Seeds like flax, hemp, and chia seeds are often used in healthy recipes for their nutrient content, and sunflower seeds are another winner that can bring you unique benefits. A longtime staple of trail mix, sunflower seeds are good for your health and easy to roast and toast at home. Read on to find out what sunflower seeds can do for you!
The Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
Good for heart health and for providing a satiating snack, a single serving size of shelled raw sunflower seeds (about 1/4 cup) contains around 6 grams of protein, 14 grams of healthy fats, and 2.5 grams of fiber. Let’s explore what makes sunflower seeds so nutritious.
Sunflower seeds contain vitamin E, which has anti-inflammatory uses and may help reduce your risk of heart disease. There is data suggesting vitamin E is possibly effective for helping those with anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, dyspraxia, and Huntington’s disease. There’s also evidence indicating vitamin E can reduce the risk of developing dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and chemotherapy-related nerve damage. Some use vitamin E to reduce the symptoms of blood-related issues like high blood pressure, hardened arteries, and leg pain caused by blocked arteries. Other foods containing vitamin E include peanuts, hazelnuts, and broccoli.
Important in the body for DNA synthesis, cell division, and making genetic material, folate is extremely important for development in utero and during infancy and adolescence, times when our bodies are growing very rapidly. Folate is frequently added to foods and included in vitamin supplements to ensure that we all get enough of this valuable B vitamin. Other foods containing folate are eggs, beets, legumes, asparagus, and citrus fruits.
Phosphorus found in sunflower seeds is key for bone growth and health, optimal brain functioning, proper digestion, and the elimination of toxins. The second most plentiful mineral in your body after calcium, phosphorus can also be found in meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, and dairy foods.
A powerful antioxidant that helps protect against damage to our cells, selenium may reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and mental decline. Possibly useful for reducing symptoms of asthma, selenium also helps boost the immune system and supports thyroid heath. Selenium can be found in meat, poultry, certain enriched foods, and most significantly in Brazil nuts.
Vital for help with bone production, manganese is also used in the body for thyroid heath, comfortable digestion, and blood sugar regulation. Manganese is a part of such diverse foods as spinach, almonds, oatmeal, pineapple, whole wheat bread, pinto beans, and dark chocolate, and sunflower seeds of course!
The copper found in sunflower seeds helps with immune function, heart health, and iron absorption. This mineral can also be gained by eating organ meats, oysters, dark chocolate, spirulina, and shiitake mushrooms.
A significant player when it comes to metabolism and immune function, zinc is also frequently used in skin creams for treating rashes and skin irritations due to its role in maintaining skin health and integrity. Zinc can also be found in foods such as meat, shellfish, legumes, whole grains, dairy, eggs, and a plethora of seeds.
This mineral is often deficient in Americans according to the National Institutes of Health, which is a problem because it’s used in over 300 different bodily functions. Magnesium can improve blood sugar control, help lower blood pressure, and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition to sunflower seeds, foods high in magnesium include almonds, avocados, spinach, dark chocolate, and tofu.
Sunflower Seeds vs. Other Seeds: How Do They Stack Up?
While chia, flax, and hemp seeds have sunflower seeds beat for their omega-3 fatty acid content, sunflower seeds have a higher concentration of phytosterols, good for heart health and the reduction of bad cholesterol (plus sunflower seeds have a much more pleasing flavor all on their own when compared to other seeds). That being said, all of these edible seeds can offer you a good mix of minerals, vitamins, and fiber, and you are very wise if you regularly include them in your diet.
How to Eat Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower kernels can be roasted with the shell on or off, though most people remove the shells before eating them. The shells are edible, however, and are full of valuable fiber if you’re interested (though they can be quite hard). Sunflower seeds can be eaten raw or roasted, which gives you the opportunity to flavor them according to your own preferences and tastes.
Commercially flavored sunflower seeds often come salted, and can be included easily in trail mix or oatmeal, on salads, in yogurt, basically wherever you want to add them. The slight downsides? Sunflower seeds are a high-fat food, and have the potential to turn rancid, so it’s recommended you keep your sunflower seeds in an airtight container for long-term storage.
How to Make Roasted Sunflower Seeds
If you’re wondering how to roast sunflower seeds yourself, then good news: roasting sunflower seeds is pretty easy! With nothing more than your oven and a standard cookie sheet or baking pan, you can roast your own sunflower seeds for a healthy, homemade snack with minimal prep time and cleanup. Here are a few different ways you can do it.
Roast Sunflower Seeds with the Shells On
First, you’ll want to soak your unshelled sunflower seeds in a bowl of water overnight. They will absorb some of the water, which will help keep them from becoming too dry during roasting. Use salted water if you want a salty flavor on your final product, and if you’re in a rush or forgot to set them soaking the night before, you can simmer the seeds in a shallow pan for an hour or two to get approximately the same result.
Next, drain the seeds, pat them dry with a paper towel, and preheat your oven to 300 °F (or 150 °C). Spread the sunflower seeds out on a baking sheet with a single layer of parchment paper (which will make for super easy cleanup in the end). Shift the baking sheet around on your counter to shake the seeds down so they’re not overlapping one another. Then place them in the oven for 30-40 minutes until they are golden brown. Stir them around once or twice to encourage even roasting, and watch as the shells get small cracks down their middles as they heat up.
Once roasted, you can stir them in some butter if you so choose and eat them immediately, or once they’ve cooled you can store them in an airtight container for later. Take them to work, give them as a gift to friends and family, or share them with your kids for a healthy snack.
Roast Sunflower Seeds with the Shells Off
You can save time by purchasing pre-shelled raw sunflower seeds, but if you want to shell sunflower seeds yourself, it’s still pretty quick and easy. Just place the shells in a freezer bag one seed layer thick, and take a rolling pin to them until all the hulls are cracked. Then empty the bag into your bowl of soaking water (with sea salt added or not, as per your preference): the hulls will float to the top and kernels will sink, allowing you to easily skim the hulls off the top. Clean any remaining hulls out at this time.
For roasting without shells, it’s the same process from here on out. Simply spread the seeds over parchment paper on a baking sheet a single seed layer thick, make sure they aren’t overlapping, and bake at 300 °F for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Diversify Your Seasonings
Once you decide on shelled or unshelled seeds, here comes the fun part. If salt is too boring (or you need to reduce your sodium intake for health reasons), instead of taking a bowl of water and splashing 1 cup of seeds and 1 cup of salt in before calling it quits, check out these creative sunflower seed flavoring recipes.
Spicy Sunflower Seeds
You can create a sweet and spicy flavor by adding 1 tablespoon of ground cumin and chili powder each to 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. Then dash in half a teaspoon each of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, sea salt, and dried chili flakes, and you’ll have a yummy, smolderingly sweet treat perfect for fall weather. To adhere this flavoring to your seeds, just mix the sunflower seeds with one egg, add your spice mixture, and toss together to coat them thoroughly. Then roast and enjoy!
Toasted Lime Sunflower Seeds
Add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and fresh lime juice each, then a teaspoon of agave syrup, and half a teaspoon each of chili flakes, paprika, and olive oil. Coat the seeds with this before baking, and enjoy a deliciously zesty treat.
Honey-Roasted Sunflower Seeds
This sunflower seed recipe is super sweet and perfect for kids, or to satisfy your sweet tooth in a much healthier way than eating candy. Melt 3 teaspoons of honey (or agave or date syrup, whichever you prefer), add 1 teaspoon of sunflower oil and half a teaspoon of salt, and then coat your seeds with the mixture and roast as usual for this sweet treat.
Salt and Vinegar Sunflower Seeds
For a traditional savory snack flavor, toss your sunflower seeds with 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt before roasting. Next enjoy the tangy, salty taste of salt-and-vinegar potato chips, but in a much healthier snack.
Cinnamon Sunflower Seeds
Add a quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon and/or pumpkin spice, plus coconut oil for sticking power, and you have a wonderfully creative holiday snack that can be easily given as gifts in decorative sealing jars or handed out as holiday party favors to friends, family, and guests.
Mix and Match and Get Creative
You could mix and match these flavors, or invent your own outside-the-box tastes, like coating them in ranch dressing, honey mustard, or barbecue sauce, taco seasoning, onion powder, garlic powder, soaking them in pickle juice, or covering them in peanut butter and chocolate—try for whatever craving you desire!
Variety Is the Spice of Life
Don’t just stop at our suggestions. Do your own taste testing of various flavors, and once you find your perfect mix, make yourself or someone you care about a truly unique healthy snack.