Sunflower Seeds – Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are fruits (they are not actually seeds – its a misnomer) which are harvested from the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) [1].

Sunflower is a plant which has bright yellow petals which is studded with seeds at its center. The scientific name of sunflower, Helianthus annuus, perfectly describes its appearance. Helios, in Greek, means sun while the Greek word Anthus means flower [2].

Sunflower seeds picture

Picture 1:  Sunflower seeds
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The commonly utilized sunflower seeds have three types. These are NuSun, linoleic, and high oleic. Each type contains different levels of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Also, they are classified according to the pattern on their husks. This is done for commercial purposes. Black oil sunflower seeds or oilseed sunflower crops have solid black husk which are pressed for extracting oil. Another classification is striped sunflower seeds or confectionary sunflower seeds. These are primarily used for food [1]. Some of the most known sunflower seed brands in the market today are David Sunflower seeds, Spitz Sunflower seeds, Ai Weiwei Sunflower seeds, and Jim Beam Sunflower seeds.

Planting and Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

Planting Sunflower Seeds

The easiest time to plant sunflower seeds is when the spring frost is already gone. The seeds need to be sowed directly into the soil. For planting big sunflower seeds, make sure to dig the loose soil 1 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart. Ideally, this is done when the soil is thoroughly warmed (with soil temperature 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit). This is usually around mid-April til late May. As the planting is being done, make sure to make a light application of fertilization. This is to assure that there will be strong root growth. As a result, this will protect the seeds from being scattered over in the wind.

Experimentation in the plantings can also be done over 5 to 6 weeks. Moreover, remember to give adjustments or spaces to allow branching out of the plants. If low-growing varieties were used, space them out about 30 inches from each other. On the other hand, in the case of very small varieties, they should be planted closer together. When the plants reach six inches in height, cut them into two feet. If ever the birds go and scratch around for the seeds, it is a must to put the netting over the area where the seeds are planted. Then, wait until the seeds germinate.


Whenever the plants are watered, it should be done deeply but not too frequent as to allow their deep rooting.
Put the right amount of fertilization for the plants. Too much fertilizer may cause the stem of the plant to break during the fall.
For the tall cultivars and species, support is necessary. Bamboo stakes can be quite useful for this function because it has a single strong stem which provides enough support for the plant.

Pest Control

  • Most of the time, sunflowers are insect-free. However, there may be gray moths which may lay eggs on the blossoms. When this happens, eliminate the worms from the plants
  • Keep watch for squirrels or birds which may show interest in the seeds. This can be controlled by using barrier devices. Once the seed heads begin to mature and the flowers droop, a white polyspun garden fleece is utilized to cover them.
  • There may be cases in which rust, powdery mildew and downy mildew cause fungal diseases. When these are seen, spray the plant with a general garden fungicide. [3]

How to harvest Sunflower seeds

The process of harvesting sunflower seeds is very easy. However, the decision on when to do the harvesting can make people a little confused [4]. In order to know when to harvest sunflower seeds, here are some indicators on when to harvest sunflower seeds:

  • The head of the plant is noticeably brown and dry. It will have a wilted appearance and most of the leaves of the sunflower will have fallen off. Usually, people mistake this as a sign that the plant is old or dead but actually, the seeds at the center of the head will look full and hard to touch. Also, the seeds which are white and black striped at the outer coating will be fat and juicy. [5]

Sunflower seeds ready for harvesting image

 Picture 2: Sunflower seeds ready for harvesting
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  • Moreover, take note of the base of the head. From green, it will turn to yellow, and then, brown. When heads are picked too early, this will cause the seeds coats to have little meat. On the other hand, if the sunflowers are harvested at a later time, the seeds will get too dry for roasting.
  • Look out for the animals. They usually begin the harvesting of sunflower. So, start your harvesting before they get everything and there will be nothing for you anymore. [6]

There are two common methods which are used for harvesting sunflower seeds. These involve:

  • Letting the seeds to fully ripen on the stem: This is done when the seeds are fully ripened and loosened from the head of the plant. After that, the stem should be cut approximately one inch below the head. Then, the seeds are to be rubbed briskly from the head using the hand, blow off the chaff, and let the seeds to dry prior to storage.

How sunflower seeds are harvested photo

 Picture 3: How sunflower seeds are harvested
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  • Another method for sunflower seeds harvesting is done when 2/3 of the seeds are fully grown. The piece of stem should be cut longer, up to 3 to 4 inches. Then, use a paper bag to wrap around the head of the plant. After that, the heads need to be hanged in an area which is well-ventilated to allow its drying. Check if the area is warm but not hot. The drying portion takes up a few weeks. [4]

Covering the head of the plant for harvest picture

Picture 4: Covering the head of the plant for harvest
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Are sunflower seeds good for you?

Sunflowers grow well in a well-drained moist type of limey soil. The seeds of this plant measures about 6 mm up to 10 mm in length. Its shape is conical and has a smooth surface. The hull of or the outer coat of the seed is black in appearance with gray-white edible kernel on the inside. On each sunflower, it consists of several edible oil seeds.

Crunchy, nutty, and delicious sunflower seeds are known to be healthy foods. This is due to the fact that they are rich in vitamins, minerals, calories, and other essential fatty acids.  Unlike tree nuts (hazelnut, cashew, walnuts, etc.), sunflower seed allergy is unusual. In some individuals, some reactions may occur such as sneezing, itchiness of the skin/in the eyes, vomiting, and gastritis [7].According to experts, the sunflower seeds are not allergenic and do not have measurable amounts of purines or oxalates [2].

Sunflower Seeds Nutrition Facts

  • Sunflower seeds contain abundant amount of vitamin E as well as vitamin B1 and copper. Also, these seeds are good sources of selenium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, vitamin B6, niacin, and folate. [2]
  • Most of the calories in sunflower seeds are from fatty acids. 50% of these fatty acids are poly-unsaturated fatty acids or linoleic acid. On the other hand, they also contain the oleic acid, also known as mono-unsaturated fatty acids. Oleic acid aids in lowering the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increasing the good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood.
  • Sunflower kernels are a great source of B-complex group of vitamins. Some of these B-complex vitamins are folic acid, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), thiamin (vitamin B1), pantothenic acid, niacin, and riboflavin.
  • Just like the other nuts, sunflower seeds are rich in proteins with amino acids like tryptophan. Tryptophan is known to be significant in the growth of children. [7]

Calories in Sunflower seeds

The calories contained in one serving size (1 cup) of sunflower seeds with hulls amounts to 269. 213 calories come from Fat [8]. As for dried sunflower seeds, a 35-gram serving contains 204 calories [2].

Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds

Skin Protection

  • Sunflower seeds contain an abundant amount of vitamin E (35.17 grams per 100 grams).
  • Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant which aids in the maintenance of the cell membrane’s integrity. It works to protect the membrane from the harmful oxygen-free radicals. Also, it is very helpful in preventing UV damage to the skin.

Anti-inflammatory agent

  • Having an anti-oxidant agent, Vitamin E, the free radicals in the body are neutralized. If this function doesn’t work, the fat-containing structures and molecules, such as the brain cells, cell membranes, and cholesterol will be damaged.
  • Vitamin E has a significant role in this case by decreasing the inflammation. This results to symptoms reduction, particularly in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma.

Good effect on the nerves

  • The sunflower seeds also contain magnesium. Magnesium is very important in the neurologic functioning. It works by interfering calcium on activating the nerve cells and instead, causing the nerves to relax. Therefore, letting the blood vessels and muscles relax as well.
  • When magnesium is low in the body, calcium enters the nerve cell which causes it to deliver too many messages. This results to contraction.
  • As an effect of low magnesium levels, the following occurs: soreness and fatigue, migraine headaches, higher blood pressure, and muscle tension.
  • Tryptophan, an amino acid contained in sunflower seeds, aids in the serotonin production. Serotonin calms the brain, eases the tension, and promotes relaxation.
  • Niacin which belongs in the B-complex group of vitamins helps in improving the GABA brain activity. This leads to anxiety and neurosis reduction.
  • Folic acid, which is also contained in sunflower seeds, can help in the DNA synthesis. This is especially the case in mothers who are in their peri-conception period. Folic acid lessens or prevents the occurrence of neural tube defects in the baby.

Cardiovascular system improvement

  • As mentioned above, sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E. Vitamin E is significant in the prevention and management of various cardiovascular diseases. This is because Vitamin E is an antioxidant which acts on destroying the free radicals to prevent oxidizing cholesterol. Once this occurs, the cholesterol will be prevented from clogging the arteries. Therefore, saving a person from stroke or heart attack.
  • Cholesterol levels are also controlled through the mono-unsaturated acid (oleic acid) which lowers the bad cholesterol and increases the good cholesterol in the blood.

Cancer Prevention

  • According to research, there is a relationship between cancer and decrease selenium intake.
  • Selenium has been found out to activate DNA repair and synthesis in damaged cells, block cancer cell proliferation, and cause apoptosis (a process in which the body does a self-destruct mechanism to eliminate abnormal or damaged cells).
  • Selenium, when combined at the proteins’ active site like glutathione peroxidase, can aid in cancer protection.
  • Glutathione peroxidase is utilized by the liver to eliminate the harmful molecules in the body.
  • Vitamin E has been discovered to decrease the chances in having bladder cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.

Bone Health

  • Given the fact that sunflower seeds are high in magnesium, this means that they can aid in the improvement of bone strength. Magnesium works on the bones by lending their physical structure.
  • Copper, which is also one of the minerals found in sunflower seeds, can provide the flexibility and strength of the joints and bones.
  • Vitamin E aids in relieving the inflammation in arthritis. [7, 9]


How to eat sunflower seeds ?

People have surely enjoyed eating sunflower seeds not only because it’s delicious but also nutritious. For those who want to know how to eat them without much difficulty, here are some tips:

  • If you want to eat the sunflower seeds, the shell must be removed. It can be done by hand but that would require a lot of time and diligence. To save time, the easiest and quickest technique is to use the seed mill for grinding. Then, put the seeds in a bowl with cold water and wait for the shells to float on top and remove them with a spoon.
  • Another alternative, for those who don’t own seed mills, is through the electric mixer. First, pour the seeds into the bowl of the electric mixer. Turn the mixer on and off several times for a few seconds each time. Do this until the shells separate from the seeds. After that, put the seeds into the cold water and skim off the remaining shells that will float on top. [2]

Sunflower seeds Recipes

Sunflower seeds have been a popular snack loved by many. Whether it is raw or roasted, it still definitely tastes good. Here are some other ways to enjoy sunflower seeds:

  • Chocolate covered sunflower seeds can be bought commercially. If you want to make a treat for yourself, you can also make these at home. Just soak the seeds in a pan with 2 quarts of water and ¼ cup of salt overnight. Drain the water and dry the seeds for an hour. Place the seeds on the baking sheet and roast them at the oven set at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Then, melt a four-ounce bag of chocolate chips in the microwave. Stir until it becomes soft. Afterwards, dip the seeds in the chocolate. Transfer on the sheet of wax paper. Then, refrigerate for 2 hours. [10]
  • You can also choose to do sunflower seeds with butter or make a broccoli salad with sunflower seeds. Sunflower seed butter or sunbutter is a food paste produced from the sunflower seeds oil. It is also a known alternative for peanut. This is because of the allergies occurring due to consumption of peanut butter. There is a small chance of people having peanut butter allergies who are allergic to sunflower seed butter too.  [11]

How to roast sunflower seeds ?

If you want the seeds to be salted, soak the unshelled seeds in salted water by mixing ¼ to ½ cup of salt per 2 quarts of water. Leave the seeds soaked in the solution overnight. On the next morning, drain the water and pat the seeds. However, if you want the unsalted sunflower seeds, skip the soaking process.

Set the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for pre-heating. Put the sunflower seeds in a shallow pan or cookie sheet. Then, for 30 to 40 minutes, bake them until their color turns to golden brown. Stir the seeds occasionally. As the seeds are roasted, there will be a crack forming down the center. Do tasting after each stirring to see if the seeds have been completely roasted already.

When done with roasting, put the seeds off the oven and allow them to cool. Afterwards, put the seeds in an airtight container for storage. [12]

Can Dogs Eat sunflower seeds?

Yes, the dogs can eat sunflower seeds. According to Susan Lauten of Pet Nutrition Counselling, when giving sunflower seeds to dogs as a snack, it is recommended to give the shelled and unsalted. This is because it may be dangerous when they can’t chew the shells and spit them out like people do. However, they are good for dogs as well since the sunflower seeds have lots of health benefits like improvement of the heart and bone condition. They also contain nutrients, minerals, and vitamins which are anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents.  [13]




Published by Dr. Raj MD under Nutrition and Diet.
Article was last reviewed on August 6th, 2018.

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