Eating a whole bag of sunflower seeds may seem like a tasty snack, but it can actually have some unintended consequences. Sunflower seeds are high in fat and calories, so consuming too many at once can lead to gastrointestinal distress. Additionally, their hard outer shells can be difficult to digest if eaten in large quantities. Here’s a more in-depth look at what might happen if you eat an entire bag of sunflower seeds.
Calorie and Fat Content
Sunflower seeds are relatively high in calories and fat compared to many other snacks. A 1-ounce (28 gram) serving of dry roasted sunflower seed kernels contains:
- Calories: 165
- Total fat: 14 grams
- Saturated fat: 1.5 grams
So a standard 16-ounce bag of sunflower seeds contains around 2,640 calories and 224 grams of fat. For comparison, that’s even more fat than a 12-piece bucket of fried chicken from KFC, which has “only” 148 grams of fat.
Consuming this many calories and this much fat in one sitting is likely to cause digestive upset, especially if your body isn’t used to such a large fat load at once.
In addition to being high in fat, sunflower seeds are also fairly high in fiber — about 3 grams of fiber per ounce. While fiber is great for your health, ramping up your intake too quickly can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea.
So if you’re not used to eating much fiber and you consume 16 ounces of sunflower seeds, you’d get about 48 grams of fiber. That’s nearly double the recommended daily intake for men (38 grams) and more than 1.5 times the recommended daily amount for women (25 grams).
This sudden fiber overload can definitely disrupt normal digestive function, causing abdominal cramps, flatulence and loose stools.
Unlike nuts, sunflower seeds have a very hard outer shell that must be cracked open with your teeth to reach the seed inside. Chewing and grinding all of those tiny shells to access the seeds’ interiors takes a lot of work for your jaw muscles.
In fact, one study found that eating 1 ounce (28 grams) of hard-shelled sunflower seeds required significantly more chewing force and muscle work than eating 1 ounce of peanuts or cashews.
So if you eat an entire bag, your jaw and chewing muscles may become very fatigued. This could lead to joint pain and stiffness, headaches or ear pain from overworked temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
Potential Choking Hazard
The small size of sunflower seed shells paired with inadequate chewing increases your risk of choking. If you eat an entire bag quickly without chewing the shells thoroughly, it’s possible to accidentally inhale pieces into your windpipe or lungs.
One report described a 41-year-old man who died after aspirating part of a sunflower seed shell into his lung, which led to lung inflammation and pus formation.
To reduce your risk of choking, it’s important to pace yourself, chew the seeds thoroughly and drink plenty of water when eating them.
High Sodium Content
Plain, unsalted sunflower seeds are relatively low in sodium. However, many popular sunflower seed products like salted, flavored and roasted seeds can be very high in sodium.
For example, a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving may contain:
- Plain hulled sunflower seeds: 0 mg sodium
- Dry roasted: 170 mg sodium
- Salted: 220 mg sodium
- Ranch flavor: 250 mg sodium
So if you ate a whole 16-ounce bag of salted sunflower seeds, you could easily consume over 3,500 mg of sodium. That’s nearly 1.5 times the daily limit of 2,300 mg per day recommended by health experts.
Too much sodium can cause water retention, bloating and an increase in blood pressure for some people. Those with salt-sensitive blood pressure may be at a higher risk of negative effects.
High Selenium Intake
Sunflower seeds are naturally very high in selenium. Just 1 ounce (28 grams) provides nearly 50% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).
Although selenium is an important mineral, getting too much can be dangerous. Consuming very high amounts over time can lead to selenosis, a condition characterized by hair loss, nail discoloration and brittleness, skin lesions, nausea, irritability and nerve damage.
The selenium content of sunflower seeds depends on the soil they are grown in. But eating an entire 16-ounce bag would provide over 20 times the RDA for selenium if grown in high-selenium soil.
To reduce your risk of selenium toxicity, make sure to buy sunflower seeds grown in low-selenium soil and avoid eating huge amounts at once or frequently.
High Manganese Intake
Like selenium, sunflower seeds are naturally very high in manganese. Just 1 ounce (28 grams) provides around 35% of the RDA for this important trace mineral.
In fact, sunflower seeds contain about 500% more manganese than most other common nuts and seeds like almonds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds.
Although manganese is essential, too much can be harmful. Consuming large amounts for a long period may cause toxicity symptoms like hallucinations, irritability, muscle cramps, tremors and poor coordination.
It’s best to consume sunflower seeds in moderation and pair them with foods low in manganese to avoid getting too much from your diet.
When you fill up on any single food, you leave less room for other healthy foods in your diet. If you eat an entire bag of sunflower seeds in one sitting, you’re probably too full to have a balanced meal afterwards.
Over time, eating too many sunflower seeds could displace other nutritious foods from your diet and increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies.
To maximize nutrient intake, enjoy sunflower seeds in reasonable portions as part of a varied diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Sunflower seeds are high in calories, providing 165 calories in just 1 ounce. An entire 16-ounce bag would contain around 2,640 calories.
That’s more calories than men should consume in an entire day, and nearly as much as the 2,000–2,500 daily calories most women need.
Unless you account for the increased calorie intake by eating less of other foods or exercising more, eating a whole bag of seeds could lead to unwanted weight gain over time.
To avoid weight gain, stick to the recommended serving size of 1–2 ounces (28–56 grams) and moderate your portions of other high-calorie foods when enjoying sunflower seeds.
Eating a huge amount of food in one sitting is likely to cause gastrointestinal problems for most people. Stomach pain, cramping, bloating, gas and diarrhea are all common side effects of overeating.
This can happen with any food, but sunflower seeds may be more likely to cause issues due to their high fat, fiber and sodium contents.
The high amount of insoluble fiber can speed digestion, while all that fat may also cause diarrhea when consumed in large amounts.
If you want to avoid an upset stomach, eat sunflower seeds slowly, drink plenty of fluids and limit your portions to 1–2 ounces at a time.
Sunflower seeds are among the eight most common food allergens. Symptoms may include hives, swelling, vomiting, abdominal pain and difficulty breathing.
In severe cases, food allergies can cause a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. This requires immediate medical attention and treatment with epinephrine.
Around 1% of Americans have a sunflower seed allergy, which can develop at any point in life.
Those with a known allergy to sunflower seeds should completely avoid consuming them and always check ingredient labels to prevent exposure from processed foods.
Phytic Acid Content
Sunflower seeds contain phytic acid, an antinutrient that impairs the absorption of minerals like iron, zinc and calcium.
High intake of foods rich in phytic acid paired with poor mineral status may contribute to deficiencies over time.
Those already at risk of mineral deficiency may want to avoid eating large amounts of sunflower seeds frequently. Soaking and sprouting the seeds before eating them can help reduce the phytic acid content.
Sunflower seeds contain moderate amounts of oxalates, antinutrients that can contribute to kidney stones.
People who are prone to kidney stones may want to limit their intake of foods high in oxalates like sunflower seeds, spinach, rhubarb, almonds and beetroot.
However, occasional moderate intake of these foods is unlikely to increase your risk if you don’t have any preexisting issues.
Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin K. Consuming large amounts can reduce the effectiveness of blood-thinning medications like warfarin.
Those taking blood thinners may want to keep their intake of foods high in vitamin K like sunflower seeds and green leafy vegetables consistent to reduce the risk of unstable INR levels and bleeding.
Always consult your healthcare provider before making major changes to your diet if taking any medications.
Sunflower seeds are typically more expensive than other seeds and nuts. While the price varies, a 16-ounce bag generally costs around $5–12.
Frequently indulging in this snack may take a bite out of your grocery budget after a while, especially if you eat bags at a time.
Consider reducing portion sizes, buying in bulk, waiting for sales or opting for more budget-friendly options like peanuts or pumpkin seeds to save money.
Lack of Variety
No single food offers all the nutrients your body needs. Though sunflower seeds are high in many vitamins and minerals, they lack nutrients like calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
A healthy and balanced diet should include a variety of whole foods, especially plenty of fruits, veggies and whole grains.
Pairing sunflower seeds with other healthy foods ensures you meet all your nutritional needs.
Nuts and seeds are susceptible to mold contamination, especially if stored improperly. Eating moldy sunflower seeds could potentially cause an allergic reaction or illness.
Look for any signs of moisture, smell for mustiness and check for visible mold. Discard any sunflower seeds that seem off.
Store sunflower seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Inspect them before eating and avoid eating damaged or expired seeds.
While sunflower seeds can be part of a healthy diet, gorging on an entire bag at once is a bad idea.
The excess calories, sodium, fat and fiber can cause GI distress. Their hard shells can also be hard to digest. Plus, eating too many may increase your intake of selenium and manganese to unsafe levels.
Stick to a 1–2-ounce (28–56-gram) serving per day. Focus on moderation, proper storage and variety in your diet to maximize health.
Pair sunflower seeds with other nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy products as part of a well-rounded eating pattern.