Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E, the body’s primary fat-soluble antioxidant. Vitamin E travels throughout the body neutralizing free radicals that would otherwise damage fat-containing structures and molecules, such as cell membranes, brain cells, and cholesterol. By protecting these cellular and molecular components, vitamin E has significant anti-inflammatory effects that result in the reduction of symptoms in asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, conditions where free radicals and inflammation play a big role. Vitamin E has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, help decrease the severity and frequency of hot flushes in women going through menopause, and help reduce the development of diabetic complications.
In addition, vitamin E plays an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Vitamin E is one of the main antioxidants found in cholesterol particles and helps prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol. Only after it has been oxidized is cholesterol able to adhere to blood vessel walls and initiate the process of arteriosclerosis, which can lead to blocked arteries, heart attack, or stroke. Getting plenty of vitamin E can significantly reduce the risk of developing arteriosclerosis. In fact, studies show that people who ingest a sufficient amount of vitamin E are at a much lower risk of dying of a heart attack than people whose dietary intake of vitamin E is marginal or inadequate. Just a quarter-cup of sunflower seeds contains 90.5% of the daily value for vitamin E.
Sunflower seeds are a good source of magnesium. Numerous studies have demonstrated that magnesium helps reduce the severity of asthma, lower high blood pressure, and prevent migraine headaches, as well as reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Magnesium is also necessary for healthy bones and energy production. About two-thirds of the magnesium in the human body is found in our bones. Some helps give bones their physical structure, while the rest is found on the surface of the bone where it is stored for the body to draw upon as needed. Magnesium counterbalances calcium, thus helping to regulate nerve and muscle tone. In many nerve cells, magnesium serves as Nature’s own calcium channel blocker, preventing calcium from rushing into the nerve cell and activating the nerve. By blocking calcium’s entry, magnesium keeps our nerves (and the blood vessels and muscles they ennervate) relaxed. If our diet provides us with too little magnesium, however, calcium can gain free entry, and the nerve cell can become overactivated, sending too many messages and causing excessive contraction. Insufficient magnesium can thus contribute to high blood pressure, muscle spasms (including spasms of the heart muscle or the spasms of the airways symptomatic of asthma), and migraine headaches, as well as muscle cramps, tension, soreness and fatigue. A quarter cup of sunflower seeds provides 31.9% of the daily value for magnesium.
Sunflower seeds are also a good source of selenium, a trace mineral that is of fundamental importance to human health. Accumulated evidence from prospective studies, intervention trials and studies on animal models of cancer has suggested a strong inverse correlation between selenium intake and cancer incidence. Selenium has been shown to induce DNA repair and synthesis in damaged cells, to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, and to induce their apoptosis, the self-destruct sequence the body uses to eliminate worn out or abnormal cells. In addition, selenium is incorporated at the active site of many proteins, including glutathione peroxidase, which is particularly important for cancer protection. One of the body’s most powerful antioxidant enzymes, glutathione peroxidase is used in the liver to detoxify a wide range of potentially harmful molecules. When levels of glutathione peroxidase are too low, these toxic molecules are not disarmed and wreak havoc on any cells with which they come in contact, damaging their cellular DNA and promoting the development of cancer cells. Its selenium richness is another reason that sunflower seeds can make a good snackone quarter cup will provide you with 30.6% of the daily value for selenium.
While sunflowers are thought to have originated in Mexico and Peru, they are one of the first plants to ever be cultivated in the United States. They have been used for more than 5,000 years by the Native Americans, who not only used the seeds as a food and an oil source, but also used the flowers, roots and stems for varied purposes including as a dye pigment. The Spanish explorers brought sunflowers back to Europe, and after being first grown in Spain, they were subsequently introduced to other neighboring countries. Currently, sunflower oil is one of the most popular oils in the world. Today, the leading commercial producers of sunflower seeds include the Russian Federation, Peru, Argentina, Spain, France and China.