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Walk on the “sunny side” – lift your mood with sunflower seeds

Walk on the “sunny side” – lift your mood with sunflower seeds

There’s something about the appearance of sunflowers in bloom that seems to spark feelings of optimism and happiness.  From the familiar, dinner plate-sized flower with its bright yellow petals to the hub of distinctive, zebra-striped seeds at the center, the sunflower is visually appealing.

Not only are sunflowers cheery to look at, but studies suggest that their seeds contain compounds that may help brighten your outlook.  (As if you needed another reason to nibble on these tasty, nutty-flavored little morsels!)  So let’s look at some of the evidence-backed health benefits of sunflower seeds.

Sunflower seeds may have mild mood-lifting effects

With close to 10 percent of the recommended dietary intake for magnesium in a single one-ounce serving of dry-roasted seeds, sunflower seeds are a good source of this calming essential mineral.  And, it’s important to stay “topped up” on magnesium. Not only have low levels of magnesium been linked to depression, but one older study suggested that magnesium helped to ease symptoms of depression in elderly patients with diabetes and low magnesium levels. 

By the way, sunflower seeds also contain 10 percent of the RDI for zinc, another essential mineral with potential mood-lifting benefits.  In a 2018 study, researchers reported that zinc yielded “robust” results in improving mood - especially when taken with antidepressants.  The scientists concluded that both magnesium and zinc could be “important in the treatment of depression.”  If you’re feeling jittery or stressed, snacking on some sunflower seeds just might help you “reset” to a more relaxed, brighter mood.

Promote heart health with sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are packed with vitamins and minerals that make a heart “happy.”  They contain generous amounts of potassium and magnesium, which have been shown to support healthy blood pressure.  Plus, they are rich in vitamin B3, or niacin, which helps lower levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol.  In addition, their vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, supports healthy cholesterol from the other direction by boosting levels of desirable HDL cholesterol. 

Sunflower seeds are also a good source of folate, or vitamin B-9, which is believed to help prevent strokes.  To help “seal the deal” when it comes to promoting heart health, sunflower seeds are loaded with anti-inflammatory linoleic acid and oleic acid (the same super-healthy fatty acid as is found in olive oil.)  Both oleic and linoleic acid are essential in producing collagen, which is needed for healthy arteries. 

Aren’t entirely convinced of the value of linoleic acid?  In a review published in Circulation, the official journal of the American Heart Association, people with the highest intake of linoleic acid had a substantial 21 percent lower risk of dying of heart disease and a 15 percent lower risk of heart attack - than those with low intakes.  Clearly, sunflower seeds offer multiple gifts to heart health.

Sunflower seeds help boost the immune system

In addition to immune system-boosting zinc and manganese, sunflower seeds contain the antioxidant vitamins C and E, enhancing the immune response.  Plus, sunflower seeds are a great source of the antioxidant mineral selenium, offering 32 percent of the RDI in a one-ounce serving.  And, let’s not forget their anti-inflammatory polyunsaturated fats, which help quench the inflammation that lies at the heart of many chronic diseases.  Finally, sunflower seeds have potent antibacterial and antifungal capacities, assisting in the body’s fight against infection-causing pathogens.

Use shelled sunflower seeds to top salads, enrich yogurt and enhance trail mix.  You can also utilize ground sunflower seeds as a tasty coating for chicken and fish.

(Pro tip: Commercial roasted sunflower seeds can contain sizable amounts of sodium.  So look for a reduced-sodium brand if possible.  And, because their high-fat content can lead to rancidity, sunflower seeds should be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.)

Because sunflower seeds contain a substantial amount of calories (163 per ounce), it’s best to enjoy these healthy snacks in moderation, limited to no more than an ounce a day.

High in healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein, sunflower seeds make a fantastic addition to your healthy diet.

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