Sunflower seeds are the reproductive product of the beautiful sunflower. The sunflower itself has been utilized by Native Americans as food and for its health benefits for thousands of years. The seeds weren’t the only part of the sunflower utilized; the flower, stem, and roots were frequently used as an herbal tea and also ground and used as a pigment for dye. It was first cultivated for it seeds between 3000-2000 BC in modern day northern and central Mexico, and slightly later along the east coast of North America. The seed was prized for its high concentration of oil by such cultures as the Aztecs, and continues to be prized for this reason today. Sunflower seeds grow with a shell that is gray-green or black. If the seeds are raw, they can also be sprouted for additional health benefits.
Since seeds hold the energy a plant requires to reproduce itself, sunflower seeds are an abundant source of nutrition. The seeds are especially rich in Vitamin E, the most abundant fat-soluble antioxidant required in the body. Just one ounce of sunflower seeds can contain 50% or more of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin E! Sunflower seeds are also quite high in an array of B-Vitamins, especially B1 (Thiamin) and B6, both important for generating energy in the body. Additionally, the seeds are rich in essential minerals, especially manganese, magnesium, copper, and selenium. One ounce of sunflower seeds contains 165 calories, of which 120 come from fat – the fat contained in sunflower seeds is mostly polyunsaturated – 6 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbohydrate, and 2 grams of fiber.
Since sunflower seeds are one of the most cultivated seed crops in the world, they are available in most every food store. They are typically available hulled (with their shell removed), but can also be found with their shell intact, and also available either roasted or raw. Buying them in their raw form is recommended, as the roasting process involves high levels of heat that can damage the fragile polyunsaturated oils the seeds contain. Because of their fragile oils, store sunflower seeds in a cool, dark place for preservation – even consider storing them in a refrigerator! Like all seeds, sunflower seeds contain antinutrients and digestive inhibitors that can burden your digestion when eaten in large amounts. So, while it’s perfectly fine to eat a handful here and there, consider soaking them at least 4 hours in water when eating larger amounts. Soaking seeds begins the sprouting process a seed would undergo when beginning its transition to a full plant, thus eliminating many of the digestive inhibitors (making them easier to assimilate when eating) and unlocks many of the nutrients contained within.
One of the many creative uses of sunflower seeds it utilizing or substituting them for flours in baked goods. Simply grind the seeds (soaking them before-hand is recommended), and use them in an equal ratio to flour in whatever baked good you wish to add them! This will impart an extra nutritional kick, as well as a delicious nutty flavor.