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Powerhouse of Benefits?

Saturday, September 1, 2001
filed under: Research and Development

Powerhouse of Health Benefits?

A new study has identified compounds present in the sunflower kernel that have been shown to offer a variety of potential health benefits, including protection against heart disease and cancer, as well as a role in memory and cognitive functions.

The research, completed in March 2001 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, suggests the sunflower kernel is a good source of “phytochemicals” - plant chemicals that can help protect against disease.

In the study, samples of sunflower kernels, along with walnuts, almonds, pecans, peanuts, and hazelnuts, were analyzed to compare levels of specific phytochemicals present in each.

Sunflower seeds contain high levels of the phytochemicals tocopherols (vitamin E), choline, betaine, and phenolic acids, as compared to other nuts. In addition, the kernel is a good source of lignans and arginine. “Considering the high levels of these phytochemicals,” says lead researcher Katherine Phillips, “the sunflower kernel could be a powerhouse of health benefits.”

The study followed an April, 2000 literature review that identified previous studies associating phytochemicals with specific health benefits. For example, vitamin E may protect against cardiovascular disease, lignans may protect against some cancers, and choline has been shown to play a role in memory and cognitive functions. As a result, Phillips is encouraged with the growing evidence of the health benefits of phytochemicals contained in sunflower seeds. She emphasizes that this research is the first step needed to show the many health benefits of sunflower seeds.

Sunflower Kernels: Functional Food

Based on research by Phillips and others, sunflower seeds may, by definition, be viewed more as a functional food: one that provides benefit beyond basic nutrition.

Dr. Paul Lachance of Rutgers University and executive director of The Nutraceutical Institute, agrees that the sunflower kernel fits the parameters of a functional food.. He cites the following points regarding the sunflower kernel's nutritional shining points;

1) A good source of two essential amino acids (lysine and arginine)

that are difficult to get in a vegan diet (no meat or animal products);

2) Phenolics that contribute to total antioxidant levels;

3) Lignans that serve as phytoestrogens and

4) Betaine and choline that are important to neural transmission.

Also important, he notes, is that most women do not meet the daily value

recommended for Vitamin E. A one-ounce serving of sunflower kernels supplies

40% of that daily value, 10% of folate and 8 % of iron.

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