I’m a bit of a sunflower seed connoisseur. Cracking seeds since I was a kid. Chowing down on seeds on long hikes, before hard exercise, and after working out. They are calorie-dense, fat-and-protein-rich, and an all-in-one package of nutrition and energy I highly recommend.
Nuts and seeds are powerhouses of energy and nutrition. Nearly every common nut and seed tips the calorie scales well north of 100 calories per ounce, a major benchmark for hiking and backpacking food. Sunflower seeds are easily in the upper half of that list, packing around 160 to 170 calories per ounce.
Sunflower seeds pack a remarkable mix of protein, carbs, and fat. For each ounce (28 grams) of seeds, you’re getting 14 grams of (mostly unsaturated) fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of protein. Plus fiber and an array of vitamins and minerals. It’s a comprehensive nutrition package that provides sustained energy (fat), muscle support (protein), and some immediate go-power (carbs) on the trail.
Sunflower seeds are also quite inexpensive—you can buy a pound of sunflower seeds (nearly 3,000 calories worth) for less than the cost of many energy bars, which contain only a tenth or so of the energy.
(One of the few maddening things about shelled sunflower seeds is that eating them by hand can be challenging and messy. It’s easy to spill them. I actually prefer pouring them straight into my maw from of a wide-mouth drink container when possible; much easier than eating from a zip-lock.)
Having tried many a variety of sunflower seeds out there, here are my favorites.
Whole Foods 365 Organic Roasted Sunflower Seeds. Available both salted and unsalted. These seeds are particularly flavorful, with excellent size and texture. $3.49 for 12 ounces. You can get twice the seeds for the price by opting for the non-organic version, which tastes similarly and is a bit less oily. $1.99 for 16 ounces.
Trader Joe’s offers an excellent house brand bag of shelled sunflower seeds (and a remarkable and expansive collection of other nuts and seeds to go along with it). Larger, meatier seeds than others. $1.99 for a 16-ounce bag,
Somersaults Sunflower Seed Crunchy Bites are a newer entry into the snack market that combine sunflower seeds with a small amount of wheat, sugar, salt, and other spices. These tasty little biscuits come in sea salt, salt and pepper, cinnamon, and dutch cocoa flavors and run around 140 calories per ounce. They win points for ease of consumption and flavor but are more expensive than straight seeds. $12.99 for a 20-ounce bag.
Nuts.com. A nice online source that has long specialized in just nuts and seeds and the only place I could find an (excellent) source of unsalted, in-the-shell seeds. Bulk sunflower seeds range from $2.99 to $3.99 per pound.
Some sunflower seeds can be very salty, more than I like, especially when I’m eating lots of them. I usually mix salted and unsalted 50/50. I’ve also found that dry-roasted seeds can be a bit mouth-parching in larger quantities. You can also always add sunflower seeds into whatever trail mix you prefer.
One final piece of advice: Avoid cheap seeds. They often taste strikingly of dirt.