Sunflowers, and their nutrient-packed delicious seeds, are native to the Americas, and were an important source of energy for several Native American tribes for thousands of years. While sunflowers are thought to be endemic to South America, these large yellow flowers were one of the first plants cultivated by native North Americans, who benefited greatly from them as a food source.
Now sunflower seeds are grown around the globe; Russia, Ukraine, China, Romania and Argentina are the top five producers of sunflower seeds, though the majority of the seeds are used for the production of sunflower oil principally for cooking, not for direct consumption of the nutritious seeds.
In their unprocessed form, the seeds of sunflowers are rich sources of vitamin E, an important antioxidant that helps promote heart health. Sunflower seeds are also strong sources of magnesium, a mineral very important in metabolism that has been connected to bone health, heart health and a range of other benefits to the human body including diabetes prevention and management. In addition, sunflower seeds have been strongly connected to the lowering of cholesterol due to the abundance of phytonutrient compounds known as phytosterols, and also as a potential natural way to help control blood-glucose levels in type 2 diabetes patients between meals. Sunflower seeds are also an unquestionable cultural compliment to the wonderful sport of baseball, and team sports can help build a strong mind in addition to a strong body.
Edible sunflower seeds are more often snacked upon than as primary constituents of balanced meals(though they make great additions to salads and whole-grain breads), and are sold both shelled or unshelled. While snacking itself is not a particularly encouraged activity and can be considered a diabetes risk factor when consumed in addition to principal meals, sunflower seeds, especially in their whole seed form with no added flavorings or preservatives (they are often sold salted, meaning added sodium), is about as healthy a snack-item as is available. There exists a substantial body of research that has connected the cultural shift in the United States from three set meals to three meals plus constant snacking during the day, to the increased incidence of diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, so be careful not to let sunflower seeds become a gateway snack-food!
Resources and Further Reading
For a great look at the nutritional content and history of sunflower seeds:
A 2016 study in the “Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research” further solidified the connection between sunflower seeds and lowering cholesterol and raising “good” HDL cholesterol, but also demonstrated that type 2 diabetics consuming sunflower seeds can also help regulate their blood-glucose levels with the nutritious snack.
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