All About Sunflower Seeds - From History To Health

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)are a bright and beautiful flower that reflects the warmth and light of the sun. Sunflowers seek out the sun and follow its path of light across the sky from dawn in the east until the sun sets in the west. When it is dark, sunflowers settle once again in the east waiting for the sun to rise again. This process is called the Heliotropic effect. Sunflower seeds are the seed (or fruit) of this magical and spirit-lifting flower and one sunflower head is home to hundreds of seeds! Blooming in all their orange and yellow glory in the warmer months, folklore traditions believed that sunflowers would bring good luck and positive energy when planted all around the garden and home. They are associated with truth, loyalty and honesty bringing these qualities to light as the sun falls upon the land.

Sunflowers are Native American plants of the Compositae family. They were believed to be domesticated in Mexico around 2600 BC and the first plant ever to be cultivated in the United States (ours grow right here in Australia). The Native American's considered sunflowers to be the fourth sister to the three sisters - Corn, Beans, and Pumpkin (a traditional method of companion planting and symbiotic growing). Their nutritious seeds and oils have been a staple for centuries. (1)

There are 3 main varieties of sunflowers grown for their seed and whether they are harvested for eating or for making oils, each has its own unique blend of healthy fats mostly in the form of Polyunsaturated fatty acids. Packed with a wealth of nutrients essential to your health and wellbeing including protection from free radicals and reducing inflammation, these versatile and flavourful little seeds are high in fiber, a good source of plant-based protein, have an array of uses (from culinary to skincare) and are a favorite seed to snack on.

Nutrition Facts

According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), Sunflower seeds have a very low glycaemic load, are also very low in cholesterol and sodium. They have a macronutrient ratio of 74% Fat, 12% protein and 14% carbohydrate (half of which in the form of dietary fiber). They are an excellent source of Vitamin E and a good source of other vitamins and minerals like Thiamine (B1), Vitamin B6, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Copper, Manganese and Selenium.

A general serving (and the values below) of sunflower seeds is around 28g - just one small handful and nearly half of your RDI of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol). (2) (3)

Calories: 164 kcal

Protein: 5.8 grams

Fat: 14.4 grams

  • Saturated Fat 1.2g
  • Monounsaturated Fat 5.2g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat 6.5g
  • Omega-3 20.7mg
  • Omega-6 6454mg

Carbs: 5.6 grams (of which 2.4 g is from Fibre)

Manganese: 0.5mg (27% of the RDI)

Copper: 0.5mg (25%)

Magnesium: 91mg (23%)

Selenium: 14.8mcg (21%)

Phosphorus: 185mg (18%)

Zinc: 1.4mg (9%)

Iron: 1.5mg (8%)

Potassium: 181mg (5%)

Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol): 9.3mg (47%)

Vitamin B1: 0.4mg (28%)

Vitamin B6: 0.4mg (19%)

Folate (B9): 63.6mcg (16%)

Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 2.3mg (12%)

Reducing the risk of chronic diseases

Sunflower seeds contain the mineral Selenium and an impressive amount of Vitamin E - a fat-soluble vitamin. Vitamin E is not only great for the health of your hair and skin but also both Selenium and Vitamin E are powerful antioxidants, which help reduce disease-promoting free radicals, support detoxification, protect cells from oxidative damage and lower inflammation throughout the body. While inflammation is a natural immune system response, it is chronic inflammation (and free radical damage) that are two main factors contributing to an array of chronic health conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders. The antioxidants found in sunflowers are utilized for repairing DNA and slowing the growth of mutated cancer cells. They also contain chemo-preventive compounds that can shut off tumor growth, preventing the development of cancer in the body. (4) (5)

Furthermore, due to the presence of healthful fats and plant compounds (phytosterols), sunflower seeds can help lower LDL cholesterol (by blocking absorption) and triglycerides. The beneficial plant compounds, including Phenolic Acids and Flavonoids (which also act as antioxidants), are found in higher amounts in sunflower seeds than most other types of nuts and seeds. (6) (7) (8)

Balanced Blood sugar levels

Sunflower seeds contain a good amount of magnesium which has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 Diabetes. (9) They are high in fiber and high in protein which helps to calm the spikes and crashes in your blood sugar level and decrease the risk of developing diabetes or insulin resistance. Sunflower seeds contain a compound called Chlorogenic acid which has been shown to have a blood sugar lowering effect also. (10) (11)

Chronically high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance can lead to further inflammation, weight gain and even the onset of autoimmune responses. (8)

Magnesium affect

Magnesium is a mineral that is often deficient in adults. It calms the nerves, muscles and blood vessels, promotes energy production as well as being beneficial for the health of your bones and conditions associated with bone loss, like Osteoporosis. The magnesium present in sunflower seeds helps to lower blood pressure associated with cardiovascular disease by aiding the balance of calcium/potassium within your cells. Your nervous system functions better when you eat sunflower seeds due to the presence of magnesium. Too much calcium in the body can have a detrimental effect on your nervous system, the presence of magnesium prevents excess calcium and protects your nerve cells. Additionally, magnesium helps with blood clotting and bone calcification and is shown to reduce chronic migraine headaches, constipation, digestive issues, chronic fatigue and mood imbalances like depression and anxiety. (8)

Thyroid support

The presence of selenium found in sunflower seeds is crucial to the proper functioning of your thyroid gland. Your thyroid gland is involved in many aspects of your body's health, including metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate. When out of balance (which is very common these days) symptoms like weight gain (or loss), depression, anxiety, and fatigue can show up. Including more selenium in your diet is one of the best ways to improve your thyroid function.

By Linda Ross ICNT
Integrative Nutritionist
Body, Mind and Eating Coach
Wholefood Chef 




Linda is currently teaching and consulting Globally. Specializing in identifying the underlying factors of chronic stress and related conditions, using clinical and holistic techniques. Blending ancient wisdom that is backed up by the modern science of nutrition to nourish the body and support people of all ages in understanding and transforming their health and wellbeing.

Links to connect with Linda:
Instagram: @nourishing_ways