Moms around the western world are stereotyped with their demand that children eat their peas, but instead of peas (which are healthy), she should have been telling kids to eat their sunflower seeds. Few foods out there offer the healthy punch that sunflower seeds do.
When it comes to vitamins, sunflower seeds are jam-packed. A quarter of a cup of them will provide you with 82% of your daily requirement of vitamin E, 70% of your copper, 43% of B1 (thiamin), 37% of protein, 34% of manganese, 34% of selenium, 33% of phosphorous, 28% of magnesium, 20% of folate, and 18% of B3.
Without getting too specific on what each of these vitamins and minerals do for the body, sunflower seeds provide many health benefits.
Vitamin E provides anti-oxidant properties, to fight free radicals, especially with oxidized cholesterol that can then adhere to blood vessel walls, which can lead to atherosclerosis. It has anti-inflammatory benefits (and many health problems are being linked to inflammation) that help with symptoms from asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis. It also helps to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Magnesium helps build strong bones and balances with calcium to regulate nerve and muscle tone. Without magnesium the calcium would flood into the nerve endings, causing them to come to attention, which can lead to high blood pressure and even spasms. Magnesium prevents this, allowing the nerves to remain calm.
Magnesium is not the only calming aspect of sunflower seeds. It also contains niacin, which helps to reduce the levels of bad cholesterol (LDLs), and enhances the GABA activity. GABA is a chemical messenger in the brain that reduces the activity of the neurons that it binds to, which in turn helps to control anxiety or fear.
Although the studies are too new and too few, the early results suggest that selenium is a huge component to preventing and fighting cancers. Some studies even suggest that selenium can help the body to repair damaged cells. There also appears to be some link between the levels of selenium and gluthathione peroxidase, which is an anti-oxidant enzyme that is used by the liver to break down toxins. Having insufficient amounts of gluthathione peroxidase in the body results in the toxins not being broken down sufficiently and being released to wreak havoc.
They are high in energy. Just 100g of seeds contain 584 calories and 21g of protein. They contain tryptophan, which is used by the brain to create serotonin (a chemical that makes you feel good). So if you are trying to lose weight, be aware of this. For something so small it can sure put on the weight if you are not careful. At most a person should eat half a cup of unshelled sunflower seeds a day, no more.
They contain polyphenol compounds, such as chlorogenic acid, quinic acid, and caffeic acid, which are anti-oxidants. Chlorogenic acid limits the glycogen breakdown in the liver, which results in lower blood sugar levels.
Sunflower seeds contain copper, which the body uses to make melanin. Melanin gives your skin and hair its colour, and absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the sun. It also supports your metabolism to help your cells produce energy.