Sunflowers aren’t just pretty to look at. They also provide a nutritious fruit known botanically as sunflower kernels. Most people call the kernels “seeds.”
Sunflower kernels are encased in edible, black and white, pin-striped hulls. They are a popular snack. But not all sunflower seeds are created equal, especially when it comes to calories.
Keep reading to find out more about sunflower seed nutrition.
How many calories are in sunflower seeds?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Database:
- 1/4 cup of raw sunflower seeds has 204 calories
- 1/2 cup of seeds with the edible hulls has 67 calories
Sunflower seeds are available seasoned in a variety of flavors such as sour cream and onion, ranch, and dill pickle. In most cases, the seasonings don’t add calories. For example, a 1/4-cup serving of David’s Ranch Sunflower Seeds is 190 calories, whether you eat just the kernels or you eat the kernels and the seasoning in their hulls.
Chocolate fans can enjoy chocolate-covered sunflower seeds. But save them for an occasional treat. A 1.4-ounce serving (less than 1/4 cup) of dark chocolate-covered sunflower seeds has around 200 calories.
How much fat is in sunflower seeds?
Sunflower seeds are high in fat, mostly polyunsaturated fat. According to the American Heart Association, polyunsaturated fatty acids may help your heart. But that’s only the case if they’re eaten in moderation, and eaten in place of foods that are high in saturated and trans fats.
Polyunsaturated fats may:
- reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol levels
- reduce heart attack risk
- reduce stroke risk
- manage blood sugar
- lower blood pressure
The healthy fats in sunflower seeds are good for you, but they may still increase your waistline if you overindulge. Sunflower seeds are small, so it’s easy to eat more than you should. If you’re not careful, you may consume more than one serving in a sitting. Try premeasuring them to prevent yourself from eating too many.
Other health benefits of sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds may be tiny, but they pack a nutritious punch. They are a great source of many vitamins and nutrients, including over 100 percent of the daily recommended intake of copper, manganese, and selenium.
Vitamin E isn’t a single vitamin. It’s a group of fat-soluble compounds with powerful antioxidant abilities. Vitamin E helps prevent free radicals from damaging healthy cells in your body.
This mineral is important for reproduction and DNA synthesis. It also helps reduce oxidative stress from free radicals.
Also called vitamin B-3, niacin helps repair DNA. It may help lower total cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease as well.
This water-soluble vitamin helps your body make norepinephrine and serotonin, chemicals which transmit brain signals. It may also ease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
If you want healthy bowels, eat more fiber. Fiber helps keep your bowels moving smoothly and frequently. Fiber may also help lower cholesterol, manage blood sugar, and promote weight loss by keeping you fuller longer.
Proteins are your cells’ construction crew. That is, they do much of the work to create, maintain, and repair tissues in your body. Proteins are your body’s building blocks for:
If you’re a woman of childbearing age, this B vitamin is critical. It helps prevent neural tube defects such as spinal bifida and anencephaly. Folate may also give your memory a boost, improve heart health, and prevent cancer. But more research is needed to prove its effectiveness.
Pantothenic acid helps your body metabolize fats, carbs, and proteins into energy. This B vitamin promotes wound healing, and may also help reduce cholesterol.
Iron is a trace mineral that your body needs to make red blood cells. You need adequate amounts of iron to prevent iron-deficiency anemia and feel energized.
Ways to eat sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are tasty right from the bag. But if you think outside the box, you’ll find many more ways to include them in your eating plan. Here are some ideas:
- add to green salad, fruit salad, chicken salad, and tuna salad
- stir into your morning oatmeal
- add to smoothies
- layer with yogurt and fresh fruit to create a parfait
- sprinkle onto yogurt and ice cream
Most types of sunflower seeds have a modest to moderately high number of calories. Sunflower seeds can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation and in place of higher-calorie, unhealthy snacks.
Keep in mind that many processed sunflower seeds are loaded with salt. Too much salt in your diet is tough on your heart and kidneys. It may also cause you to retain water and lead to high blood pressure. To keep sodium on the lower side, eat raw, unsalted sunflower seeds.