|By goGreen | August 26, 2011|
Sunflower plant is a tall, erect, herbaceous annual plant belonging to the family of Asteraceae of the genus Helianthus. Its botanical name is Helianthus annuus. It is native to Middle American region from where it spread as an important commercial crop all over the world by the European explorers. At present Russian Union, China, The USA, and Argentina are the leading producers of sunflower crop.
The sunflower earned its name because its flowers resemble the sun and because they twist on their stems to follow the sun throughout the day. The seeds are a dark gray and green in color and covered encased in an oval black shell. They have a slight nutty taste and a tender texture.
Sunflower seeds are power-packed with healthy fats, proteins, high levels of vitamin E, choline, betaine, and phenolic acids, fibers, minerals, and phytochemicals – all important to the nutritional quality of the diet and of fundamental importance to human health. They can be eaten raw or roasted and are available both hulled and unhulled. They are also among the best foods you can eat to get cholesterol-lowering phytosterols.
Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
- 100 g raw sunflower kernels provide 584 calories. Much of their calories comes from fatty acids. The seeds are especially rich in poly-unsaturated fatty acid linooleic acid which comprises more 50% fatty acids in them. They are also good in mono-unsaturated oleic acid which helps lower LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increase HDL or “good cholesterol” in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet which is rich in mono-unsaturated fats help to prevent coronary artery disease and stroke by favoring healthy lipid profile.
- Like other nuts, they are also very good source of proteins with fine quality amino acids such as tryptophan that are essential for growth, especially in children. Just 100 g of seeds provide about 21 g of protein (37% of daily recommended values).
- In addition, the sunflower seeds contain many health benefiting poly-phenol compounds such as chlorgenic acid, quinic acid, and caffeic acids. These are natural anti-oxidants which help remove harmful oxidant molecules from the body. Further, chlorgenic acid help reduce blood sugar levels by reducing breakdown of glycogen in the liver.
- They are indeed very rich source of vitamin E; contain about 35.17 g per100 g (about 234% of RDA). Vitamin E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant, required for maintaining the integrity of cell membrane of mucus membranes and skin by protecting it from harmful oxygen free radicals.
- Sunflower kernels amongst are one of the finest sources of B-complex group of vitamins. They are very good sources of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, folic acid, thiamin (vitamin B1), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), pantothenic acid, and riboflavin.
- Sunflowers are incredible sources of folic acid. 100 g of kernels contains 227 mcg of folic acid that is about 37% of recommended daily intake. Folic acid is essential for DNA synthesis. When given in expectant mothers during peri-conception period, it may prevent neural tube defects in the baby.
- Niacin and pyridoxine are another B-complex vitamins found abundantly in sunflower. About 8.35 mg or 52% of daily required levels of niacin is provided by just 100 g of seeds. Niacin help reduce LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. Also, it enhances GABA activity inside the brain which in turn helps reduce anxiety and neurosis.
- The seeds are incredibly rich sources of many essential minerals. Calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium, selenium and copper are especially concentrated in sunflower. Many of these minerals have vital role in bone mineralization, red blood cell production, enzyme synthesis, hormone production as well as regulation of cardiac and skeletal muscle activities.
Just a hand full of sunflower kernels a day provides much of the recommended levels of phenolic anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins and protein.
At present, sunflower seeds are used mainly to press cooking oil. They are still favored in the confectionery, and as bird feed. Like in pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds can be used as tasty, low-fat snack.
Here are some serving tips:
- Roasted and salted sunflower seeds are enjoyed as a healthy snack.
- They add crunchiness to salads and may be sprinkled over fried-rice dishes or sautéed vegetables.
- The seeds can be coated with chocolate, candied, or added in cakes, and muffins.
- Sunflower seeds can be added to salad dressings, casseroles or baked goods.
- In Germany and other Central European region, the flour made from sunflower seeds used in making dark bread, sonnenblumenbrot (sunflower bread).
- Sunflower seeds butter sold as SunButter is a suitable alternative in peanut allergic.
Sunflower seeds should be a part of any diet, especially of those people who are seeking economical, easily digested youth-protecting proteins.
Sunflower seed allergy is quite rare unlike other peanut or tree-nuts like cashew, walnuts, hazelnut etc. In some susceptible individuals its reactions may include itchiness in the skin, sneezing, itchiness in the eyes, gastritis, vomiting etc. It is advised to avoid use of these seeds in known allergic persons.