Photograph by Danny Kim for TIME; Gif by Marysa Greenawalt for TIME
By Cassie Shortsleeve 
October 17, 2018

Certain seeds, like chia and flax, tend to hog the nutritional spotlight. But the less-trendy sunflower seed has plenty of qualities worth highlighting. Here are the health benefits of sunflowers seeds, according to dietitians.

Are sunflower seeds healthy?

Sunflower seeds are rich in nutrients. One serving of shelled sunflower seeds is usually an ounce, which is about 1/4 cup or 4 tablespoons (one to two thumb-sized portions.) They’re particularly high in healthy fat: A serving delivers 14 grams of fat with a mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. “The mono- and polyunsaturated fats in sunflower seeds show a clear health benefit, especially related to heart health and risk of cardiovascular disease,” says registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey.

A serving of the seeds also contains about 6 grams of protein and 2.5 grams of fiber. “Fat, fiber and protein play an important role in satiety, the feeling of fullness,” says Rumsey.

The seeds are also loaded with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E (which has strong anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce risk of heart disease), folate (important for DNA synthesis), phosphorus (key for bone health), selenium (an antioxidant that protects against cell damage), manganese (which helps with bone production), copper (which helps with heart health and immune function), B6 (good for cognitive development and function) and zinc (important for metabolism and immune function), says registered dietitian Maxine Yeung.

Sunflower seeds are notably rich in magnesium, a mineral involved in more than 300 different bodily functions—and one that most Americans don’t get enough of. “Magnesium can lower blood pressure, improve blood sugar control and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” says registered dietitian Brian St. Pierre. “It’s also a vital component of bone and helps to regulate our nerve and muscle function and contraction.”

How healthy are sunflower seeds compared to other seeds?

Some seeds have an advantage over sunflower when it comes to certain nutrients. Chia seeds are packed with plant-based omega-3 fatty acids (with 5 grams for a one-ounce serving) and fiber (10 grams per serving). Hemp seeds and flax seeds are also higher in omega-3 fatty acids than sunflower seeds.

“However, sunflower seeds are richer in vitamins and minerals,” says St. Pierre, “and generally provide a superior flavor profile to the neutral chia seed.” Sunflower seeds also have some of the highest concentrations of phytosterols, plant molecules that are good for reducing cholesterol and promoting heart health, says Yeung.

In general, though, all seeds provide a good mix of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, which is why it’s important to incorporate a variety of seeds into your diet.

What’s the healthiest way to eat sunflower seeds?

Sunflower kernels can be roasted with or without the shell on, and are most commonly eaten after removing the shell. “Shells have a lot of fiber and can be eaten, but are very hard, and if not chewed well may harm the digestive tract,” Yeung says.

You can eat sunflower seeds raw or buy dry roasted seeds with or without the shell. They also come in flavored varieties. Unsalted, raw kernels are the least processed versions of the seeds, says Yeung, but pick a seed that you’ll enjoy so that you’ll actually eat them. Eat them on their own or sprinkle them on oatmeal, yogurt, soups and salads, says Yeung.

Just remember they’re a high-fat food. Portion control is key so that you reap the health benefits while avoiding excess calories, says Yeung. And since sunflower seeds have a good amount of fat, they can go rancid, so make sure to store them in an airtight container.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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