I used to equate sunflower seeds to bird food. I wasn’t a bird, so they weren’t for me. However, over the last two years, when I finally started dabbling in ‘adult’ life, i.e. making my own money and paying for my own rent, I would occasionally buy sunflower seeds if they were on sale. The internet was buzzing about chia, hemp, and flax seeds, so I didn’t give sunflower seeds a second thought. In fact, they were quite literally my second thought; I only ever tossed them into salads or breads as an after thought. Well, a lot has changed since my ‘I’m too cool to eat pet food’ days. I am now the proud owner of a 2 pound bag of hulled sunflower seeds. My attitude towards the little fellas has flip-sided (and it’s not just because they turn into wonderfully fudgy cookies when you politely ask them too). I pressed a button on Amazon and the baby-sized bag of seeds turned up at my doorstep the next day. Now, I generously sprinkle a few tbsps over my morning oats and toss them into my post-run lake-water-esque smoothies (yum!). My new sunflower seedy life did not happen on a whim, but was a culminating act to nearly two years of developing a better, and more thoughtful, relationship with food. Let me tell you about that.
Simply put, the main reason I stocked up on sunflower seeds is because of their high vitamin E content. During my move to more health-conscientious eating, I would occasionally track my food for the day. I didn’t have a concern for calories, but I was curious about what I was getting from all of the food I ate, especially the foods (oatmeal, nut butters, legumes) I ate every single day. I very quickly noticed a trend: my calcium and vitamin E levels never met the daily recommended amounts (eek!), and my omega 3’s, iron, and complete protein levels occasionally didn’t meet the mark. It’s true that I was eating mostly plant based, but my insufficient iron and protein levels were a result of my lack of knowledge about nutrition, not a result of not eating many animal products. By paying attention to what I was eating at such a meticulous level everyday, I set myself up to learn a LOT.
Initially, I ignored the nagging voice that told me I needed to sit down, buckle up, and do a whole lotta research, but gradually, I began excitedly accumulating information about food that I’d never known before; dark leafy greens are a good source of calcium and walnuts are the brain’s favorite nut! It was, and still is, a slow process; you mostly learn from others, but you also learn from experience (not all ‘healthy’ foods have the same positive results in each individual). At times it was frustrating and overwhelming; all l I had previously known about being ‘healthy’ was turned upside down and violently shaken. But despite the many hair-wrenching moments, there were countless aha moments that projected me forward (and lets not forget the frequent omg, wtf moments). It’s been two years since I made the decision to scrap what I thought I knew and learn, and I finally feel like I have part of a tapestry to show for it.
Food is meant to fuel and nourish. White bread fuels, but it doesn’t nourish. Sunflower seeds fuel in a less efficient way (because they aren’t as readily utilized for energy like carbs and sugar), but they are densely packed with nourishment. Sunflower seeds are also cheaper than their counterparts pumpkin, chia, flax, and hemp. The former seeds are each unique, and it doesn’t help to compare them too much, but when it comes to cost, sunflower seeds reign the most affordable. If you are like me, and had to crack open your unhulled sunflower seeds as a kid, the sight of a 2 pound bag of tiny hulled seeds may startle you. It’s a sight of abundance and it’s awesome.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like vitamin E should be difficult to get enough of. The foods with the highest concentration of vitamin E tend to be fatty foods, namely nut and seed oils. Most individuals eating a standard American diet (S.A.D.) probably get their vitamin E in the form of palm, sunflower, and olive oil, but if you avoid palm oil because it is a leading driver of deforestation in Indonesia, and you don’t consumer sunflower or olive oil daily because good quality, trusted brands are expensive and cheap brands are sketchy, you may find that you’re not consuming enough vitamin E! Or so I wasn’t. So… why should you care? Or rather, why did I care enough to write these series of paragraphs?
In a far too simple, underrated response: vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps prevent against oxidation, a stress on the body (or more specifically, our cells) that is brought on by the attack of free radicals. It’s believed that the more free radicals a cell accumulates, the quicker it will age. Unless you wan’t your insides (and also your outsides!) to age fast, that’s not good. We breathe in free radicals as air pollution and we generate them through intense endurance exercise (1), and they ultimately occur in our bodies as a natural reaction to the food we ingest, so unless you live in a hamster home, there is no way of escaping them (on second thought, most average Joe hamsters are probably exposed to eyebrow-raising chemicals in their cheap, China-made plastic homes, so hamster or not, free radicals are a pervasive part of life).
While there haven’t been studies proving a swift and clean correlation between specifically eating more antioxidant rich foods and living a longer, more mind-in-tact life, there is no denying that whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds (as well as many other foods), are good for us and can add years to our lives. Are sunflower seeds the end all be all to cancer and heart disease? No, of course not, but we can form our best judgement with the information and legitimate studies we do have; sunflower seeds are certainly packed with more healthy goodness than white bread, there is no denying that. When combined with a variety of other nutritious, whole foods, sunflower seeds will definitely give you a bang for your buck. Health is a matrix, not a one-word answer or single ingredient. If sunflower seeds aren’t your thing you could also increase your vitamin E intake with almonds, avocados, wheat germ/wheat germ oil, or check out this cool link for more options. And to be fair, since I’ve been picking on white bread a lot in this post, I ought to acknowledge that it is packed with a certain kind of goodness; not a goodness of nutrients like sunflower seeds, but a special goodness for the soul that is only found in the fluffy white interior of sliced carbs. If there is such a thing as healthy balance, it’s sunflower seed butter swabbed on thick white toast or, in keeping with the title of this post, sunflower seed butter brownie cookies.
I had tried twice, with mixed results, to make flourless cookies with sunflower seed butter, but it wasn’t until I came across My New Root’s sunbutter chocolate cookies that I realized I was missing (a now for obvious key ingredient) chocolate!!! My recipe is heavily based off of hers, but with a few adjustments; I used coconut sugar instead of a liquid sweetener, upped the vanilla extract for flavor and the baking soda due to the increase in acidity, and used cacao powder instead of cocoa. I also reduced the total amount of ingredients so that my hands weren’t overflowing with deliciously decadent sunbutter cookies the day before Thanksgiving… any other day, however, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at a two dozen batch of sunbutter chocolate cookies (that’s your cue to double this recipe).
Flourless Sunflower Butter Brownie CookiesPrint Recipe
- 3/4 cup sunflower seed butter*
- 1/3 cup cacao powder
- 1/3 cup coconut sugar (or light brown sugar)
- 2 pasture raised eggs
- 1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
- Scant tsp baking soda
- 1/8 tsp kosher salt
- 1/3-1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (I used 70% cacao)
- 3-4 tbsps hulled sunflower seeds for topping the cookies
*I used store-bought roasted sunflower seed butter, but homemade/raw seed butter should work swimmingly! Also, if your store bought butter contains sugar, you may want to reduce the added amount by a few tsps.