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Are Sunflower Seeds Keto? Carbs, Benefits, Drawbacks
First planted for food by Native American tribes more than 4,000 years ago, sunflower seeds are rich in nutrients and pleasantly crunchy. But are sunflower seeds keto?
When looking only at carbs and fat, the answer is, yes. Sunflower seeds contain less than 4 grams of net carbs per ¼ cup serving — so you’d have to eat over 1,500 calories’ worth of sunflower seeds to get kicked out of ketosis.
But sunflower seeds also have some potential downsides including plant toxins and antinutrients.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at the nutrients, benefits, and downsides of sunflower seeds.
Table of Contents
Sunflower Seeds on Keto
When considering sunflower seeds on a keto diet the first thing to look for is their macronutrient ratio. Ketogenic eating means focusing on high-fat, low-carb, and moderate-protein foods.
A general macronutrient breakdown on keto looks like:
- 70-80% of calories from fat
- 15-30% calories from protein
- 0-10% calories from carbohydrate
Sunflower seeds fit perfectly into this breakdown, making them an especially great option for vegetarian keto, and vegan keto dieters.
Sunflower Seeds Carbs
Since keto is an ultra low carb diet, it’s important to consider the carbs in sunflower seeds. Fortunately, the net carbs are not an issue at only 1.7 grams per ounce.
However, sunflower seeds are high in insoluble fiber, another kind of carbohydrate. Though your body doesn’t digest this fiber, it can cause inflammation and irritation in the gut–more on this later.
Below you can see how sunflower seeds carbs compare to chia and pumpkin seeds:
|CARBOHYDRATES||PER 1OZ.||PER 100 GRAMS|
|SUNFLOWER SEEDS (kernels)||3.1g||11g|
|PUMPKIN SEEDS (pepitas)||1.4g||4.9g|
Sunflower Seed Nutrition
Technically speaking, a sunflower seed is the fruit of the Helianthus annuus plant. The inner kernel of the sunflower seed is the edible part, so that’s what we’ll focus our nutritional value on. The shell is just insoluble fiber.
They may be low in carbs, but sunflower seeds most definitely aren’t low in nutrients. They’re an excellent source of selenium, magnesium, copper, vitamin E, and several B vitamins. Below are the full nutrition facts.
Sunflower seeds macronutrients
|½ Cup (4 oz.) Sunflower Seed Kernels|
|Total Fat||35.8 grams|
|Saturated Fat||2.8 grams|
|Net Carbs||7.7 grams|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||38%|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||88%|
Sunflower Seeds Keto Nutrition Highlights
Here’s a deeper look at some of the most abundant nutrients in sunflower seeds on keto.
Vitamin E is actually several different vitamins, and this group of compounds has impressive antioxidant activity. The vitamin E in sunflower seeds might make them ideal for those with increased antioxidant demands, like hard-training athletes or those on higher carb diets.
Selenium is needed for reproduction on several levels. On the micro level, it plays an important role in cellular division and DNA synthesis; on the macro level, it’s very important for reproductive health. 
Also called vitamin B3, niacin helps with DNA synthesis and repair. It may boost the metabolic rate enough to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol and lower one’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Niacin also works alongside vitamin B6 to help the body produce nootropic hormones that enhance cognition function. 
Pantothenic acid, less commonly known as vitamin B5, helps the body metabolize the three major macronutrients. It also speeds up regenerative processes like wound healing. 
Iron in sunflower seeds
While sunflower seeds don’t contain heme iron, they’re a good source of plant-based non-heme iron nonetheless. This iron content may help your body prevent anemia and stay optimally oxygenated.
If you are struggling to get more bioavailable iron into your diet we recommend keto meats and organ meats.
Benefits of Sunflower seeds on Keto
Sunflower seeds have many potential health benefits. Here are our top four.
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Improved immunity
- Improved neonatal health
Research shows that sunflower seeds may be powerfully anti-inflammatory.
One study from Columbia University showed that consuming seeds — especially sunflower seeds — 4-5 times a week was associated with lower serum inflammation markers.
Study authors speculated that this trend explains why sunflower seed intake is associated with lower risks of many types of chronic disease. 
Improved cardiovascular health
Certain kinds of unsaturated fat have long been known to improve heart health. One study from Harvard University showed that increased sunflower seed consumption was associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease. This consumption also reduced cardiovascular risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure. 
The takeaway here? Consuming natural, unprocessed monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may benefit heart health in the long run.
However, there is some concern that polyunsaturated fats are easily oxidized and can become inflammatory.
Zinc is one of the most important minerals for maintaining your immune system — and sunflower seeds are full of it. Zinc plays roles in: 
- Fighting off buildups of ROS and other free radicals
- Developing and differentiating immune cells
- Maintaining ideal immune cell function
- Maintaining internal antioxidant status
Sunflower seeds are also rich in selenium, which boosts immunity in other ways.
Studies show that selenium may help the immune system detect and fight off would-be invaders. Just as significantly, selenium is needed for proper thyroid function, and the thyroid gland produces pro-immunity steroid hormones like progesterone. 
Improved prenatal health
Mothers or mothers-to-be may also want to consider including sunflower seeds in their diets.
That’s because sunflower seeds are a great source of vitamin E and folate — two nutrients that are essential for the growing baby.
Folate supports the placenta’s integrity and reduces the risk of birth defects like spina bifida, while vitamin E promotes both internal and external health throughout the course of pregnancy. 
Best sunflower seeds to buy
To reduce your risk of exposure to plant toxins and antinturients we recommend the following pumpkin seeds for keto.
Gerbs roasted and lightly salted sunflower seeds kernels.
And if you’re looking for a sample pack of different flavors with the shells on, chinook seedery is a great choice.
Drawbacks of Sunflower Seeds
Despite their potential health benefits, sunflower seeds aren’t perfect. Their robust blend of vitamins and minerals comes alongside a hefty dose of omega-6 fatty acids — and these fats aren’t ideal for anyone who’s coming from the high-omega-6 standard American diet.
Omega-6 fatty acids in sunflower seeds
65% of the fat in sunflower seeds is linoleic acid. 
This fatty acid is essential for maintaining the structure of cell membranes, but only very small amounts of it are needed for this function.
Research shows that excessive amounts of linoleic acid — which virtually every American has stored in their fat tissue — can be very problematic.
Stored omega 6’s contribute to glycation, insulin resistance, mitochondrial dysfunction, heart disease, and a host of other chronic health problems. 
The good news about sunflower seeds’ linoleic acid content is that it can be converted to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is less inflammatory, under the right conditions. But this conversion process requires cofactors like vitamin C, zinc, and B6 to happen. 
Plant Toxins and Antinutrients in Sunflower Seeds
Like most other seeds, sunflower seeds produce plant toxins and antinutrients. These compounds are designed to protect them from creatures that might be tempted to feast on them (humans included).
Sunflower seeds are especially high in the antinutrient called phytic acid, clocking in at 1.6% phytic acid by dry weight.
This phytic acid likely makes the bioavailability of the seeds’ iron and zinc quite low. It can also block the nutrient absorption of other foods you eat sunflower seeds with.
Pumpkin seeds are very high in fiber. A ½ cup serving contains 6.5 grams.
This fiber may not be as beneficial as you’d think; fiber is difficult for the body to break down and can contribute to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. Higher fiber intake has even been associated with increased risks of colon cancer.
To learn more about fiber myths and truths, check out our dedicated article on the topic here.
Sprouting Sunflower Seeds on Keto
In moderation, sunflower seeds can be a healthy addition to a keto diet and these simple recipes can help.
Sprouted sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds undergo a nutritional transformation when you sprout them. They become lower in phytic acid and higher in bioavailable nutrients. Plus sprouting them makes them even tastier. Here’s how it’s done.
- Start with raw, organic sunflower seeds/kernels in a sealed container
- Place one cup of these sunflower seeds in a glass quart jar
- Fill the jar with filtered water and top with a sprouting lid
- Soak overnight, or for at least 8 hours
- Drain out the water by turning the jar upside down
- Wait 12 hours, then rinse with filtered water and drain again
- Repeat the rinse/drain process every 12 hours until sprouted
- Eat or refrigerate immediately, then enjoy!
Are Sunflower Seeds Keto? The Takeaway
Sunflower seeds are a classic snack food that just so happens to be keto-friendly.
Research shows that sunflower seeds may have anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy qualities. They’re also an excellent source of many hard-to-get trace vitamins and minerals.
In particular, the potassium and magnesium can help you overcome and avoid keto side effects when starting out.
Just remember to enjoy them in moderation to avoid the downsides that come with nuts and seeds.
One more thing: while sunflower seeds are generally healthy, avoid refined sunflower oil at all costs. Sunflower oil contains the inflammatory fats of sunflower seeds without any of their anti-inflammatory upsides. Butter and tallow are far healthier, and tastier cooking oil options.