Sunflower Seeds

A Phytochemical Powerhouse New research indicates possible protection against heart disease and cancer

BISMARCK, N.D. (May 14, 2001) A new study has identified compounds present in the sunflower kernel, commonly known as sunflower seeds, that have been shown to offer a variety of potential health benefits, including protection against heart disease and cancer, as well as a role in memory and cognitive functions.

The research, completed in March 2001 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, suggests the sunflower kernel is a good source of phytochemicals - plant chemicals that can help protect against disease. Samples of sunflower kernel, along with walnuts, almonds, pecans, peanuts, and hazelnuts, were analyzed to compare levels of specific phytochemicals present in each.

Sunflower seeds contain high levels of the phytochemicals tocopherols (vitamin E), choline, betaine, and phenolic acids, as compared to other nuts. In addition, the kernel is a good source of lignans and arginine. “Considering the high levels of these phytochemicals,” said lead researcher Katherine Phillips, Ph.D., “the sunflower kernel could be a powerhouse of health benefits.”

The study follows an April 2000 literature review that identified previous studies associating these phytochemicals with specific health benefits. For example, vitamin E may protect against cardiovascular disease, lignans may protect against some cancers, and choline has been shown to play a role in memory and cognitive functions. As a result, Phillips is encouraged with the growing evidence of the health benefits of phytochemicals contained in sunflower seeds. She emphasized this research is the first step needed to show the many health benefits of sunflower seeds.

Based on the research, sunflower seeds may, by definition, be considered a functional food; one that provides benefit beyond basic nutrition.

“The good news with functional foods is what you eat can be more important for your health than what you don’t eat,” said Ruth Isaak, communications director of the National Sunflower Association. “Consumers who enjoy sunflower kernels for their great, nutty taste, now have even more reasons to incorporate them as part of a healthful eating plan.”
 

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