What are the properties of sunflower seeds? How useful can they be for the health of the organism? Let’s discover the properties, benefits and uses of sunflower seeds.
What we commonly call sunflower seeds are actually the fruits of Helianthus annuus, an annual plant belonging to the Astaraceae family.
Sunflower seeds are generally used as snacks, side dishes and in some baked goods, however this seed is harvested primarily for oil production, ranking 4th globally after palm (29%), soy (22 %) and rapeseed (13%).
Rich in nutrients, they help the body to integrate minerals, vitamins and essential fatty acids. Let’s now see the nutritional properties of these seeds below.
Sunflower seeds: calories and nutritional values
Sunflower seeds are oil seeds rich in minerals such as magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, manganese. They are also a good source of vitamins, mainly B vitamins and vitamin E.
Excellent is the content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, first of all linoleic acid (also known as omega-6), with beneficial properties for the cardiovascular system. It should be noted, however, that the fatty acids of the omega-6 series must be introduced without exaggeration as, in a healthy and balanced diet, it is important to maintain the right ratio between omega3 and omega6, which must be 4:1.
There is also no shortage of fibers, always present in good quantities in oil seeds and dried fruit. Finally, as regards the energy intake, sunflower seeds are quite caloric : 100 grams provide 584 calories.
Nutritional values per 100g of sunflower seeds:
- Waterfall: 4.73 g
- kcal: 584
- Proteins: 20.78 g
- Fat: 51.46 g
- of which saturated: 4.455 g
- Carbohydrates: 20 g
- of which sugars: 2.62 g
- Fibers: 8.6 g
- Linoleic acid: 23.05 g
- Linolenic acid: 0.06 g
- Vitamin E: 35.17 mg
- Magnesium: 325 mg
- Glycemic index: 35
- Cholesterol: 0 g
Sunflower seeds: the benefits
Thanks to their benefits, sunflower seeds are useful to the body in many different ways and under different aspects: they have antioxidant properties, promote cardiovascular health and are useful in case of diabetes, but not only. Let’s now see an in-depth analysis on the properties of sunflower seeds.
✓ Benefits for the heart
Sunflower seeds, as we’ve seen, have good amounts of good fats, vitamins, and fiber. The combination of these elements helps to keep the cardiovascular system healthy, helping to lower blood cholesterol, also preventing oxidation, a phenomenon underlying the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.
In addition, the linoleic acid contained in good quantities in sunflower seeds helps to lower blood pressure. The magnesium contained in sunflower seeds also helps reduce blood pressure levels.
✓ Benefits in case of diabetes and hyperglycemia
Sunflower seeds are high in fiber and good fats, compounds that lower a dish’s glycemic index. Adding sunflower seeds to recipes, therefore, will help keep the glycemic index of the entire meal low, providing an extra help in those who have to follow a low glycemic index diet. In addition, the hypoglycemic effect of a sunflower seed extract was studied, which reduced blood sugar in diabetic rats, while improving body weight, hepatic glycogen content, glycosylated hemoglobin, glutathione levels. and serum insulin levels. Furthermore, sunflower seeds seem to have a hypoglycemic effect thanks also to the content of chlorogenic acid.
✓ Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect
Sunflower seeds perform a good antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, being useful in counteracting the effects of the so-called chronic low-grade inflammation, a non-acute inflammatory state which, in the long term, can lead to the formation of numerous pathologies. This property of sunflower seeds can be attributed to the presence of vitamin E and other compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action.
✓ Support the immune system
Sunflower seeds are a good source of minerals such as zinc and selenium, which are essential for the proper functioning of the immune system.
✓ Benefits for the intestine
The presence of fiber makes sunflower seeds allies for intestinal health. In fact, they help the regular functioning of the intestine by preventing constipation and promoting correct and regular evacuation. Consuming these seeds regularly, therefore, offers an extra help to intestinal well-being.
✓ Source of folic acid
Sunflower seeds are a good source of folic acid, especially valuable for pregnant women and for the proper development of the fetus they carry in their womb.
How many sunflower seeds to eat
Sunflower seeds are oil seeds, according to the indications for a healthy and correct diet it is possible to take 1 to 3 servings of dried fruit and oil seeds per week by virtue of their nutritional qualities. A portion of sunflower seeds corresponds to 30 g (about 3 level spoons) and provides 175 kcal of which 15 g of fat, 6 g of protein and 6 g of carbohydrates. It might be useful to divide a 30g portion into 3 smaller 10g portions (one tablespoon), in this way it will be possible to use sunflower seeds more frequently, even every day (or almost), for example by adding a tablespoon of seeds to a yogurt or to enrich a salad, however respecting the recommended weekly quantity.
How to use sunflower seeds
How to use sunflower seeds Sunflower seeds are typically used to enrich bread, buns, crackers and breadsticks, but they can also be used in other ways. For example, they can be added to salads, or become a useful ingredient to give greater crunchiness to the sauce of a risotto or pasta.
To make them really crunchy and to enhance their flavor, it is advisable to toast them for a few minutes in a non-stick pan or in the oven, at a temperature below 160 ° C; be careful, however, not to burn them. If desired, during the roasting phase, you can add salt, without exaggerating the quantity (we will elaborate on this preparation below).
Usually, sunflower seeds are used to enrich savory dishes and baked goods, but when they are not toasted with salt, they are actually also suitable for use in sweet preparations. For example, we can use them to make a homemade muesli, combining dehydrated fruit, oat flakes and dried fruit, or even to give crunchiness to a fruit salad or to decorate a homemade fruit ice cream.
An oil is extracted from sunflower seeds, rich in quality, which can be used to dress salads and other dishes, raw. Common sunflower oil is unsuitable for cooking as it has a low smoke point. However, there is a particular sunflower oil obtained from seeds with a high content of oleic acid (high oleic sunflower oil) suitable for all types of cooking, including frying.
How to store sunflower seeds
The sunflower seeds should be stored in a glass jar, with a lid, in a cool and dry place, away from light and a direct source of heat to avoid rancidity of the oil contained within them.
Toasted sunflower seeds: how to make them and nutritional characteristics
As we anticipated above, to make them crunchy, we can toast the sunflower seeds in the oven or in a pan, in both cases it will be necessary to use the seeds already shelled.
- Toasted sunflower seeds in the oven: preheat the oven to 200 ° C, place the sunflower seeds in a tray lined with parchment paper and cook them for about 8-10 minutes, taking care to mix them halfway through cooking so that the toasting is uniform;
- Toasted sunflower seeds in a pan: heat a non-stick pan and pour in the sunflower seeds, lower the heat to low, and cook for about 5 minutes, turning the seeds often to prevent them from burning.
Although roasting gives sunflower seeds a more delicious flavor and a pleasant crunchiness, cooking results in the loss of most of the vitamins . In particular, vitamin A, vitamin E and those of group B, of which sunflower seeds are very rich, are thermolabile vitamins and therefore are degraded when subjected to high temperatures. For this reason it is preferable to use raw sunflower seeds daily, which preserve the micronutrients (vitamins and mineral salts) unaltered.
Contraindications of sunflower seeds
If consumed in moderation, sunflower seeds have no particular contraindications. Given the high caloric intake, however, it is good to reduce consumption in case of overweight. In addition, it should be noted that sunflower seeds may contain cadmium, a heavy metal that can be present in sunflower cultivation soils. However, if consumed in the right quantities (20-30 grams per day) the amount of this metal is negligible, so there is no need to worry about it.
Where to buy sunflower seeds and which ones to choose
Sunflower seeds are not a particularly difficult product to find; However, it is advisable to buy those from organic farming, to be sure that the plant has not been treated with pesticides. Organic sunflower seeds can also be found in some supermarkets; alternatively, you can contact shops and websites specialized in the trade of natural products, as well as herbalists.