Sunflower seeds are a tasty snack—but they also boast some health benefits, too.

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You may have memories of crunching on sunflower seeds at a ballgame. But unlike some other ballpark food (nachos dripping with cheese, foot-long hot dogs, cotton candy, etc.), you can feel good about eating these little seeds on the regular. Sunflower seeds come from the large flowers of sunflower plants, and can be purchased roasted, raw, salted or unsalted, and shelled or in-the-shell. Although sunflower seeds aren't terribly big, they pack plenty of nutrition into their black-and-white striped shells—and are equally delicious sprinkled over a salad as they are eaten out of hand for a portable, delicious snack.

Green Goddess Broccoli Salad

Sunflower seed nutrition

  • Calories: 165
  • Total fat: 14 g
  • Saturated fat: 1.5 g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 2.5 g
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 9 g
  • Sodium: 1 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 7 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Protein: 5.5 g
  • Calcium: 20 mg
  • Iron: 1 mg
  • Magnesium: 37 mg
  • Zinc: 1.5 mg
  • Selenium: 23 mcg
  • Folate: 67 mcg
  • Vitamin E: 7.5 mg

Health benefits of sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds haven't been the focus of very many research studies. But they're rich in nutrients, healthy fats, fiber, protein and antioxidants like vitamin E and selenium. That combination makes them a heart-healthy addition to your diet that can help keep you full and help keep chronic diseases at bay.

Healthy fats, fiber and protein: Sunflower seeds are particularly rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats. One ounce (about 1/4 cup) of sunflower seeds has 2.5 grams monounsaturated fat and 9 grams of polyunsaturated fat, which can help lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation and improve heart health. And with 3 grams of fiber per serving, sunflower seeds can help keep you regular and aid weight loss by slowing digestion. They also provide 5.5 grams of protein. Eaten together, the combo of fat, fiber and protein can help you feel fuller for longer.

Antioxidants: One serving of sunflower seeds has 7.5 mg of vitamin E—exactly half the recommended daily amount for adults. A powerful antioxidant, vitamin E helps clear free radicals or can stop production of them all together, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Free radicals damage cells and increase inflammation in the body, which over time can increase risk of heart disease and cancer. Taking vitamin E supplements can do more harm than good for some people, so it's best to get vitamin E from food sources like sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds also contain zinc, which helps develop and maintain immune cell function.

Selenium: Sunflower seeds have 23 mcg of selenium per serving, which is almost half the recommended dietary allowance for adults (55 mcg per day). Selenium plays an important role in thyroid health, and because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, preliminary research suggests it may be associated with lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Keep in mind: Sunflower seeds are naturally low in sodium, but packaged brands with added salt can pack more than half of the recommended daily maximum in one serving. Check nutrition labels to keep an eye on sodium numbers—particularly if you are following a low-salt diet or have high blood pressure. And keep an eye on your portion sizes too: one ounce has 165 calories, and it's easy to eat far more of these tasty little seeds in one sitting.

sunflower seeds
Credit: Getty Images/ Luis Benitez / EyeEm

How to eat sunflower seeds

You can buy sunflower seeds in the shell or shelled. If eating them with the shell, scoot the seeds to the back of your mouth and crack the shell with your back molars (rather than with your front teeth). Spit out the shell and enjoy the seeds. If you're eating sunflower seeds as a snack and also trying to keep an eye on portion sizes, go for the unshelled seeds, as the pile of shells next to your plate may help you keep a better eye on how many seeds you've actually eaten. If you're short on time (or just don't feel like shelling them), it's easy to buy shelled sunflower seeds, which are ready to be enjoyed on salads, mixed into homemade granola or energy balls, stirred into yogurt or oatmeal or eaten plain. You can also buy sunflower oil or sunflower butter, which is a good alternative to other types of nut butters (and often a good stand-in for people with nut allergies).

super seed snack bars

Pictured Recipe: Super-Seed Snack Bar

The bottom line:

Sunflower seeds pack a healthy dose of good fats, protein, fiber and antioxidants. They are one of the best sources of vitamin E and also high in selenium. Check the nutrition label for sodium, as amounts vary depending on how much salt is added. Enjoy sunflower seeds alone or with meals to boost fullness and flavor, while potentially helping to keep cholesterol levels healthy.