(NaturalHealth365) In spite of scientific advances, heart disease is still the leading cause of death for Americans. Yet, experts tell us, many cases of cardiovascular disease are preventable, with simple lifestyle changes – such as a healthier diet – to help lower the risk.
Do you crave ‘junky’ foods? The seeds of a cheerful, hardy summer flower – scientifically known as Helianthus annuum – offer a tasty alternative to junk foods such as potato chips and cookies, and can help you redirect your cravings towards healthier fare.
Sunflower seeds – with their crunchy, pleasing texture and mildly sweet, buttery taste – are a virtually perfect snack food. They are not only packed with essential micronutrients and antioxidants, but are also rich in natural plant oils that work together to ward off heart disease.
Why are sunflower seeds good for the heart?
In addition to polyunsaturated linoleic acid, sunflower seeds contain oleic acid – an extremely beneficial monounsaturated acid that is also found in such heart-healthy treats as olives and avocados. Oleic acid helps to lower harmful LDL cholesterol while raising amounts of desirable HDL cholesterol.
In addition, animal studies have shown that a diet high in oleic acid can help reverse the negative effects of inflammatory cytokines. As inflammation triggers many serious diseases – including heart disease and cancer – this bodes well for sunflower seeds’ ability to promote coronary health.
Can oleic acid prevent heart disease?
The simple answer is yes. In a study published in 2004 in Nutrition, omega-3 polyunsaturated acids, including oleic acid, decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease. Oleic acid also lowered unhealthy LDL cholesterol and decreased concentrations of vascular cell adhesion molecules, making cells less ‘sticky’ – and reducing risk of atherosclerosis, strokes, blood clots and heart disease.
Sunflower seeds have been shown to boost immunity
Sunflower seeds are rich in amino acids, organic compounds essential to the production of protein. In addition to their role as “building blocks” of protein, amino acids can help to prevent the buildup of body fat and boost the immune system; they can also benefit the heart in a variety of ways.
A mere quarter of a cup – about 35 grams – of sunflower seeds contains an impressive .70 grams of arginine – which can increase the elasticity of arteries while decreasing vascular resistance. By helping to keep blood vessels dilated, arginine enhances blood flow, helping to prevent the development of coronary artery disease.
Sunflower seeds also offer healthy amounts of tryptophan. Many people know that tryptophan can promote restful sleep and reduce anxiety and mood swings; not as well known is the fact that tryptophan is a potent antioxidant that can scavenge harmful free radicals in the body.
Glutamic acid, also found in sunflower seeds, benefits the cardiovascular system as well. In a 2009 study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that this amino acid can significantly lower blood pressure.
Good things come in small packages
The same quarter-cup serving of sunflower seeds contains over 80 percent of the adult daily value of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory vitamin E – which helps protect against the oxidation of cholesterol, a major factor in heart disease. Sunflower seeds are also high in selenium, a terrific antioxidant – especially when taken in conjunction with vitamin E. Sunflower seeds also contain healthy levels of magnesium – which helps to regulate blood pressure, and niacin – which boosts levels of desirable high-density lipoproteins.
With 204 calories to a quarter-cup, sunflower seeds are not a low-cal food. However, one serving offers the same amount of protein as an 8-oz. container of yogurt; sunflower seeds’ exemplary amounts of vitamins, minerals, micronutrients and protein make them a very good caloric investment. In addition, they are naturally high in heart-healthy dietary fiber – which leads to a feeling of satiety, and can help prevent overeating.
Choosing the best sunflower seeds
It doesn’t much matter if you buy your sunflower seeds shelled or unshelled; the important thing is that they be organic. Unshelled sunflower seeds should feel crisp and firm; avoid any that appear limp, soggy or withered.
Shelled sunflower seeds should be grayish-white, and have a fresh, clean fragrance; if they are visibly yellowed, this could mean that they are rancid. Unshelled seeds may be stored at room temperature in an airtight container, while shelled seeds should be refrigerated.
You can use these versatile seeds to add flavor and texture to rice, pasta, tabouleh or casserole dishes. Sprinkle them over green salads, stir them into oatmeal, or use them to enliven chicken salad. Highly portable and convenient to eat, sunflower seeds are perfect for quick energy on the hiking trail, or for an afternoon pick-me-up at your desk.
With almost every constituent working together to ward off coronary disease, it is almost as if sunflower seeds have been divinely engineered towards the goal of protecting your heart. All you have to do is nibble away and enjoy.
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