Sunflower Seeds- One seed you may want to eat with great caution.

Obtaining a diet that is high in nuts and seeds is a favourable option, but not all seeds are created equal, in fact eating a sunflower seed can prove to be life threatening, with the sharp edges of the insoluble fibrous shells capable of causing tears in your oesophagus or elsewhere along your digestive tract.

The name sunflower seed is actually a common misnomer – and here’s why.

The outside shell of the sunflower seed is correctly known as the hull. When the black and white striped hull is left intact, the creamy white colored kernel within, is called an “in-shell” sunflower seed. When the hull is removed, those creamy white kernels are then referred to as seeds.   And that is where the misnomer comes in and confusion lye.  It is very common to see the black and white striped sunflower hull incorrectly named sunflower seed in your local fruit and veg market.  People see this, and pick up the packet up with good intention of perhaps trying a different type of seed, because those black and white stripped “seeds” are certainly much different than the creamy white soft “seeds” they have tried before.

Sunflower Hulls – not ideal.
Sunflower Kernels – we love to eat these!

The truth is, like many things in nature around us, you can eat sunflower hulls, but you may not like the results. Sunflower hulls contain natural plant chemicals called sesquiterpene lactones (if you care to know), it is those sesquiterpenes that are fairly effective at helping sunflowers protect themselves from being eaten or their territory being taken over by another plant species.  The chemicals are in the shells as well as the leaves and roots of sunflowers. This natural plant-to-plant defence (called “allelopathy”) works well enough that scientists have investigated sunflowers as a possible source for weed prevention.  So be very careful if you chose to eat sunflower seeds (hulls), you may find yourself experiencing stomach pain and cramping – eating lots of sunflower seed shells (hulls) are also said to cause constipation that can result in a painful blockage.   So perhaps those black and white striped seeds are best left for the birds- Bird bills are ideally suited for extracting their own seeds.

So now we know what to avoid or at least restrict about our sunflower hulls, let’s look at why those Sunflower kernels are just so incredibly good for us.

Here’s a short list of what sunflower kernels can do for you:
  • Sunflower kernels control cell damage, thus playing a role in preventing cancer. This is because sunflower kernels are a good source of selenium, which is a proven enemy of cancer. 
  • They contain bone-healthy minerals. Besides calcium, your bones need magnesium and copper to stay strong. Sunflower seeds have both these minerals. As a bonus, they also contain Vitamin E, which helps ease arthritic pain.
  • They keep you calm. Yes! The magnesium in sunflower kernels is reputed for soothing the nerves, thus easing away stress, migraines and helping you relax.  Out of all of the minerals- Dr Cabot feels Magnesium is so crucial to bodily function and enzymatic action that she has dedicated a whole book to Magnesium – titled “Magnesium the Miracle Mineral”.   Magnesium is grossly deficient in most of us, and with its literally hundreds of roles in the body- supplementing with a good magnesium powder can change your life.
  • They bring a glow to your skin. The star in this role: Vitamin E again, which combats UV rays and keeps skin youthful.
  • Anti inflammatory- Sunflower kernels ease every condition that’s inflammatory in nature, such as joint pain, gastric ulcers, skin eruptions, asthma and such. That’s because sunflower kernels are loaded with antioxidants.  We love anti oxidants!
  • Just ¼ cup of sunflower kernels a day can keep heart troubles away. These small seeds disallow ‘bad’ cholesterol from sticking to the walls of your arteries, thus preventing heart attacks.
With their crunchy, nutty taste, sunflower seeds can easily become a regular part of your daily diet. Sprinkle them on your salads and stir-fries or stir them into yogurt.