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Move over, peanut butter! Sunflower seed butters, along with flours, milk, and more are cropping up everywhere.

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For folks with peanut allergies, or any peanut butter lover who wants to mix things up a little, it’s an option worth tasting. Sunflower seed butter, on its own or sometimes found blended with omega-3 rich flaxseeds, is a delicious way to safely enjoy nut butter. It can be substituted in nearly any peanut butter snack, and in place of a good ol’ PB&J in a kid’s lunchbox. And for those with gluten allergies or vegans, sunflower seed flours and milks offer a great alternative.

The unassuming sunflower seed is no bigger than a toddler’s pinkie nail, but it contains a powerful package of nutrients that help to promote brain health, lower cholesterol, prevent atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), lower blood pressure, regulate homocysteine (high levels of which may promote cardiovascular disease), fight
free radicals, boost energy, and support better sleep.

Enjoying these health benefits is simple. In addition to sunflower butters, flours, and oils, you can simply eat the seeds straight out of the bag. Sunflower oil is great for cooking and is excellent in
salad dressings. Sunflower flour offers a fantastic gluten-free way to bake.

Fat Facts

Sunflower seeds are high in polyunsaturated oil, an omega-6 fat which, when consumed in a 2:1 or 1:1 balance with omega-3 fat, helps reduce cholesterol.

In fact, a recently published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that consuming a diet that includes plant sterols (plant chemicals that lower cholesterol, such as those found in sunflower seeds), plus fiber, nuts and soy protein, reduces LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol).

Another study reported in the Journal of Nutrition showed that people who ate a meal containing 50 grams of sunflower oil had fewer fats in their blood after eating and fewer signs of inflammation than those who ate a meal containing 50 grams of butter.

In addition to omega-6 fats, sunflower seeds contain omega-3 fats, both of which are “essential” fats and the main component of cell membranes. Your body cannot make these fats, so you need to include them in your diet or supplementation program.

Storehouse of Nutrients

Sunflower seed products are an excellent source of nutrients: Vitamin E supports brain function, keeps arteries healthy and reduces your risk of heart attack. Magnesium regulates blood pressure and muscle and nerve function, aids bone health, and boosts immunity. Folate helps build and protect DNA and keeps homocysteine levels in check. Tryptophan supports sleep and mood. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) promotes healthy skin, mood and energy. Phosphorus regulates nutrient use and boosts energy. Manganese and copper fight free radicals, and selenium helps block oxidative damage.

Raw, unhulled seeds provide the greatest number of nutrients. But when ground into butter or extracted for oil, this small but potent seed still offers all the health benefits, provided these products are not overly processed.

Sunflower seeds also contain both soluble and insoluble fiber (which together fight diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer), plus an array of amino acids. A handful (quarter cup) of seeds on your salad or oatmeal adds nearly 4 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein to your meal, which helps satisfy your appetite, dampen the blood sugar rise after eating, and provide “staying power” through busy days.

So Refined

A word of caution: The sunflower seed oil you find in the supermarket is usually a refined product. Refined oils have undergone heat processing, which damages the oil’s structure, causes trans fats to form, and robs the oil of nutrients like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and lignans. Unrefined sunflower seed products leave the seed’s nutrients intact, retaining the health benefits.

Click here for the Sweet and Salty Sunflower Seed Torte recipe
Click here for the Sunflower Seed Crusted Tilapia with Sunflower Butter Tahini recipe