is almost indigestible and can cause problems, especially for people with existing digestive problems. Unpeeled sunflower seeds should definitely not be consumed in large quantities.
If you want to eat the sunflower seeds straight away, first bite into the first third of the kernel, then into the second third, and then the rear end – then the kernel comes out of the shell and lands directly in your mouth. Alternatively, you can crack open the shell with your teeth and then remove it with your fingernails.
Unfortunately, there is no simpler or more efficient solution for peeling larger quantities at home. If you treat the shells with a hammer, for example, most of the cores also break, which would be a shame. Those who do not want to do the work of peeling by hand are better off leaving the kernels to the birds in the garden and buying kernels that have already been shelled.
Soak sunflower seeds?
It is sometimes advised to soak nuts and seeds before eating because of their lectin and phytic acid content.
This is also the case with sunflower seeds, as a study shows: untreated, the seeds contained 1.52 g phytic acid (per 100 g sunflower seeds) and after the seeds had been soaked for 16 hours, the phytic acid content had even risen to 1.66 g. Only 72 hours after germination of the kernels did the phytic acid reduce to 1.33 g. The lectin content was not examined in the study – we have not been able to find any evaluations on this anywhere else so far.
In principle, phytic acid and lectins are always considered to be extremely harmful and are referred to as anti-nutrients, although they also have positive properties. In addition, individual substances should not be viewed in isolation.
Plant-based foods also contain many other secondary plant substances that prevent diseases and possibly compensate for potential damage to individual active ingredients. Avoiding sunflower seeds for fear of phytic acid and lectins would be an exaggeration. Instead, as already mentioned in the paragraph on cadmium, a varied diet should be used. For more information, see our text on lectins in nightshades.
Roast sunflower seeds
Roasted sunflower seeds taste wonderful, e.g. B. as a topping in salads, soups, or pesto. Put the kernels – peeled or unpeeled – into the pan without oil and roast them on the lowest setting, tossing them occasionally. Don’t take your eyes off the seeds, because they burn quickly – they shouldn’t turn black. After a few minutes, the cores are ready.
Larger quantities can be roasted in the oven at once: a study has shown that the kernels should ideally be roasted in the oven for 45 minutes at 125 degrees, as the kernels develop fine roasted aromas at this temperature without tasting burnt. Spread the kernels out on the baking sheet, turning them occasionally. After about 45 minutes you can take the kernels out of the oven, let them cool down, and enjoy.
Roasting the kernels at temperatures of up to 155 degrees has no effect on the fatty acid content, as another study showed. So as long as the kernels are heated, the fatty acids are largely protected and do not behave like fatty acids in oil that lack any protection. Even when frying with sunflower oil, trans fatty acids only form in the sunflower oil after several hours of heating.