The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) has a very distinctive flower with amazing geometric patterns. In terms of human nutrition, it is the grey and black seeds of the sunflower plant that are of interest. Sunflower seeds make great bird food because they are a good source of oils and nutrients. However, their nutritional content also makes them a useful addition to any high quality human diet. Sunflower seeds are a rich source of the essential fatty acid linoleic acid (C18:2 (n-6)) and along with this oil they also contain high amounts of vitamin E to protect the delicate fatty acids from rancidity. Sunflower seeds are often turned into sunflower oil and this oil is often refined to produce odourless tasteless supermarket oils through application of high heat and pressure conditions. Such oils are detrimental to the health because they contain oxidised fatty acids. However unrefined virgin sunflower oil contains many of the nutrients in the original seeds and can therefore provide many of the same health benefits.
Minerals in sunflower seeds are dependent on the soil conditions in which the plants are grown because the absence of particular minerals from the soil precludes them from incorporation in the plant tissues. However, in optimal conditions they can be good sources of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron and selenium. The vitamins in sunflower seeds include vitamin B1, pantothenic acid and folic acid. Although sunflower seeds are a good source of protein, their high fat content precludes them from contributing significantly to protein intake without a concomitant large increase in fat content. The carbohydrate content of sunflower seeds is generally half that of protein, which in turn is half that of the fat content. Because sunflower seeds are a good source of the omega-6 essential fatty acid linoleic acid, they can contribute to fighting inflammation. However, this can only occur if the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio remains at around 1 to 3.