Sunflower seeds are a versatile, natural taste treat that’s a good source of vitamins and minerals. And if you snack on the seeds with shells intact, they’ve even got built-in portion control.
But will they kick you out of ketosis?
Keep reading for a thorough overview of sunflower seed nutrition, where this snack fits in your keto diet, whether the “inflammatory” omega-6 fat content is a problem, our favorite recipes, sunflower products to avoid, and more.
Good news: sunflower seeds are 100% keto-friendly because of their remarkably low carb count (less than 4 grams of net carbs per serving).
Unless you eat a whopping 1750 calories’ worth (300 grams or 10 servings) of sunflower kernels in a sitting, there’s virtually zero risk they’ll kick you out of ketosis[*].
In other words, you’d likely get full well before you obtained a significant amount of net carbs from snacking on sunflower seeds.
They’re also very high in fat, relatively high in dietary fiber, and contain moderate amounts of protein.
As a bonus, sunflower seeds offer copious amounts of minerals and other micronutrients, making them a smart whole food choice that can help you avoid nutrient deficiencies on a low-carb, high-fat diet.
The sunflower seed is the fruit of the Helianthus annuus, or common sunflower.
You can purchase sunflower seeds for snacking with their shell on, or hulled sunflower seeds (also called “kernels”) with the shell removed.
Along with snacking, people also use sunflower seeds as a salad garnish, an ingredient in baked goods, or for sprouting.
When it comes to nutrition, sunflower seeds offer many positives and few downsides.
Here are the basic nutrition facts (per 30-gram serving size of kernels)[*]:
- Calories: 175 kcal
- Protein: 5.8 grams
- Fat: 15 grams
- Net Carbs: 3.9 grams
- Dietary Fiber: 3.3 grams
However, many of the nutritional benefits of sunflower seeds are anything but basic.
- Choline: 16.5 mg (3-4% DV*)
- Copper: 550 mcg (61% DV)
- Folate: 71.1 mcg (7.1% DV)
- Iron: 1.14 mg (6-14% DV)
- Magnesium: 39 mg (9-12% DV)
- Niacin 2.11 mg (13-15% DV)
- Phosphorus: 347 mg (49.5% DV)
- Potassium: 255 mg (7.5%-9.8% DV)
- Riboflavin: 0.074 mg (5.6-6.6% DV)
- Selenium 23.8 mcg (43% DV)
- Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol): 7.8 mg (52% DV)
- Zinc: 1.6 mg (15-20% DV)
*Note: Recommended Dietary Allowance values (RDAs) for some nutrients vary between men and women[*]. Daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie (kcal) diet for adults.
As you can see, just 1 ounce of hulled sunflower seeds is almost like a multivitamin (except better, because it’s a whole food).
Nutrition-savvy readers may be aware that sunflower seeds are high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, 65% (9.75g per 30g serving) to be exact[*]. The main omega-6 fatty acid in snack-grade sunflower seeds is linoleic acid.
Research shows that excessive amounts of omega-6 fats are bad for you[*]. The “Western diet” or “standard American diet,” which includes high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and lots of sugar, is linked with heart disease and other health problems[*][*].
But in actuality, your body still needs omega-6s for proper functioning. They’re an essential fatty acid[*].
The key is to keep your omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio in balance, which you can do by eating plenty of whole food sources of omega-3 fats, taking high-quality omega-3 supplements, and avoiding the damaged omega-6s in processed foods[*].
Raw or lightly roasted sunflower kernels are relatively unprocessed, healthy whole food sources of omega-6 fatty acids.
In fact, we recommend you avoid sunflower oil altogether. Evidence suggests that extra virgin olive oil is a healthier choice when you need an oil that contains predominantly unsaturated fats–and it may even have heart health benefits, including lowering blood pressure[*][*][*].
#1: Eat Them Raw or Sprouted
Eating sunflower seeds raw is the least processed way to enjoy this great snack.
The hulled kernels are very convenient, but also calorie-dense. If your goals include weight loss, take care and eat slowly–a few handfuls could contain as much as 500 calories.
Raw sunflower seeds in the shell may be a better choice for inclusion in your meal plan if you’re limiting your intake of energy-dense foods, because they force you to slow down and eat more mindfully.
And if you want to make raw sunflower seeds or kernels even healthier, try sprouting them:
- Place one cup of sunflower seeds or kernels in a glass quart jar
- Fill the jar with filtered or spring water, add a sprouting lid or mesh jar lid, and soak overnight
- Drain the water and turn the jar upside down, allowing the seeds to get plenty of air as they drip-dry
- After 12 hours, rinse and drain again
- Repeat every 12 hours until sprouted (approximately 12-24 hours total), then eat ASAP
- Optional: If you’re making microgreens, spread the sprouted seeds densely in organic potting mix in a nursery tray next to a well-lit window, watering daily until they’re about 4 inches high
The seeds with the shells on are the best choice for making microgreens, while the kernels are more munchable and convenient if you plan to enjoy them immediately after sprouting.
You’ll need to buy raw, unsteamed (preferably organic) sunflower seeds or kernels for sprouting. Seeds from sealed, airtight containers may germinate better than seeds from a bulk bin.
Another reason to sprout raw sunflower seeds is that they contain an antinutrient, phytic acid, that can block phosphorus absorption. The sprouted seeds develop phytase, an enzyme that reduces the phytic acid content[*].
#2: Season and Roast Your Own
Seasoning and roasting your own sunflower seeds may be the most delicious way to snack on them, and it’s surprisingly easy.
Another reason to roast your own is that store-bought sunflower seeds often contain artificial flavors and other questionable ingredients.
Cooking also reduces the phytic acid content of sunflower seeds[*].
If you’ve got gut issues or are sensitive to antinutrients in plant foods, you can soak the kernels for a few hours to help reduce the phytic acid content even more before you season and roast them[*].
Salt and Pepper Oven Dry-Roasted Sunflower Seeds Recipe
Ingredients: 1 pound raw organic sunflower seeds (shell-on), 3 tbsp sea salt (or to taste), 1 tsp fresh-ground pepper (or to taste), filtered water or spring water, optional: 1/2 tsp chili powder or cayenne powder
- Place shell-on seeds in a large pot and fill with enough water to cover the seeds
- Bring to a low boil, add salt, and stir until salt dissolves
- Turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes
- While simmering, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees celsius)
- Drain the water, then spread the seeds evenly on a baking pan and add remaining seasonings
- Bake in the top rack for 10-15 minutes or until dry and lightly browned, then allow to cool
- Check for doneness every 1-2 minutes after 10 minutes–they can quickly go from slightly undercooked to burnt
Savory Skillet-Roasted Sunflower Kernel Recipe
Ingredients: 1 cup organic raw sunflower kernels, 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Add kernels and olive oil to skillet and heat over medium or low-medium heat
- Stir often to prevent burning
- When seeds become fragrant (after 2-3 minutes), add seasonings and turn heat to low or low-medium
- Stir often until seeds are browned (about 5-7 more minutes, or 7-10 minutes total), then remove from heat and allow to cool
As with the raw seeds, people who are prone to over-snacking may wish to stick with the shell-on variety.
#3: Add Texture to Baked Goods with Sunflower Seeds
Simply mix the kernels in with your other ingredients or add them to the outside of a loaf right before baking.
#4: Bake with Sunflower Seed Flour
Sunflower seed flour, also called sunflower seed meal, is made by grinding sunflower kernels into a fine, flour-like consistency.
Believe it or not, sunflower meal even makes awesome keto cookies.
#5: Enjoy Sunflower Seed Butter
Peanut butter sometimes gets a bad rap, but it’s fine in reasonable quantities (as long as you choose the right type of peanut butter).
On the other hand, there is no “right” peanut butter for people with peanut allergies.
Sunflower seed butter is a yummy alternative that’s much less likely to result in allergies. A 2007 study found that of 200 individuals with severe seed and nut allergies, less than 10% were allergic to sunflower seeds[*].
That said, sunflower seed allergies do exist, so you may want to double-check with your doctor first if you’re allergy-prone.
Nonetheless, sunflower seed butter has the same keto-friendly macros as sunflower kernels.
The best way to obtain sunflower butter is to make it fresh yourself, so you know what’s going into it (bonus points for using home-roasted kernels). You can add sea salt and stevia (or other keto-friendly sugar free sweeteners) if you’d like, or even make it using homemade seasoned kernels for extra flavor.
All you need is a food processor with an “S” blade, or your local health food store may be able to grind kernels for you.
Otherwise, purchase with care, and avoid buying sunflower butter with added sugar, sunflower oil, preservatives, or other unnecessary ingredients.
Sunflower seeds are highly underrated. In many ways, they’re one of the best keto snacks no one talks about.
The kernels are rich in naturally-occurring antioxidants and minerals, boasting a micronutrient profile that puts many multivitamins to shame.
They’re also versatile and taste fantastic raw, sprouted, seasoned and roasted at home, as part of baked recipes, or made into sunflower butter.
If you need help with portion control during snacking, the shell-on seeds are an easy solution to keep your taste buds busy while your belly catches up to your food intake.
And if you’re concerned about the omega-6 fatty acids, don’t be. Your body needs intact omega-6 fatty acids from whole foods to work correctly, so as long as you avoid or limit damaged omega-6s from processed sources and keep your omega-3 intake high, you’ll be fine.
However, there are far better healthy fat choices than refined sunflower oil, which is why we recommend skipping it in favor of extra virgin olive oil (for salads and low-temp cooking) or avocado oil (for higher-heat applications).