Can you eat the shells of sunflower seeds? | Explore & risk

Are you someone who loves to snack? Do you often reach for a bag of sunflower seeds when hunger hits? If so, then you might be familiar with the crunchy shells that house every flavorful seed. But have you ever asked yourself if these shells are edible too? If not, don’t worry! In this blog post we’ll answer any questions or concerns about can you eat the shells of sunflower seeds. So grab some salty snacks and get ready to learn all about why it’s okay (or not) to eat the hulls of those glorious but enigmatic sunflower seeds.

What Are Sunflower Seeds?

Sunflower seeds are the edible seeds of the sunflower plant, scientifically known as Helianthus annuus. The plant is native to North America and was first domesticated by Native Americans around 1000 BC. Today, sunflower seeds are grown globally for their culinary and nutritional benefits.

What Are Sunflower Seeds?
What Are Sunflower Seeds?

Can You Eat the Shells of Sunflower Seeds?

It is advisable to refrain from consuming sunflower seed shells due to their fibrous and indigestible nature, which can potentially harm the digestive tract. If you have a preference for consuming whole sunflower seeds, it is recommended to remove the shells. Alternatively, you may opt for shelled sunflower seeds, which contain the nutrient-rich and appealing kernel.

Nutritional Value of Sunflower Seeds

Sunflowers contain a plethora of nutrients in their small seeds.

Here is the nutritional breakdown for 1 ounce (30 grams or 1/4 cup) of shelled, dry-roasted sunflower seeds (3):

  • Calories: 163
  • Total Fat: 14 grams (including 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 9.2 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 2.7 grams of monounsaturated fat)
  • Protein: 5.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 6.5 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Vitamin E: 37% of the RDI
  • Niacin: 10% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 11% of the RDI
  • Folate: 17% of the RDI
  • Pantothenic Acid: 20% of the RDI
  • Iron: 6% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 9% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 10% of the RDI
  • Copper: 26% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDI
  • Selenium: 32% of the RDI

Health Benefits of Eating Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds may contribute to lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar due to their vitamin E, magnesium, protein, linoleic fatty acids, and plant compounds. Additionally, various studies have linked sunflower seeds to multiple health benefits. Chronic inflammation, which is linked to several chronic diseases, can be reduced with the help of sunflower seeds that contain anti-inflammatory properties. Consumption of sunflower seeds and other seeds has been associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker. Sunflower seeds also aid in reducing the risk of heart disease as they help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The compound present in sunflower seeds relaxes blood vessels and assists in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Linoleic acid, found abundantly in sunflower seeds, has been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease events and mortality. Although research is ongoing, sunflower seeds show promise in managing blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes.

Health Benefits of Eating Sunflower Seeds
Health Benefits of Eating Sunflower Seeds

Potential Downsides When Eating the Shells of Sunflower Seeds

While sunflower seeds offer health benefits, it’s important to consider some potential drawbacks.

Calories and Sodium

Despite their nutritional value, sunflower seeds are calorie-dense.

Eating the seeds in their shells can help regulate eating speed and calorie intake since cracking and spitting each shell takes time.

However, if you’re watching your sodium intake, be cautious of the shells. They are often coated with over 2,500 mg of sodium per 1/4 cup (30 grams). Some brands offer reduced-sodium versions.


Moderation is key when consuming sunflower seeds due to their cadmium content. Cadmium is a heavy metal that can harm the kidneys with prolonged exposure.

Sunflowers absorb cadmium from the soil and store it in their seeds, resulting in slightly higher levels compared to most other foods.

The World Health Organization recommends a weekly cadmium limit of 490 micrograms for a 154-pound (70-kg) adult.

When participants consumed 9 ounces (255 grams) of sunflower seeds per week for a year, their average estimated cadmium intake increased from 65 mcg to 175 mcg per week. However, this amount did not elevate blood cadmium levels or harm the kidneys.

It’s generally safe to consume reasonable amounts of sunflower seeds, such as 1 ounce (30 grams) per day. Just avoid excessive intake.

Potential Downsides When Eating the Shells of Sunflower Seeds
Potential Downsides When Eating the Shells of Sunflower Seeds

Sprouted Seeds

Sprouting seeds has become a popular preparation method.

Occasionally, seeds may be contaminated with harmful bacteria, like Salmonella, which thrives in warm and moist sprouting conditions.

This is particularly concerning for raw sprouted sunflower seeds that haven’t been heated above 118℉ (48℃).

Drying sunflower seeds at higher temperatures helps eliminate harmful bacteria. One study found that partially sprouted sunflower seeds dried at temperatures of 122℉ (50℃) and above significantly reduced the presence of Salmonella.

In case of bacterial contamination, certain products might be recalled, as seen with raw sprouted sunflower seeds. Always avoid consuming recalled products.

Stool Blockages

Eating a large quantity of sunflower seeds at once has occasionally led to stool blockages.

How to Safely Consume Sunflower Seed Shells?

It is recommended to refrain from consuming sunflower seed shells due to their fibrous and indigestible nature, which can potentially harm the digestive tract. If you enjoy consuming whole sunflower seeds, it is advised to spit out the shells. Alternatively, you may opt for shelled sunflower seeds that offer a nutrient-rich and delicious kernel.

FAQ: Shells of sunflower seeds

Are sunflower seeds in the shell a healthy snack?

Sunflower seeds have not been extensively researched, however, they boast a variety of nutrients including healthy fats, fiber, protein, and antioxidants like vitamin E and selenium. This combination renders them a heart-healthy dietary addition that aids in satiation and the prevention of chronic diseases.

Is there any use for sunflower seed shells?

Sunflower seed shells have a wide range of professional uses, including mulching, fuel burning, construction material production, and livestock feed. As a renewable resource, sunflower shells exhibit versatility and offer practical applications in both home and garden settings.

Should I soak sunflower seeds before eating?

As a professional recommendation, it is advisable to soak sunflower seeds for a minimum of 4-6 hours, or overnight, in clean, filtered water. This aids in softening the seeds and activating enzymes that facilitate the breakdown of anti-nutrients, like phytic acid, which may impede nutrient absorption.

Do sunflower seed shells decompose?

It is crucial to note that despite the natural decomposition of sunflower shells, improper disposal can still have harmful effects on the environment.

How many calories are in sunflower seeds with shells?

Here’s the nutrition information for one cup of sunflower seeds with the shells, according to the USDA Nutrient Database: 269 calories, 9.5g protein, 24g fat.

Leave a Comment