Sunflower seeds were originally developed in North America, in the countries of Mexico and Peru beginning about 5,000 years ago. Sunflower seeds are easily added as a topping to salads and vegetables, or you can enjoy them as a crunchy snack. They have an oily texture and are often used to create sunflower oil to use for cooking and as a recipe ingredient.
Sunflower seeds originate from the center of a sunflower, and each seed is enclosed within a protective outer shell. Some people choose to eat both the shells and the seeds, while most split the shell to eat the center seed found inside. According to the World's Healthiest Foods website, these seeds contain vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects cell membranes and can help shield the body against cancer.
Cholesterol is also called lipoprotein and exists in the forms of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). The Mayo Clinic states that LDL is known as the bad cholesterol, while HDL is considered good, sweeping excess LDL from the body and helping to lower total cholesterol levels. Excess levels of LDL can build up in the bloodstream, producing plaques inside the vessel walls and slowing circulation. One cup of hulled sunflower seeds contains no cholesterol and so does not contribute to overall cholesterol buildup in the bloodstream.
Sunflower seeds contain phytosterols, an important component to protect against high cholesterol. According to the Cleveland Clinic, phytosterols are found in the membranes of plant cells and have a similar chemical structure to cholesterol. Because of this, phytosterols battle cholesterol for absorption into the bloodstream. If more phytosterols are absorbed, there is less room for cholesterol and it is excreted from the body. This results in overall lower amounts of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Although sunflower seeds have no cholesterol, a one cup serving of hulled seeds contains more than 8 grams of dietary fat. There are different types of fats found in food, some of which may affect your cholesterol levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, dietary fats consist of healthy fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated; and unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats, trans fat and dietary cholesterol. The fat in sunflower seeds comes from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are important for lowering overall cholesterol levels in the body.
Although sunflower seeds do not contribute dietary cholesterol, they still contain fat, which adds calories. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that you keep your total intake of fat to 20 to 35 percent of your total calories. Lean meats, legumes, nuts and seeds are all part of a healthy diet that provide protein and iron for energy. Sunflower seeds are an adequate substitution for meat to get the recommended requirements of foods from this group. Replacing meat with sunflower seeds one or two times a week provides iron and protein without excess cholesterol.