Swallowing a Sunflower Seed: What will Happen?

Short Answer: If you accidentally swallow a sunflower seed shell, it may not harm you if it is a small piece, but it may cause a blockage or damage in your throat or intestine if it is a large amount or a whole shell.

A sunflower seed is the edible part of the sunflower plant (Helianthus annuus). It has a white kernel that is surrounded by a black and white striped shell.

The kernel is rich in healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals, while the shell is made of tough fibers that are indigestible by humans.

If you accidentally swallow a sunflower seed shell, it may not cause you any harm if it is a small piece.

The shell will probably pass through your digestive system without any trouble.

However, if you swallow a large amount or a whole shell, it may get stuck in your throat or cause a blockage in your intestine.

This is because the shell contains lignin and cellulose, which are types of fibers that your body cannot break down.

They can accumulate in your stomach or intestine and form a mass, also called a bezoar.

A bezoar can cause constipation, pain, and in some cases, bowel impaction or perforation.

Lignin and cellulose can also have sharp edges, which can scratch your throat or damage your intestinal lining.

This can lead to inflammation, infection, or bleeding.

It is quite uncommon to swallow a sunflower seed shell, as most people spit out the shell before eating the kernel.

However, some people may enjoy munching on the whole seeds, especially when they are roasted, salted, and seasoned.

They may not realize the potential risks of swallowing the shells.

You can prevent or treat the problems caused by swallowing a sunflower seed shell by following these steps:

  • If you have a few shells in your mouth, spit them out and rinse your mouth with water.
  • If you have a lot of shells in your throat, try to vomit them out by drinking salt water or using your finger. Do not force yourself not to vomit, as this can make the situation worse.
  • If you have difficulty breathing, swallowing, or speaking, or if you have severe pain, bleeding, or signs of infection, seek medical attention immediately. You may need surgery to remove the shells or treat the complications.
  • To avoid swallowing the shells in the future, buy shelled sunflower seeds or crack the shells with your teeth and spit them out before eating the kernels.
  • You can also season the kernels with oil, salt, and spices to enhance their flavor.

Finally, remember, sunflower seeds are a nutritious and delicious snack, but you should not eat the shells.

They can cause serious problems in your digestive system and should be discarded.

About the Author

Abdur Rahman Choudhury

Abdur Rahman Choudhury is a nutrition coach with over 7 years of experience in the field of nutrition.

He holds a Bachelor's (B.Sc.) and Master's (M.Sc.) degree in Biochemistry from The University of Burdwan, India. He was also involved with a research project about genetic variations in the CYP11A gene among PCOS and Metabolic Syndrome patients.

He has completed the following online courses: Stanford Introduction to Food and Health by Stanford University (US) through Coursera, Certificate in Nutrition from Fabulous Body Inc. (US), Lose Weight and Keep It Off certificate course from Harvard Medical School (US), and Nutrition and Disease Prevention by Taipei Medical University (Taiwan) through FutureLearn.

Abdur currently lives in India and keeps fit by weight training and eating mainly home-cooked meals.

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