Are Sunflower Seeds Good For Weight Loss? Benefits & Side Effects 2022

Alexandra Gregg

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

are sunflower seeds good for weight loss

Fall is almost here, and that means the fields are overflowing with beautiful sunflowers and lots of sunflower seeds. Did you know that one sunflower plant can produce as many as one to two thousand seeds?  

Sunflower seeds have a mild, nutty flavor and a hard outside yet tender texture inside. They’re often roasted to enhance the flavor, though you can also buy seeds raw. The sight of these beautiful flowers may remind you of eating sunflower seeds with your friends. Possibly seeing how far each of you could spit the shell.  

But now that you’re older, you might wonder, are sunflower seeds good for weight loss? This article will discuss the answer to this question, the health benefits of sunflower seeds, nutritional facts, and possible downsides of this popular seed. 

Can Sunflower Seeds Help You Lose Weight?

Sunflower seeds are rich in fiber, protein, and other nutrients that support weight loss by helping you feel fuller for a longer period of time. The high protein content will also help in preserving muscle mass.

Sunflower seeds are also loaded with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are healthy fats that keep you feeling satiated and help to reduce unhealthy cravings.

However, sunflower seeds are also very calorie dense. Therefore, it is easy to overeat them if you are not careful, which can lead to weight gain. Watch your portion sizes to ensure they benefit your health and don’t add inches to your waistline.

Nutrition Facts

Nutritional Value of Sunflower Seeds gathered from USDA[1] Nutrient Database.

Raw sunflower seeds, per 1 cup (127 grams)

  • Calories: 834 calories
  • Protein: 27 grams
  • Fat: 71 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 21 grams
  • Fiber: 13 grams
  • Sugar: 1 gram
  • Calcium: 100 milligrams
  • Phosphorus: 952 milligrams
  • Potassium: 875 milligrams

Are Sunflower Seeds Good For You?

Like many nuts and seeds, sunflower seeds are high in calories. However, these calories contain a superabundance of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, essential minerals, iron, and fiber. 

So to answer the question, are sunflower seeds good for you? Yes, however, best to eat them in moderation, especially if you are trying to lose weight. They are full of nutrition and very tasty. Here are some reasons to add them to your daily routine today. 

May Reduce Hunger

Sunflower seeds provide lots of healthy fat, plant compounds, and protein. Research shows a balanced diet with higher protein levels wards off hunger better than any other macronutrient (carbohydrates or healthy fats).  

Research has not specifically been completed on sunflower seeds but eating nuts or pistachios[2] as snacks[3] have been shown to promote fullness and prevent overeating at the next meal.  

Sunflower seeds also contain both soluble and insoluble fiber[4].  

Soluble fiber

  • Is found in bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables
  • Dissolves in water
  • Forms a gel during digestion
  • Slows digestion
  • Lowers fat absorption and helps with weight management
  • Helps to lower cholesterol levels 
  • Maintains healthy blood sugar (glucose) levels
  • Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Is food for beneficial gut bacteria (prebiotics)

Insoluble fiber 

  • Is found in vegetables and whole grains. 
  • Adds bulk to the stool 
  • Helps food pass quickly through the digestive tract
  • Prevents constipation
  • Lowers the risk of diverticular disease
  • Reduces risk of hemorrhoids
  • Reduces the risk of colon cancer

Both types of fiber (soluble and insoluble) will help you to feel fuller longer. This is because fiber increases the time it takes for your foods to be digested. 

Additionally, insoluble fiber adds size and thus takes up more space in your stomach and intestines leading to being satiated for longer. These functions lead to fewer cravings, a reduction in hunger, and thus weight management or loss. 

Disease and Vision Protection

Sunflower seeds are also a fantastic source of vitamin E, which boasts antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are vital to disease prevention as they fight off free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules in our bodies that, if they become too abundant, can lead to chronic inflammation and disease. Free radicals are responsible for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer formation.  

Vitamin E has also shown some positive[5] effects on age-related vision disorders. A trial[5] found that vitamin E, combined with vitamin C, beta carotene, and zinc, offered protection against the growth of macular degeneration. Of note, it seems that vitamin E on its own does not have a profound effect on age-related vision disorders.  

Lowers Blood Sugar Spikes

Even though more research is needed, the effects of sunflower seeds and diabetes are promising.  

One study[6] looked at people with diabetes who ate sunflower seeds or almonds daily. It showed that the daily intake of sunflower seeds reduced their cardiovascular risk markers significantly.  

This study[7] showed that consuming sunflower seeds improved glycemic control in rats and humans. This may be due to sunflower seeds’ protein and fiber content. Both help slow sugar digestion, increasing your blood sugar gradually rather than all at once. 

Heart Health

Sunflower seeds are naturally high in vitamin B3 or Niacin[8]. Niacin works in the body as a coenzyme and is necessary for over 400 enzyme reactions. Niacin helps to 

  • Convert nutrients into energy
  • Reduce cholesterol and fats 
  • Restore DNA
  • Develop DNA
  • Wield antioxidant effects

Niacin[9] is also beneficial for your heart. It can decrease your bad cholesterol while increasing your good cholesterol. This powerful combination means a lower possibility of developing heart disease.  

Of note, some people already use high levels of niacin supplementation instead of statins[10] to help achieve better cardiovascular blood levels. But don’t take niacin to reduce cholesterol levels without discussing it with your doctor first since high levels of this vitamin can cause serious side effects.  

Sunflower seeds also contain magnesium. Magnesium is responsible for helping your blood vessels relax and thus helps to lower blood pressure. 

A meta-analysis[11] of 11 randomized control trial studies found that taking 365-450 milligrams (mg) daily of magnesium over a 3-and-a-half-month period demonstrated reduced blood pressure in people with chronic medical conditions, diabetes, and prediabetes.

Another review of 10 studies[12] linked greater magnesium intake may protect against the development of high blood pressure.

Protection From Cognitive Diseases

Selenium works alongside vitamin E as an antioxidant[13], protecting cells from free radical damage and oxidative stress. The selenium content in one ounce of sunflower seeds provides almost 25% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for men and 30% of the RDA for women.  

Oxidative stress is believed to be a factor in neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s.

For example, studies have found that antioxidants such as selenium improve memory in Alzheimer’s[14] patients. Also, people with Alzheimer’s typically have lower[15] levels of selenium in their blood. Excitingly, antioxidants may improve[16] memory in patients with Alzheimer’s.

Male Benefits

There are some benefits of sunflower seeds that are particularly great for men.  

Sunflowers are high in zinc. Zinc is essential for sperm movement and development.

Per a study[17] in the Journal of Reproduction and infertility, there is a connection between zinc deficiency and infertility (in men). A small one-ounce serving of sunflower seeds supplies 15% of your daily needs for zinc. 

Potential Risks

Are sunflower seeds bad for you? While sunflower seeds are generally considered healthy and safe, they bear some potential risks.

Calories and Sodium

Though rich in nutrients, sunflower seeds are high in calories and can be high in sodium.

One serving[18] (around a fourth of a cup) can set you back nearly 200 calories. Unfortunately, it is easy to eat this much in one setting. Consider portioning out one serving before you eat.

Another thing you can do is consume seeds with the shell on, as the act of removing the shell typically takes a while and slows down the number of seeds eaten in one sitting.

If you are watching your salt intake, however, this is not the tactic for you to use. The sunflower seed shell[19] can contain more than your daily sodium allotment in one serving (around 2500 mg).

Additionally, the label will often only consider the nutritional facts of the seed, not the sunflower seed’s shell. Look for a variety of seeds that are labeled as unsalted sunflower seeds. 

Cadmium

Cadmium is a heavy metal found in the soil that can damage your kidneys over time if subjected to prolonged exposure.

Sunflowers[20] can soak up cadmium through their stems and deposit it through their seeds. Therefore, they tend to contain higher levels of cadmium.

The World Health Organization recommends[21] eating less than 490 micrograms of dietary cadmium a week. Thankfully, eating one serving of sunflower seeds daily is well below that amount. The problem occurs if a person eats large amounts in one sitting.  

Acne

Researchers[22] report a statistically significant relationship between acne[23] severity and consuming sunflower seeds, chocolate, and dairy products. Furthermore, during the study, the acne of study participants in the sunflower group worsened compared to those in the control group, leading the researchers to deduce sunflower seeds worsen acne. 

Stool Blockages

As with many nuts and seeds, eating a large number of sunflower seeds, especially with the shell on, can cause blockages[24] in your digestive tract. This is a rare occasion, but it can happen to adults and children. 

Allergies

Allergies can happen anytime within a person’s life; therefore, be aware of allergic reaction symptoms. These may include 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of mouth, lips, and tongue
  • Rashes or lesions
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If any of these symptoms occur, notify your health care professional immediately. 

Adding Sunflower Seeds To Your Diet Plan

You can purchase whole sunflower seeds with the shell on or already shelled. If you are buying whole sunflower seeds, crack the outside with either your teeth or fingers and then throw it away. It would be best if you did not eat the shell. If you are looking for a quick and easy snack, shelled sunflower seeds require much less effort.

Here are some ways to add sunflower seeds to your diet

  • Mix with dried fruit and other seeds (pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds) and nuts for a healthy trail mix
  • Add into homemade bread, muffins, or breakfast bars.
  • Create sunflower butter by putting seeds into a blender 
  • Incorporate into a fruit salad
  • Throw some into your yogurt
  • Combine with your morning oatmeal or other hot cereal
  • Blend into your morning smoothies with chia seeds for added health benefits

You can purchase dry roasted sunflower seeds or raw sunflower seeds. Most people prefer roasted as it intensifies the flavor. If you want to roast your seeds at home, use the following tips

  • Soak the seeds in the shell overnight
  • Place on a lined cooking pan
  • Bake at 300 degrees for 35 minutes

You will know your seeds are roasted when they have a crack down the middle of the shell.  

Summary

As you can see, sunflower seeds have several health benefits, including protection from cognitive diseases, promotion of heart health, blood sugar control, and hunger reduction.

In addition, this tiny seed is full of healthy fatty acids and nutrients like vitamin E and fiber that can help you feel fuller for longer and reduce cravings.

Be sure to watch your portion sizes as it’s easy to overeat sunflower seeds which can cause weight gain. However, as long as you are not overeating, sunflower seeds are an easy, healthy, and affordable addition to your diet.

So next time you want a snack, choose sunflower seeds and other nuts and seeds for a healthy trail mix that will boost your health.


+ 24 sources

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Alexandra Gregg

Written by:

Alexandra Gregg, RD

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

Alexandra Gregg is a registered and licensed dietitian with a private practice in Kansas City, Missouri. After studying Nutrition and Dietetics at Northwest Missouri State she completed her Dietetic Internship at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, MN. Following her dietetic internship, Allie worked at Mayo Clinic in a variety of areas including nutrition support, geriatrics, neonatology, and pediatrics. In addition, she was a regular presenter at Mayo Clinic conferences and an educator for dietetic interns.

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

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