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 used the seeds as a food and an oil source. The Spanish explorers brought the 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.
Sunflower seeds are the gift of the beautiful sunflower that has rays of petals emanating from its bright yellow, seed-studded center – it looks like the sun and therefore its name. The flower produces grayish-green or black seeds encased in tear-dropped shaped gray or black shells that oftentimes feature black and white stripes.
Sunflower seeds contain a wealth of health promoting nutrients which are ideal for a healthy snack. They a readily available in supermarkets and health food shops and are relatively cheap to buy. They have a mild nutty flavor and their texture is firm but tender at the same time. They are relatively high in calories if large amounts are consumed but ideally they are eaten in small quantities as a snack to stem off hunger. A quarter of a cup contains 204 calories.
Sunflower seeds provide linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid), they are also an excellent source of dietary fiber, some amino acids (especially tryptophan), vitamin E, several B vitamins (especially thiamine, pantothenic acid, and folic acid). Additionally, they are rich in cholesterol-lowering phytosterols. Furthermore, sunflower seeds boast a low glycemic index as well as high levels of protein and minerals including magnesium and copper.
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A tablespoon of sunflower seeds will provide your body with high amounts of Vitamin E, phytosterols, magnesium and selenium. These nutrients play vital roles in maintaining the health of the body and can alleviate and prevent the onset of many diseases.
Health Benefits of Vitamin E
- Vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant. It destroys free radicals in the body. Free radicals destroy cell membranes, leading to disease. Free radicals can be thought of as causing rust in the body. They oxidize.
- It has anti-inflammatory properties. This is useful in alleviating the symptoms of asthma and arthritis.
- Vitamin E has been proven scientifically to reduce the risk of acquiring colon cancer.
- Vitamin E reduces the risk of heart attack and heart disease significantly. This is because vitamin E prevents cholesterol in the arteries from forming plaques on the walls. This leads to obstruction of blood over time to this vital organ.
- Lower blood cholesterol. Phytosterols are extracted from plants like the sunflower.
- Strengthens immune response.
- Decrease risk of acquiring some forms of cancer.
Health Benefits of Magnesium
- Reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Reduces the symptoms of asthma.
- Prevents migraine type headaches.
- Prevents muscle spasms and cramps.
- Prevents cancer cells from forming
- Promotes healthy cells
As you can see sunflower seeds are very healthy for you. By adding them to your daily diet you will be getting up to 75 percent of the recommended daily intake of the above mentioned nutrients plus thiamin, folate, manganese, copper, tryptophan and vitamin B6.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE
Sunflower seeds are sold either shelled or unshelled and are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the sunflower seeds are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure the seeds’ maximal freshness.
When purchasing unshelled seeds, make sure that the shells are not broken or dirty. Additionally, they should be firm and not have a limp texture. When purchasing shelled seeds, avoid those that appear yellowish in color as they have probably gone rancid. In addition, if you are purchasing sunflower seeds from a bulk bin, smell them to ensure that they are still fresh and have not spoiled.
Since sunflower seeds have a high fat content and are prone to rancidity, it is best to store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They can also be stored in the freezer since the cold temperature will not greatly affect their texture or flavor.
SOME IDEAS ON HOW TO USE SUNFLOWER SEEDS
- Eat a handful of sunflower seeds as a snack.
- Add a handful of sunflower seeds on your breakfast cereal.
- Add a handful of sunflower seeds on top of a salad.
- Add a handful of sunflower seeds to a no bake granola bar.
- Add a handful of sunflower seeds over your fruit salad.
- Sprinkle a handful of sunflower seeds on your smoothie.
It is best to consume raw organic sunflower seeds. Once they are roasted and salted they lose a lot of their nutritional value.
Various including: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflower_seed