Natural Health Tips

Health-Promoting Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are considered the best whole food source of Vitamin E and these nutrient-rich seeds also have many health-promoting benefits.

Sunflower seeds are black or grayish-green and are in a black shell with white stripes. As well as Vitamin E, sunflower seeds are a good source of folate, magnesium, selenium and copper. The sunflower kernel was found to be the richest in phytosterols, substances known to fight heart disease and cancer.

Health Benefits

Anti-Inflammatory and cardiovascular Benefits from Vitamin E

Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of Vitamin E, the body's primary fat-soluble antioxidant. This vitamin neutralizes free radicals in the body that would otherwise damage fat-containing structures and molecules, like cell membranes. Therefore, by protecting these cellular and molecular components, Vitamin E has significant anti-inflammatory effects, resulting in the reduction of symptoms in asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, conditions where free radicals and inflammation play a big role.

Vitamin E has also been found to play an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. It is one of the main antioxidants found in cholesterol particles and helps prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol. Studies showed that people who got a good amount of Vitamin E were at a much lower risk of dying of a heart attack than people whose dietary intake of Vitamin E was marginal or inadequate.

Sunflower Seeds' Phytosterols Lower Cholesterol

Phytosterols, which are found in sunflower seeds, are plant compounds that have a chemical structure very similar to cholesterol, and when present in the diet in sufficient amounts, are believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers.

In a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers published the amounts of phytosterols present in commonly eaten nuts and seeds. Sesame seeds had the highest total phytosterol content (400-413 mg per 100 grams), and English walnuts and Brazil nuts the lowest (113 mg/100grams and 95 mg/100 grams). Of the nuts and seeds typically consumed as snack foods, sunflower seeds and pistachios were richest in phytosterols (270-289 mg/100 g), followed by pumpkin seeds (265 mg/100 g).

A study was carried out of two groups of people, where one group was given a diet high in saturated fat and the other a monosaturated fatty acid diet. The researchers found that high-oleic-acid sunflower oil lowered both LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

cancer

A study using mice with stage-two skin cancer found that sunflower oil reduced papillomas in mice by twenty to forty percent.

Tips on Eating Sunflower Seeds

  • Sunflower seeds can be purchased shelled or unshelled. They can be unshelled by hand or by using a seed mill.

  • Sunflower seeds are high in fat and can turn rancid, so store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

  • Sunflower seeds can be eaten as a snack or sprinkled onto salads or cereals.

References

  • Phillips KM, Ruggio DM, Ashraf-Khorassani M. Phytosterol composition of nuts and seeds commonly consumed in the United States. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Nov 30;53(24):9436-45. 2005. PMID:16302759.

  • Allman-Farinelli MA, Gomes K, Favaloro EJ, Petocz P. A diet rich in high-oleic-acid sunflower oil favorably alters low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, and factor VII coagulant activity. J Am diet Assoc. 2005 Jul; 105(7):1071-1079.

  • Binkoski AE, Kris-Etherton PM, Wilson TA, Mountain ML, Nicolosi RJ. Balance of unsaturated fatty acids is important to a cholesterol-lowering diet: comparison of mid-oleic sunflower oil and olive oil on cardiovascular disease risk factors. J Am diet Assoc. 2005 Jul; 105(7):1080-1086.

  • Kapadia, GJ et al. Chemopreventive effect of resveratrol, sesamol, sesame oil and sunflower oil in the Epstein-Barr virus early antigen activation assay and the mouse skin two-stage carcinogenesis. Pharmacol Res. 2002 Jun;45(6): 499-505.