Sunflower seeds are a healthy and delicious treat when eaten in moderation. Many people enjoy eating the kernel, or the tiny meaty seed that sits inside the outer shell. But that hard shell, also called the hull, can be hard to remove so many people eat the whole seed.
Sunflower seeds provide nutritional benefits. They are a good source of healthy fats. But eating too many may cause some potential health challenges.
Sunflower Seed Nutrition
Sunflower seeds provide protein, fat, carbs and other nutrients. But the nutrition information for the seeds depends on which part you consume.
For instance, a full one-cup serving of sunflower seed kernels provides 818 calories, 30 grams of protein, 28 grams of carbohydrate, and about 72 grams of fat. But if you eat the whole seed (including the hull) you'll consume 269 calories, about 10 grams of protein, about 9 grams of carbs, and about 24 grams of fat in a one-cup serving.
Most of the fat in sunflower seeds is polunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, according to the USDA. Unsaturated fats are considered "healthy fats" by organizations like the American Heart Association because they can contribute to a reduced risk of heart disease and provide other health benefits.
Sunflower seeds also provide important micronutrients. Vitamins and minerals in sunflower seeds include thiamin, folate, vitamin E, vitamin B6, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Potential Side Effects of Sunflower Seeds
While the nutritional information for sunflower seeds look impressive, there can also be downsides to consuming them. Are sunflower seeds bad for you? The short answer is no. But if you eat a lot of them, or if you are trying to limit certain nutrients in your diet, you want to consume them in moderation or be careful about the type of sunflower seed you consume. Consider some of these potential side effects of sunflower seeds to decide if they are right for you.
High in Fat
Sunflower seeds are high in fat, which, according to McKinley Health Center, is necessary for some vitamin absorption, proper growth, maintaining cell membranes, and to help give your body energy. The good news is that sunflower seeds contain healthy poly and monounsaturated fats, which can help maintain good cholesterol levels and support cardiovascular health.
The bad news is that even healthy fats can cause unwanted weight gain. Eating too many sunflower seeds could have you going over your daily recommended allowance very quickly. Sunflower seeds that have been cooked in oil may have even higher percentages of fat as well.
High in Calories
In addition to being high in fat, sunflower seeds are also high in calories. If you are trying to reach or maintain a healthy weight, the high calorie count can be challenging.
If weight is a concern, eating sunflower seeds is fine in moderation. In fact, the fat and fiber will help you to stay full and satisifed after eating. But eating too many calories over a long period of time could lead to excess weight gain.
If you eat raw, unflavored, and untreated seeds, you won't need to worry about anything else going into your diet than the seeds you are eating. However, many flavored sunflower seeds contain other ingredients. For example, ranch flavored sunflower seeds contain additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and disodium guanylate. Some people may choose to avoid these ingredients.
According to a study in EXCLI Journal, many people are sensitive to MSG, and the substance is linked to many adverse symptoms, including obesity, reproductive disorders, neurotoxic effects, and metabolic syndrome. To avoid unwanted ingredients, read labels carefully and consider choosing organic options
Sunflower seeds by themselves are naturally low in sodium. But many store-bought seeds have been roasted and salted. The excess salt can add up quickly. In fact, according to the USDA, 100 grams of ranch-flavored seeds have 744 milligrams of sodium. While this amount falls short of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of 2,300 milligrams per day, eating several servings of salted seeds a day quickly adds up.
Too much sodium in your diet has the potential to raise your blood pressure, which can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease, reports the Harvard School of Public Health. To avoid consuming too much salt in sunflower seeds, stick to eating raw, unsalted seeds.
Tooth and Gum Damage
Eating unshelled sunflower seeds requires you to crack the shells between your teeth. If you have weakened tooth enamel or dental work, this action may cause damage to your teeth and gums, especially if you crack the seeds in large quantities. In addition, sharp hull slivers may get caught between the teeth and gums or irritate your mouth.
Selenium is a critical mineral that helps fight free radicals in the body. Sunflower seeds contain a good amount of selenium. However, eating several servings of sunflower seeds a day can put you at risk of ingesting too much selenium.
According to Nutrition Journal, taking in more than the recommended serving of selenium each day is associated with an increase in the prevalence of diabetes. In addition, another study shows that high doses of selenium over time can be toxic. But the amount of seeds you'd have to consume is substantial.
In adults, the tolerable upper limit for selenium is 400 micrograms (mcg) per day. A one-cup serving of sunflower kernels provides about 75 micrograms of selenium. So you'd have to eat over 5 cups in a day to exceed the limit.
Can You Eat Too Many Sunflower Seeds?
If you think that sunflower seed consumption is to blame for any of the symptoms you are experiencing, or if you want to find out if the benefits of sunflower seeds will be helpful to you, speak to your healthcare provider or registered dietitian. Eaten in moderation, sunflower seeds can be a healthy addition to many diets. They are full of beneficial vitamins, healthy fats, and antioxidants. They also satisfy the need for a delicious, crunchy snack.
While occasionally splurging on a few extra servings of sunflower seeds in one day isn't likely to derail your healthy lifestyle or cause health problems, regularly over-indulging can contribute to an expanding waistline and increase your sodium intake. Stick to one serving of sunflower seeds a day to reap their benefits and limit your risk of unwanted side effects.