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Sunflower seeds are the seeds of the sunflower plant. (Scientific name: Helianthus annuus: helios and anthos are Greek words for sun and flower respectively). Each of the three types of sunflower seeds (linoleic, high oleic and NuSun) are unique in their levels of fats. The linoleic type is the most common. Sunflowers are believed to have their origins in Mexico and Peru. They have been used since more than 5000 years as a food and oil source. The flowers, roots and stems were also used for various purposes. Shelled sunflower seeds have a firm tender texture and are mild and nutty in taste. Freshly roasted sunflower seeds are common stadium food in many European countries. In the US, baseball players commonly use it as an alternative to chewing tobacco. Russian Federation, Peru, Argentina, Spain, France and China are the leading producers of sunflower seeds. Sunflower oil is one of the most popularly used oils in the world.
Quarter cup (35 grams) sunflower seeds contain vitamin E - 61.5%; vitamin B1 - 34.6%; manganese - 34%; copper – 31.5%;tryptophan – 31.2%; magnesium – 28.4%; selenium – 26.5%; vitamin B6 – 23.5%; phosphorus – 23.1%; folate – 19.8%;
Amongst snack food nuts and seeds, sunflower seeds are richest in phytosterols (270-289 mg/100 g)
An excellent source of vitamin E, sunflower seeds help reduce the risk of colon cancer, reduce diabetic complications, help decrease menopause symptoms in women. Anti-inflammatory effects of vitamin E reduce symptoms of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Consuming required amount of vitamin E can effectively prevent cardiovascular diseases. Vitamin E content gives the skin a wonderful glow, keeping it youthful.
Phytosterols compounds found in sunflower seeds are believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers.
Sunflower seeds’ magnesium content helps maintain healthy bones. Magnesium helps reduce high blood pressure, prevents migraine, and reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack. It counterbalances calcium thus helping our nerves relax. Not enough magnesium could contribute to muscle spasms, tension and fatigue.
Selenium (cancer enemy) found in sunflower seeds help DNA synthesis and repair in damaged cells, inhibit proliferation of cancer cells.
Shelled, unshelled sunflower seeds are available in pre-packed containers or in bulk (bins). Ensure that the bins are well covered and the store has a good turnover in order to assure you of fresh seeds. While purchasing, check for the following - shelled seeds should not appear yellowish in colour (this means that they have gone rancid). Unshelled seeds should not be broken, dirty or be limp in texture; they should be firm. Smell the bins while making bulk purchase to ensure freshness.
Sunflower seeds are best stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator. Roasted seeds can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks while unroasted ones will last for several months. They can also be stored in the freezer; this will not greatly affect their texture or flavour.
HOW TO CONSUME
Eat sunflower seeds as a healthy snack or part of a meal. Garnish your recipes with it. Sprinkle them on stir-fries, granola or stir them into yoghurt. Sprout the seeds and consume in salads. Roast the seeds and dust with salt for flavor. You can knead them into dough or add them to sandwiches, pasta or rice. Their nutty taste and crunchiness make them easy to incorporate into your daily diet.
Dehulling the in-shell seeds is commonly done by cracking the hull with the teeth, spitting the hull out while retaining the kernel in the mouth and eating it.
Sunflower seeds are not generally considered as unhealthy or harmful. Unsalted shelled seeds have lower side effects than the salted whole seeds. Eating them in large quantities can cause weight gain. Eating large amounts of shelled sunflower seeds could cause severe constipation. People on low-sodium diet should avoid sunflower seeds since they contain salt. High fiber content in the seeds could cause abdominal pain, flatulence in some people and might also trigger diarrhea in people susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome.
Grinding whole seeds with the teeth could cause gum sores. They might cause damage of tooth enamel. The shell could stick in the throat causing epiglottis inflammation. Sunflower seed dust might cause allergic reactions. Tyramine found in sunflower seeds is a probable migraine trigger. For those with chronic liver disease and other manganese related medical conditions, avoid sunflower seeds for their high manganese content. In case of oxalate kidney stones, sunflower seeds are best avoided.
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