Sunflower seeds are an American staple at baseball games. Even though the players with a fondness for spitting might simply use them as an alternative to chewing tobacco, they are reaping many health benefits. Not to mention that they are most likely the healthiest food you'll find in the entire stadium!
Whether you're a baseball fan or not, sunflower seeds are easy to enjoy and benefit from. In fact, just a handful of these nutty, crunchy seeds can provide you with a hearty dose of antioxidants, protein, vitamins and minerals. These seeds are also a great option for those with nut allergies, as an allergy to sunflower seeds is extremely rare.
Here are the five vital nutrients that sunflower seeds are bursting with:
1. Essential Fatty Acids
Sunflower seeds are high in all essential fatty acids, but are particularly known for their polyunsaturated fats, otherwise known as Omega-6. According to Harvard Medical School, this fatty acid can help increase the good cholesterol in your blood (HDL) and lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) when balanced with Omega-3s. This means that your chances of heart disease and stroke are decreased as well [I]. If that is not enough of an incentive, Omega-6 fat intake can also keep your blood sugar at a healthy level.
Sunflower seeds are very high in protein; a 1/4 cup serving provides 6 grams. Protein is a vital nutrient for your body to grow and replenish itself. Protein supports your blood, bones, nerves, hormones and brain functioning. Not only that, it can also help you lose weight because it keeps you full for longer periods of time. Every diet needs to contain an ample amount of protein, and sunflower seeds are a delicious way to get this important nutrient, especially for vegetarians.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is found in abundance in sunflower seeds and is definitely a showstopper on its own. One ounce of sunflower seeds provides 14 mg of this super antioxidant. Vitamin E works to protect your cell membranes, thereby preventing harmful free radicals from destroying your cells. In is incredibly important for eye health and can help to prevent cataracts.
In addition, vitamin E has an excellent anti-inflammatory effect and is very helpful in maintaining youthful skin.
This trace mineral is essential for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Many women suffer from either hyper or hypo thyroidism these days, and consuming sunflower seeds can help begin to re-balance the thyroid. The thyroid gland also regulates the metabolism, body temperature and heart rate so increasing one's selenium intake with sunflower seeds can also be very beneficial for those that are very fatigued or are having trouble losing weight.
Magnesium in another very important mineral that sunflower seeds provide you with. Magnesium aids in balancing blood pressure and is therefore critical for cardiovascular health. It also helps to relax tight muscles and nerve pain, as well as reduce constipation and even help to prevent chronic migraines. Magnesium helps with over 300 enzyme and chemical reactions all throughout the body so it is pretty darn important!
How to Eat Them!
Sunflower seeds are sold everywhere and can be purchased either shelled, with their hard exterior husks intact, or unshelled, without. For the ease of eating, I buy them unshelled and always have them on hand to pop into a salad, a smoothie, or trail mix.
Sunflower seeds also come ground up in "butter" form, which is tasty to spread on apples or celery for snacks. Just be sure to double check the label and avoid any brand the contains hydrogenated oils or added sugars.
Despite how healthy sunflower seeds are, sunflower oil is not a healthy choice. You will typically see this oil used in all types of chips, crackers, cookies and in restaurants. The polyunsaturated fat content in the seeds does not withstand high-heat cooking and so, when it is heated, the antioxidants are destroyed and the oil oxidizes, turning into toxins and free radicals that damage the body. So choose the whole food form and keep them in the refrigerator to keep them fresh.
Whether you are trying to lose weight, get healthy, or just enjoy a baseball game, sunflower seeds are a great snack for you. So pop open a bag of sunflower seeds, dig in, and enjoy the tasty nutrition you're fueling your body with!
[I] "The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between." Harvard Health Publications. 7 August 2015. Web. July. 2016. <http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good>.