Rich in healthy fats and a good source of fiber, protein, iron, vitamin E and several of the B vitamins, sunflower seeds can be a sound addition to your diet. But, like anything in life, moderation is key.
Consuming too much, even of healthy foods like sunflower seeds, can lead to unwanted effects, such as weight gain and excess sodium intake. It's best to stick to a standard serving of the seeds, which is 1 ounce, or about 1/4 cup, to avoid potential dangers.
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Unsalted sunflower seeds can be a healthy snack when eaten in moderation, but if you eat too many, they may sabotage your weight-loss efforts in addition to causing other unwanted effects.
Eating too much of any food can cause unwanted weight gain. Gaining weight is most often the result of eating more calories than your body burns. When your body can't use the calories you consume, it stores them as fat.
Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 recommends that your caloric intake should range from 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day for adult men, depending on your age and activity level.
One 1-ounce serving of toasted sunflower seed kernels provides 175 calories, which is almost 10 percent of a typical daily intake of 2,000 calories. If you eat two, three or even five times that amount, you could be getting as much as 875 calories in one sitting.
Eating that many sunflower seeds on top of your regular diet will lead to excess calorie intake and weight gain.
Excess Saturated Fat Intake
Sunflower seeds are a rich source of the healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats that have been shown to improve heart health; however, they're also a source of saturated fatty acids, an excess of which may lead to increased levels of unhealthy low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol.
Although no limit has been set by USDA, the American Heart Association recommends that people limit their saturated fat intake to no more than 5 to 6 percent of their daily calorie intake, or 11 to 13 grams.
A quarter cup of toasted sunflower kernels contains 1.7 grams of saturated fat, which is equal to 15 calories from fat, since fats have 9 calories per gram. This could cause problems if you eat other foods high in saturated fat in addition to sunflower seeds.
Potential Sodium Trap
Some kinds of sunflower seeds are salted during processing. The USDA's National Nutrient Database reports that 1 ounce of toasted, salted sunflower seed kernels provides 174 milligrams of sodium.
The American Heart Association recommends that people eat less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day to prevent high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. One ounce of salted sunflower seeds provides 12 percent of that limit, which makes them an acceptable snack if you don't indulge in salty foods at other meals.
Some Health Benefits
Sunflower seeds contain many healthy nutrients and can be a healthy addition to your diet when eaten in moderation. A 1-ounce serving of sunflower seeds is a good source of minerals, with 328 milligrams of phosphorus and 139 milligrams of potassium, in addition to selenium, iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
You can also benefit from the array of vitamins in sunflower seeds, which are a good source of B-vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate and B6.
Overindulging in sunflower seeds could potentially cause problems with excessive intake of phosphorus, which may lead to calcification of nonskeletal tissues and kidney damage. Excessive intake of selenium might cause symptoms of selenosis, including brittle hair and nails, skin rashes, fatigue and irritability, and even death.
- American Heart Association: The Skinny on Fats
- American Heart Association: Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: Selenium
- How Many: How to Convert 1 US Cup of Sunflower Seeds to Ounces
- Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level
- Cleveland Clinic: Fat and Calories