Sunflower seeds can be found in one of two forms: either within their shell or removed from their shell in the form of a kernel, which is the edible part of the sunflower seed. As with most foods, sunflower seeds can be part of a healthy diet when eaten with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean meat sources. Sunflower seeds are a good source of protein and when combined with legumes can be used to substitute for meat.
Sunflower seeds are high in unsaturated fat, which can help lower blood pressure and total cholesterol. In addition, the National Sunflower Foundation refers to them as a functional food, meaning they nourish the body with substances other than calories. Sunflower seeds contain phytochemicals, such as vitamin E, choline, arginine and lignans. Phytochemicals can help protect against diseases such as heart disease, cancer and high cholesterol.
When shopping for sunflower seeds, it's important to choose those that have not been over-processed. It's common for nuts and seeds to be fried and salted to make them more palatable. Look for sunflower seeds that are raw or check the food label for ingredients like oil and sodium. Although they can be good for you, sunflower seeds are high in calories, so be sure to watch your serving size. A 2-tbsp., or 1-oz., serving of seeds is 165 calories.
You can enjoy sunflower seeds in a variety of ways. Snack on them alone or add them to your oatmeal, cold cereal or yogurt. They add extra flavor and texture as a salad topping and go well in baked goods, especially breads. Sunflower seed oil can also be used as a healthy alternative to butter or vegetable oil.
Sunflower Seeds and Diverticulosis
While previously, doctors recommended avoiding sunflower seeds in people with an intestinal disease called diverticulosis due to the possibility of seeds getting stuck in diverticular pouches, this fear is unfounded, reports the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. In fact, consuming sunflower seeds as part of a high-fiber diet might help control diverticulosis. However, if you notice any discomfort after consuming sunflower seeds, discuss your concerns with your physician.