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How Many Calories Are in 1 Tablespoon of Sunflower Seeds?

Sunflowers have more than just a pretty face; they can also be a source of a healthy snack. A tablespoon of the meaty kernels in sunflower seeds contains around 50 calories. The kernels also are a source of folate, vitamin E, selenium, iron and zinc. Sunflowers are an important agricultural crop from the Dakotas south to the Texas panhandle.

Wild sunflowers are native to North America, and there is evidence the plants were being cultivated as long ago as 3000 B.C. by Indians living in present-day Arizona and New Mexico. American Indian tribes used ground sunflower seeds for cakes, mush and bread. Seeds also were cracked and eaten as a snack food. Oil from the sunflower seeds was used on skin and hair. Sunflowers also were used to make textile dyes, and parts of the plant were used in medicines.

There's a difference between a sunflower seed and a sunflower kernel. The NSA notes that the kernel is considered the "meat" of the sunflower seed. If you buy sunflower kernels, a food processing company has already removed the hard outer shell or hull from the seed. The hulls are primarily fiber, and if you don't chew the hulls properly, sharp pieces of the shell could hurt your esophagus or digestive tract. Most people who snack on sunflower seeds crack the shell and discard it, eating only the kernel inside.

Sunflower seeds are high in fat, but that's not necessarily bad news. While the fat adds calories, it comes in the form of polyunsaturated fat --- one of the "healthy" fats. Unsaturated fats can lower your risk of heart disease if you use them in place of other fats. They can help reduce your total cholesterol and the low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol levels in your blood.

The National Sunflower Association suggests using sunflower kernels in recipes that call for dried fruits, nuts or other seeds. You can put the kernels in dips, sprinkle them on muffins, add them to your granola mix or bake them in cookies.

If you enjoy growing sunflowers, you can harvest your own seeds for snacking and cooking. The National Sunflower Association advises that the flowers are ready to harvest when the back of the head turns brown. This can occur after the first killing freeze in northern climes. In warm-weather spots, the plant just dries out naturally. The seeds can be rubbed out by hand and roasted in your oven.

Heath Benefits of Sunflower Seeds

If you're in the mood for a salty, crunchy snack, try sunflower seeds instead of chips or even some crackers. Sunflower seeds are a convenient snack or substitute for an ingredient in some of your favorite dishes. Understanding the nutritional value of sunflower seeds will reveal healthy limits of calories, as well as beneficial amounts of fiber, fat and iron.

A serving size of sunflower seeds for children and adults is one-fourth cup, or approximately a handful of seeds, and it contains 190 calories. The Mayo Clinic recommends eating snacks that are in the 100-calorie range. However, sunflower seeds still are a healthy food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends consuming nuts and seeds regularly as part of a healthy diet. Sunflower seeds provide a natural source of fiber, which can help prevent cardiovascular disease and aiding in the digestive process. If you are a woman who eats an average of 2,000 calories per day, consume 21 to 25 g of dietary fiber. If you are a man, consume 30 to 38 g per day. One serving of sunflower seeds contains 2 g of dietary fiber.

If you eat 2,000 calories per day, limit your total fat intake to 44 g to 78 g per day. Each serving of sunflower seeds contains 15 g of total fat. Each serving contains 1.5 g of saturated fat, 3 g of monounsatured fat and 10 g of polyunsaturated fat. While a minimal amount of fat is a part of a balanced diet, saturated fat is unhealthy fat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthier forms of fat and possibly can help to lower cholesterol. However, if you need to limit your fat consumption or follow a low-fat diet, monitor your consumption of sunflower seeds.

A part of a healthy diet includes eating 50 g to 175 g of protein each day. Nuts and seeds are a healthy form of protein. One serving of sunflower seeds contains 7 g of protein.

Sunflower seeds also contain essential minerals, such as iron. Iron is essential for good health because it contributes to the healthy transportation of oxygen and helps to regulate blood cells. Male adults consume 8 mg of iron each day, and that female adults consume 18 mg each day. One serving of sunflower seeds contains 10 percent of the recommended daily value for iron based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Are Sunflower Seeds Good for a Diet?

Sunflower seeds pack a nutritional punch and can be a healthy addition to any diet plan. Sunflower seeds provide dieters with healthy fats and protein that can help increase feelings of fullness and satisfaction. If you are trying to lose weight, stick to modest portions of the seeds, as they are calorie-dense.

A 1-oz. serving, a scant 1/4 cup, of sunflower seeds contains 163 calories. This calorie count is comparable to other nuts and seeds, but is calorie-dense when compared with vegetables and fruits, which generally contain 5 to 10 calories per 1/4 cup. Sunflower seeds may be included on a restricted-calorie diet, but you should measure out servings carefully so you do not exceed your daily calorie goals.

Sunflower seeds also contain 14 g of fat in a 1-oz. serving, but only 1 g of saturated fat. The majority of the fat in the seeds is heart-healthy unsaturated varieties that, when used in lieu of saturated or trans fats, can help lower your cholesterol. Even when dieting, you need a minimum of 20 percent of your calories to come from fat daily to help your body function properly. For a 1,500-calorie diet, that means a minimum of 33 g of fat daily. Sunflower seeds are a healthy way to fit in some of that fat.

Sunflower seeds are nutritionally dense. They provide 5 g of protein per 1-oz. serving along with 3 g of fiber. The seeds also offer 6 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for iron, 32 percent for phosphorus, 26 percent for copper, 30 percent for manganese and 32 percent for selenium, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Sunflower seeds also provide 37 percent of the recommended allowance for the antioxidant vitamin E and 17 percent for folate, which helps fetal development and red blood cell functioning.

Sunflower seeds make a convenient snack when you are dieting. The fiber and protein can help tide you over between meals. Sunflower seeds may also be used to add interest to boring salads or oatmeal. Use sunflower seeds mixed with raisins as an energizing pre-cardio workout snack.

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