The biggest problem with sunflower seeds is that it’s way too easy to eat too many without even realizing it. These mild, nutty-tasting seeds are rich in nutrients, providing at least 5 percent of the daily value of iron, potassium and B vitamins. But the calories can quickly skyrocket if you're not careful.
Sunflower seeds are often sold in the shell, but the kernel inside is the only part that’s edible. Nutritional values are just for the kernel even though they're referred to as sunflower seeds. Oil-roasted kernels have about the same amount of fat and nutrients as dry-roasted, but sodium goes from 1 milligram in unsalted kernels to 116 milligrams when they're salted. One ounce of dry-roasted sunflower seeds, which is a little over 3 tablespoons, has 165 calories, 5.48 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. Those values equal 12 percent of a woman’s recommended daily intake for both protein and fiber.
A 1-ounce serving of sunflower seeds has 14 grams of fat, which equals 126 calories. Even though that’s a bit high, sunflower seeds don’t have any cholesterol and 1 ounce only has 1.48 grams of saturated fat. A majority of the total fat consists of healthy unsaturated fats that lower cholesterol. Seventy-seven percent of these healthy fats are polyunsaturated fats that are associated with a lower risk or cardiovascular disease, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Guidelines from the American Heart Association recommend limiting total fat intake to less than 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories. Saturated fats should not exceed 7 percent of your caloric intake.
Your body needs some dietary fats because they have vital roles, such as providing structure for cell walls. The fats in a cell wall can be damaged by free radicals. When that happens, the cell wall breaks and an otherwise healthy cell dies. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects cell walls and essential fats in the body from damage by free radicals. Vitamin E may also prevent clots from forming in your blood vessels. You’ll get 7.4 milligrams, or 49 percent of your daily intake, of vitamin E from a 1-ounce serving of sunflower seeds.
Folate is essential for the production of new cells because of its role in the metabolism of DNA and amino acids. Everyone needs folate, but it's especially vital during growth spurts that occur in pregnancy and childhood. Women need 400 micrograms of folate daily before pregnancy and 600 micrograms during pregnancy to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord that occur during the first 28 days after conception. One ounce of dry-roasted sunflower seeds has 67 micrograms of folate, or 17 percent of a woman’s recommended intake when she is not pregnant and 11 percent of her needs during pregnancy.
A handful of sunflower seeds straight from the package makes a great snack, but their mild flavor works well in salads and sprinkled on cooked vegetables. Try adding sunflower seeds to steamed squash and mushrooms for a side dish. Or mix them with any combination of red peppers, carrots, peas and tomatoes that are cooked in chicken broth and served over pasta or rice. Use sunflower seeds to replace other nuts called for in muffins and quick breads.
- USDA Agricultural Research Services: Seeds, Sunflower Seed Kernels, Dry Roasted, Without Salt
- American Heart Association: Know Your Fats
- Harvard School of Public Health: Replacing Saturated Fat With Polyunsaturated Fat May Cut Heart Disease Risk
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin E
- Linus Pauling Institute: Folic Acid
- Yale School of Medicine: Nutrition Before Pregnancy
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.