The innumerable nutritional and health benefits of sunflower seeds have been enjoyed by the human race for many years. They can be used as a nutritious snack to extract cooking oil or can be added to meals to obtain texture and flavor. Obtained from the very beautiful sunflower, these seeds are of a black or grayish-green color and are enclosed in gray or black shells. Scientifically called achene, they are rich sources of important nutrients that are beneficial for growth, development and a healthy life. The various health benefits of sunflower seeds are mentioned below.
The Marvels of Sunflower Seeds
The various health-related benefits of sunflower seeds can be attributed to the high levels of vitamin E, selenium, protein, folates, magnesium and vitamins that they contain.
Elimination of Bad Cholesterol
One of the main causes for heart trouble is the buildup of cholesterol in arteries. There are two types of cholesterol; high-density lipoproteins, colloquially known as 'good cholesterol' and low-density lipoproteins, known as 'bad cholesterol'. The accumulation of bad cholesterol, causes arteries to shrink, thereby increasing the amount of pressure required to pump blood through them. This puts undue load on the heart and leads to cardiac ailments.
Although sunflower seed oil is, by definition, fatty, it has a type of fat known as polyunsaturated fats. These fats don't raise LDL levels and are thus not harmful to the human body. In fact, the omega-6 fatty acids present in sunflower seeds contribute to the prevention of heart diseases.
Sunflower seed oil also contains plant chemicals known as phytosterols, which also help in reducing the accumulated cholesterol.
Removal of Free Radicals
Free radicals are atoms with 1 less electron in their orbits than normal. They are very unstable. They react with the nearest atoms and, in non-scientific terms, 'steal' an electron from them. The atom it reacts with then becomes a free radical, setting up a chain reaction that can have deadly consequences. Free radicals react with and cause the loss of 'good cholesterol', thus damaging cardiac health. Free radicals are also related to cancerous growth.
Antioxidants are compounds which remain stable even after losing an electron. Thus, they put an end to the chain reaction of oxidation by reacting with free radicals. Sunflower seed oil is rich in Vitamin E, the best source of antioxidants, and reduces free radicals to a great extent.
Inflammation is a necessary part of our immune system. However, continuous, excessive inflammation is harmful and causes diseases such as hay fever, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. Vitamin E has been shown to have excellent anti-inflammatory properties, which helps reduce the risk and intensity of these diseases.
Prevention of Cancer
Sunflower seed oil contains selenium, an essential trace element. Selenium promotes the repair of DNA, which helps in the prevention of cancer. It promotes removal and disintegration of old, possibly cancerous, body cells and reduces dandruff.
Maintenance, Repair and Formation of Tissues
Amino acids, which form proteins, are responsible for the process of tissue formation and regeneration. Sunflower oil contains many important amino acids and thus helps the cause to a great degree.
Sunflower oil also has compounds of vitamin B known as folates. These compounds promote the formation of new blood cells, improving our oxygen-carrying capacity and immunity.
Sunflower oil also has magnesium (Mg). Mg prevents the entry of Calcium (Ca2+) into the bloodstream. Ca2+ causes nerve cells to become hypersensitive, which can lead to muscle spasms, high blood pressure, etc. The adequate presence of Mg negates this possibility and provides a relaxing effect.
Magnesium also reduces the chances of asthma and migraine headaches and is important for skeletal health. Sunflower seeds provide a healthy amount of Mg.
The health benefits of sunflower seeds can be employed by making them a part of one's daily diet. They can be consumed raw or toasted as a healthy, convenient snack or can be added to salads, breads and pancakes. They are easily available in stores and supermarkets and can be stored for a long time. Their consumption will ensure the prevention of a number of health problems and provide a long and healthy life.