Health Benefits Of Sunflower


It’s not just a pretty face – The botanical name for sunflowers is ‘Helianthus’, ‘Helia’ meaning sun and ‘Anthus ’ for flower. The sunflower seed and its oil offer a variety of nutritional and medicinal properties as they store healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. The health benefits of the common sunflower are multi-fold, and a combination of these components may be pertinent for reducing the risk of age-related diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Incorporating sunflower seeds into our diet is simple, and it can be enjoyed in our smoothies, breakfast bowls or salads, whilst sunflower oil can be added to almost any cuisine! This article will highlight everything you need to know about the benefits of sunflowers, including their nutrition and how to incorporate them into our diets.

About the sunflower

Health benefits of sunflower

Although the more ‘popular’ seeds in the wellness game, like chia and flax, are contemporary favourites, sunflower seeds are also a great option for providing essential nutrients. The benefits of sunflower seeds/oil are due to the abundance of compounds known as phytosterols, and their health benefits will be outlined below.

Reducing the risk of inflammation

Sunflower seeds contain an impressive amount of vitamin E and the mineral selenium, which are both powerful antioxidants to help combat toxic compounds caused by the environment. They help to reduce disease-promoting free radicals, protect cells from oxidative stress and lower inflammation in our body. Acute inflammation occurs in our body in short bursts as a natural response to fend off foreign substances, whereas chronic inflammation is associated with age-related diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders. In fact, a study found that volunteers who consumed sunflower seeds at least give  times a week had 32% lower levels of C-reactive protein compared to people who did not eat seeds.1

Curbing blood sugar and diabetes

The density of protein and fibre contained in sunflower seeds means that these may be particularly good at regulating blood sugar levels by allowing a more gradual release of sugar.2,3 Frequent blood sugar spikes can damage blood vessels and facilitate chronic diseases,4 therefore, it is necessary to eat a balanced and nutrient-dense diet to keep our blood sugar levels steady.

The formation and accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) is a pathogenic contributor to diabetes and research has shown that the sunflower sprout can inhibit the formation of AGEs.5 Studies also suggest that people who consume 30g of sunflower seeds daily (as part of a healthy diet) may reduce blood sugar by about 10% within six months than those who were just on a healthy diet alone.6,7 Sunflower seeds also harbour a compound called chlorogenic acid, which is a polyphenol and has also been shown to have a blood sugar-lowering effect.8,9

Antihypertensive and cardioprotective effects

Next up on the list are the beneficial effects on heart health, where some research suggests that diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid (omega-9) can help reduce cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease.10 The presence of vitamin B3 is also considered to support heart health by increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the ‘good’ cholesterol that is responsible for removing the ‘bad’ low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), and triglycerides from the bloodstream. This effect was seen just within two weeks of daily consumption of sunflower seeds (30g), where there was a slight reduction (9% and 12%) in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, respectively.6

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and can lead to heart attack or stroke. In particular, the high magnesium content in the seeds may be responsible for helping to reduce blood pressure.6,11 Also, a compound called sunflower protein hydrolysate can be broken down to block an enzyme called angio-tensin-I converting enzyme (ACE), which causes blood vessels to constrict. Consequently, this may help to relax your blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Intake of linoleic acid has also been shown to improve arterial function and decrease blood pressure.12

Our skin health

Sunflower seeds are brimming with fatty acids such as omega-3, 6 and 9, which are able to support skin health by preventing oxidative damage, improving hydration and regulating oil production at the dermis.13 Also, the rich copper content makes sunflower seeds a good candidate to achieve glowy skin, as our bodies use copper to make melanin, which absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the sun and protects you from sun exposure and tissue damage.14,15

Wound healing

Some studies have found that the topical use of sunflower oil is actually beneficial for healing wounds quicker. This may be due to its high concentration of linoleic acid, which is important for maintaining the cutaneous barrier. After 3 days of sunflower oil treatment, wound areas were reduced by 300%,16,17 highlighting the importance of amino acids and essential fatty acids in barrier repair! So, as well as consuming sunflower seeds, topical application of sunflower oil would be the ‘cherry on top’.

Nutrients we can get from sunflower

It is obvious now that the sunflower seed contains a multitude of nutritious components, but what do the numbers say? They are composed of approximately 20% protein and provide the sulfur and nitrogen needed for seedling development after germination.18 But these proteins are also very beneficial for us, enabling essential functions such as muscular and skeletal cell development and insulin production.

The seeds treasure stores of linoleic acid (55-70%), a type of polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid, and oleic acid (20−25%),12 which help to curb inflammation, reduce total and LDL cholesterol and improve insulin sensitivity and blood pressure,19 Since we are unable to synthesise these omegas within our bodies, it is important we obtain them from our diets.

They also contain high amounts of vitamin E/⍺-tocopherol (37.8mg/100g) compared to linseed, sesame seed and soy. The high concentration of vitamin E means that just a small handful (28g) is enough to reach nearly half of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin E. This amount contains 164 calories and the following nutritional values:

Composition of sunflower seeds and oil (28g)

  • Protein: 5.8g
  • Fat: 14.4g
    • Saturated fat: 1.2g
    • Monounsaturated fat: 5.2g
    • Polyunsaturated fat: 6.5g
    • Carbohydrates: 5.6g (of which 2.4g is from fibre)20

Other minerals:

Vitamin E (9.3mg; 47% RDI) known as -tocopherol, is a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant. It helps to maintain healthy skin, strengthen the immune system and promote heart health by  preventing free radical damage to the  healthy cells in our body:

  1. Vitamin B6 (0.4mg; 19% RDI) also known as pyridoxine, is important for brain development and a stronger immune system. It also keeps our blood glucose levels at bay and enables our bodies to produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline to promote cognitive function21
  2. Vitamin B9 (63.6μg; 16% RDI), sometimes called folate, is important for producing red and white blood cells in the bone marrow
  3. Vitamin B3 (2.3mg; 12% RDI), is also known as niacin and can boost levels of HDLs and lower triglyceride levels
  4. Magnesium (91mg; 23% RDI), plays many crucial roles in the body, including supporting muscle and nerve function, lowering blood pressure, alleviating headaches and strengthening boes22
  5. Phosphorous (185mg; 18% RDI), whose main function is in the formation of bones and teeth
  6. Zinc (1.4mg; 9% RDI) is particularly important for immune cell and metabolic function, which will enable our bodies to combat inflammation and promote wound healing
  7. Iron (1.5mg; 8% RDI) is important for the synthesis of haemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to different parts of the body. Maintaining a good level of iron reduces tiredness and fatigue, improves immunity and cognition and improves mental and physical performance23
  8. Copper (0.5mg; 25% RDI) serves as a cofactor for several enzymes involved in energy production and the functioning of the nervous system. It also contributes to the absorption of iron and the formation of collagen for bone and tissue integrity24
  9. Selenium (14.8μg; 21% RDI), an antioxidant that  is necessary for thyroid function and protection against cell damage from free radicals25

Whilst there are benefits with both sunflower seeds and sunflower oil, the latter is thought to typically contain fewer essential vitamins than sunflower seeds. Also, the presence of phenolic acids and flavonoids (which also act as antioxidants) is  found highest in sunflower seeds than in most other types of nuts and seeds11

Ways to use & include sunflower in our diet 

Sunflower seeds are harvested from the plants'  large flowerheads and a single plant may contain up to 2,000 seeds.26 There are two main types of sunflower crops, one is grown for its edible seeds and the other is farmed for oil production. Including sunflower seeds in our diets can look like:

  • Sprinkling them over a green salad or a fruit salad
  • Adding to smoothies and juices
  • Dashed on top of yoghurt or stirred into your morning cereal

Alternatively, soak the seeds in water overnight and blend them into soups for that texture and nutritious boost, or grind them to make your own sunflower seed butter, an alternative to peanut butter with a similar nutrient profile.

How much is enough?

Around a handful of sunflower seeds (28g) is recommended for maximal benefits and minimal side effects. Generally, sunflower seeds are safe to consume however, we should be mindful of the amount since sunflower seeds are relatively high in calories.

Though allergies to sunflower seeds are uncommon, some cases have been reported. Reactions such as asthma, itching and swelling of the mouth, skin rashes and lesions, vomiting and anaphylaxis have been reported.26,27 If the onset of these symptoms occurs after the consumption of sunflower seeds, you should seek medical attention.


The common sunflower is packed with an array of nutrients in the form of its natural seed or as an oil. They are the perfect addition to our diets when eaten in moderation and can contribute to our health in many ‘rays’!


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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Sabah Bharde

PhD student in Neurophysiology – Queen Mary, University of London

Sabah completed her undergraduate studies at Royal Holloway, University of London, attaining a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry, followed by an MRes degree in Pharmacology at King’s College London. After her MRes, Sabah joined the lab of Dr Shafaq Sikandar, where she studies the peripheral mechanisms underlying the transition from acute to chronic pain. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
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