Why we love sunflower seeds: nutrition, benefits and more
What Are Sunflower Seeds?
Sunflower seeds are technically the fruits of the sunflower plant (Helianthus annuus) (1).
The seeds are harvested from the plant’s large flower heads, which can measure more than 12 inches (30.5 cm) in diameter. A single sunflower head may contain up to 2,000 seeds (2).
There are two main types of sunflower crops. One type is grown for the seeds you eat, while the other — which is the majority farmed — is grown for the oil (1).
The sunflower seeds you eat are encased in inedible black-and-white striped shells, also called hulls. Those used for extracting sunflower oil have solid black shells.
Sunflower seeds have a mild, nutty flavor and a firm but tender texture. They’re often roasted to enhance the flavor, though you can also buy them raw. Nuts.com is a good source if buying in bulk. Trader Joe’s also sells sunflower seeds at great prices.
Sunflowers pack many nutrients into a tiny seed.
The main nutrients in 1 ounce (30 grams or 1/4 cup) of shelled, dry-roasted sunflower seeds are:
Sunflower seeds are especially high in vitamin E and selenium. These function as antioxidants to protect your body’s cells against free radical damage, which plays a role in several chronic diseases (3, 4).
Additionally, sunflower seeds are a good source of beneficial plant compounds, including phenolic acids and flavonoids — which also function as antioxidants (5).
Sunflower seeds are packed with protein and fiber, making an idea low-carb snack choice. They’re also incredibly affordable. Check out these comparison of all nuts & seeds to see where sunflower seeds fall in:
Sunflower seeds may help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar as they contain vitamin E, magnesium, protein, linoleic fatty acids and several plant compounds. Furthermore, studies link sunflower seeds to multiple other health benefits including a reduced risk of inflammation, heart disease and type 2 diabetes
Most interesting to us (considering our founder Jose’s personal experience with diabetes), the effects of sunflower seeds on blood sugar and type 2 diabetes have been tested in a few studies and seem promising.
Studies suggest that people who eat 1 ounce (30 grams) of sunflower seeds daily as part of a healthy diet may reduce fasting blood sugar by about 10% within six months, compared to a healthy diet alone (6,7).
Studies also suggest that adding sunflower seeds to foods like bread may help decrease carbs’ effect on your blood sugar. The seeds’ protein and fat slow the rate at which your stomach empties, allowing a more gradual release of sugar from carbs (8,9).
In addition to these health benefits, sunflower seeds are not a major allergen like almonds or peanuts and may potentially be enjoyed as an alternative to someone allergic to nuts.
Sunflower Flour In Baked Goods
If you grind up sunflower seeds, it can be made into a mildly sweet and nutty flour that is neutral enough to use in many baked goods. It can be good substitute for almond flour, which is expensive and off-limits for those of us with nut allergies.
Sunflower seed flour or meal may be hard to find for sale (here’s a brand on Amazon, but it is pretty expensive), but it can be made at home relatively cheaply. Simply grind raw (or soaked and dehydrated) sunflower seeds in a food processor, coffee/spice grinder, or high-performance blender such as a Vitamix. Pulse until the sunflower seeds have a flour-like consistency and avoid over-grinding, or you may end up with sunflower seed butter. Periodically sift the flour through a flour sifter or fine-mesh strainer and repeat until all the seeds are finely ground.
One cup of sunflower seeds makes about one cup of flour. Nut and seed oils can go rancid, so it’s best to make the flour as needed or store it in the refrigerator or freezer.
Using Sunflower Seed Flour In Recipes
Most recipes can be swapped on a 1-to-1 ratio. That means if a recipe calls for one cup of all-purpose or almond flour, you can use the same amount of sunflower seed flour.
Note: When using sunflower seed flour in a recipe with baking soda, you may notice tiny green specks in your baked goods. This is a result of chemical reaction between the two ingredients, and it’s perfectly safe to eat.
Check out some pictures below of some sunflower seed flour chocolate chip cookies and red velvet cookies we’ve been working on! We used sunflower flour instead of almond flour and sweetened the cookies with our AlluMonk (allulose + monk fruit) sweetener blend.
All-in-all, sunflower seeds make for the perfect low carb, gluten-free snack. They’re packed with nutrients and plant compounds that may help fight inflammation, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Best of all, sunflower seed flour is a viable alternative to other nut flours for those wanting to avoid processed carbs or gluten when baking. We’re big fans of sunflowers here at ChipMonk, so stay tuned to see what we make with it!