Sunflower Seeds: Benefits, Nutrition & Recipes
Sunflower Seeds Health Benefits
Sunflower seeds are a unique food, rich in many types of essential, and sometimes hard to get, nutrients. In fact, sunflower seeds make my Top 10 List for foods rich in Vitamin E, copper, B Vitamins like thiamine, phosphorus, selenium, and more.
Sunflower seeds, like nearly all types of nuts and seeds, provide a healthy source of essential fatty acids; their specific fatty acids are in the form of linoleic acid. Additionally, sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of fiber, amino acids (especially tryptophan) which make up the building blocks of proteins, B Vitamins, phytosterols, and more.
Although as a culture we have been led to believe that consuming fat can lead to unwanted weight gain, the opposite is in fact true; consuming healthy fats actually leads to a healthy cardiovascular system, a stable healthy body weight, and reduced levels of body-wide inflammation.
Healthy sources of fats like those found in sunflower seeds are actually the building blocks for cell membranes, allow your body to balance hormones, help to slow down absorption of food during meal time so that we can go longer without feeling hungry, and also act as carriers for important fat- soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
By adding healthy sources of fats into your diet, like the polyunsaturated kind that is found in sunflower seeds, and replacing trans-fats and low-quality easily oxidized fats, you can experience multiple health benefits.
Top Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
1. Reduces Risk for Heart Disease
The high supply of antioxidant Vitamin E (80% of your daily recommended value in every ¼ cup of seeds) helps to reduce body-wide dangerous inflammation from leading to various diseases. Vitamin E, also known as gamma-tocopherol, is a powerful antioxidant that is found in nuts and seeds including sunflower seeds
Researchers now know that high levels of inflammation are correlated with an increased risk for heart disease, but also for stroke, cancer, diabetes, and even serious neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Frequently consuming sunflowers seeds has been shown to help balance cholesterol levels, to reduce hypertension, to lower high blood pressure, and to protect against heart disease- all which are possible once inflammation levels are under control.
Sunflower seeds are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which lower oxidative stress and the presence of damaging free-radicals within the body. According to recent studies published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the amount of beneficial phytosterols present in nuts and seeds was highest in sunflower seeds than almost all other types. Phytosterols are responsible for keeping unhealthy cholesterol levels in check which is one of the best ways to guard against cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it must be consumed with fat in order to be absorbed to the body’s best ability; this makes it even more beneficial that sunflower seeds provide essential fatty acids in addition to Vitamin E.
Vitamin E antioxidants are found in cholesterol particles and help to prevent free radicals from dangerously oxidizing cholesterol (2). Cholesterol must first become oxidized before atherosclerosis can occur, which results in blocked arties and eventually can lead to cardiac arrest.
2. Helps to Prevent Cancer Due to High Antioxidant Content
Studies demonstrate that sunflower seeds are especially useful for preventing cancer through eating a high-nutrient diet. The important range of antioxidants, trace minerals, and other vitamins found in sunflower seeds help to reduce oxidative stress from taking place within the body, which when left uncontrolled contributes to the development of cancer.
Studies show that the nutrients found in sunflower seeds have chemo-preventive compounds that stall early phases of cancer development to help shut off tumor growth . The antioxidants found in sunflower seeds are utilized for DNA repair and work to slow the growth of mutated cancer cells. This makes consuming sunflower seeds an excellent way to prevent cancer and also to decrease the chance of reoccurrences taking place.
Gamma-tocopherol (Vitamin E) has been proven effective in studies at aiding in cancer prevention. Studies have demonstrated that Vitamin E protects men from prostate cancer and a new study conducted by the Texas Woman’s University suggests that it can also help to reduce the risk for lung cancer.
Sunflower seeds also contain selenium, an antioxidant that is important for preventing breast cancer. Selenium has also been shown in studies to help with DNA repair and for detoxing the body of harmful, damaged cells. Selenium helps the body to stop the proliferation of cancer cells and to stall tumor growth through apoptosis, the self-destruction of damaged cells by the own body, including those found in cancerous tumors
3. Supports Thyroid Function Through Selenium
Sadly, the United States National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health now estimates that around 27 million Americans suffer from thyroid disease, with women and older people being even more susceptible. One of the leading causes of thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, is a deficiency in the mineral selenium, which sunflower seeds are luckily an excellent source of.
The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating body temperature, heart rate, the production of protein, and controlling the rate of your metabolism, just to name a few functions; therefore a thyroid disorder can show up in many different symptoms (weight gain, fatigue, abnormal body temperatures, etc.) and can be hard to properly diagnose without a blood or urine test.
One of the keys to controlling thyroid disorders naturally- without the use of pharmaceutical drugs- is to include more selenium and iodine in your diet, among other beneficial changes that can be made.
4. Helps Combat Osteoporosis, Bone Loss, and Muscle Cramps
Sunflower seeds provide a high amount of essential trace mineral magnesium, which most Americans are actually deficient in due to eating a poor “standard American diet” low in fresh, nutritious foods. Magnesium plays many important roles within the body: it helps to balance the calcium/potassium ratio within cells, is crucial to overall cardiovascular health and it aids in healthy blood pressure (4).
It is partially responsible for keeping the skeletal structure healthy and helps to prevent conditions related to loss in bone mineral density like osteoporosis. Additionally it helps with blood clotting as well as bone calcification. Magnesium also helps to reduce chronic migraine headaches, constipation, chronic fatigue, and even symptoms associated with mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Sunflower seeds are a rich source of B Vitamins, including Vitamin B5, which is also known as pantothetic acid. Like the other types of B-vitamins, Vitamin B5 plays an important role in energy metabolism, since it acts as a coenzyme involved in energy-producing chemical reactions within the body.
Pantothetic acid also plays an important part in synthesizing fat, regulating hormones, and maintaining healthy brain function. While a severe deficiency in Vitamin B5 is not very common, mild deficiencies include symptoms like fatigue, muscle cramps, and plantar fasciitis which is a common, painful injury within the shin and feet that are often found in athletes.
5. Balances Blood Sugar Levels and Helps Ward off Diabetes
A diet rich in all types of nuts and seeds has been shown to reduce hyperglycemia and to help balance blood sugar levels. This decreases the chance of developing metabolic syndrome including diabetes or insulin resistance. We know from looking at the diet of populations who traditionally have eaten a high amount of seeds that the compounds found in seeds help to combat diseases related to uncontrolled blood sugar levels.
Unbalanced blood sugar levels and insulin resistance lead to further inflammation, weight gain, and even autoimmune responses. But thankfully the powerful nutrients in sunflower seeds help to stop the spikes and dips of blood sugar that many people experience due to diets too high in sugar, refined grains, sweetened beverages, and processed foods. Magnesium, for example. has been found to have a protective effect against developing type 2 diabetes in controlled studies
Populations within South America, including those living in present day Mexico and Peru, have been consuming sunflower seeds for thousands of years. It’s believed that the seeds were first eaten for their satisfying high fat content starting around 5,000 years ago. Spanish explorers who discovered the seeds in South America spread their uses across Europe after returning home, and then brought them to North America soon after.
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