The Health Benefits of Sesame

Sesame is an ancient plant dating back to 4000 B.C., used throughout history in varied cultures for medicinal, nutritional and beauty purposes. Sesame is a prominent ingredient in Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Middle Eastern cuisines. The tiny yet mighty seeds are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, polyphenols and antioxidants. A quarter-cup provides more than one-third of the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances of calcium, magnesium and iron, 35 times the potassium, as well as protein, fiber, healthy fat and zero cholesterol. It’s no wonder sesame is connected to bone health, improved sleep, muscle relaxation, oral health and improved blood lipid profiles.

A study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine evaluated 48 patients with a mean age of 42 whose total cholesterol averaged 224.5. They followed a one-month cholesterol education program diet, then consumed four tablespoons of sesame seed oil every day for one month. Total cholesterol, triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol levels significantly decreased, while high-density lipoprotein (good) increased. Weight and waist size also decreased.

In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, sesamin, a main component of sesame, exhibited a protective effect on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, people with type 2 diabetes reduced their cardiovascular disease risk factors by supplementing their diet for six weeks with two tablespoons of sesame seed paste (tahini), according to a study in the Archives of Iranian Medicine.

Researchers at Tabriz University of Medical Sciences conducted a study involving 50 patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA). Half the patients received standard treatment while the other half received 40 grams (about four tablespoons) of sesame seeds daily along with standard therapy for two months. A significant difference in pain intensity emerged between the two groups, with the sesame group experiencing twice the drop in pain scores.

Sesame is easy to integrate into your diet. Toss the seeds and lightly drizzle the oil in salads and Asian dishes. Include a spoonful of tahini in your smoothies (see the “Strawberry, Basil and Tahini Smoothie”) and use it in place of peanut butter for a delicious change of pace and to make hummus.

Our recipes utilize whole sesame seeds as well as tahini. Unhulled seeds contain more insoluble fiber, calcium and iron than hulled seeds. White seeds have a mild, slightly nutty, almost sweet flavor, while black seeds are more earthy and bitter. You can’t go wrong with either one — consider the dish you’re adding it to achieve your desired flavor.

Want to learn more about health-boosting foods? See our Food & Nutrition section.

Susan Ojanen is an integrative nutrition coach in Bristol, Tennessee, and owner of She is passionate about helping clients worldwide achieve their health goals by creating sensible and maintainable lifestyle changes.

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