Sesame seeds: health benefits, nutrional value, side effects, uses, culinary recipes

What is sesame seeds?

Besides having a pleasant and striking flavor, is a great source of nutrients. They are oval and flattened seeds, extremely small, but with high powers for human health. Its flavor is smooth, very similar to that of walnut and is also slightly crunchy.

They come in several different shades - white, black, red and yellow - taking into account the variety and are highly valued not only for their sesame oil, an oil extremely resistant to decay, but also for the vast number of health benefits.

The sesame plant comes from Asia and east Africa and its seed is widely used in the cuisines of this region. A by-product of sesame seeds is tahini, a sesame paste widely used in Arab cooking in the composition of sauces and pates.
Another product derived from sesame is its oil, which maintains the rich properties of its seeds, being a healthier option than commonly used refined oils.

Sesame seed comes from a plant domesticated more than three thousand years ago in Africa and Asia. It contains one of the highest oil contents found in nature and therefore sesame oil is very popular in the cuisine of these regions. In addition, sesame seed is widely used to give more flavor and nutrients to some dishes.
By bringing various health benefits, sesame seed has gained much popularity around the world. Hamburger bread with sesame seed is proof of that.

Seen as sacred and used almost always by the Orientals, sesame seeds are now beginning to be included in the daily consumption of the West, thanks to its nutritional richness and consequent benefits for individuals.

What is the nutrional value of the sesame seed?

Recent research gives a special focus on beneficial fibers called lignins that have been found in abundance in sesame. Lignins have great capabilities to reduce blood fat levels, fight inflammation, control blood pressure and slow down aging, among other properties.

They are still rich in good proteins of high biological value, being also formed by 15 different amino acids. They still have high antioxidant power and vitamins, especially E, of the complete B and minerals like iron, zinc, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, calcium and manganese.
Nutrional values or one teaspoon of sesame seed:

52 calories;
2.1 grams carbohydrates
4.4 grams total fats;
1.6 grams of protein;
1.1 grams of fiber;
0 cholesterol;
42 milligrams of potassium.
0.4 milligram copper (18 percent DV)
0.2 milligram manganese (11 percent DV)
87.8 milligrams calcium (9 percent DV)
31.6 milligrams magnesium (8 percent DV)
1.3 milligrams iron (7 percent DV)
56.6 milligrams phosphorus (6 percent DV)
0.7 milligram zinc (5 percent DV)
0.1 milligram thiamine (5 percent DV)
0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (4 percent DV)

10 Healthy benefits of sesame seeds

1-    High vegetable protein content

When we think of protein, we always come to mind animal protein, such as meat, chicken or fish. In fact, it is possible to benefit a lot from the vegetable protein, mainly contained in grains and seeds, since they do not have the same level of fat of the meats.
Sesame seed has a high-quality protein, accounting for almost 20% of the total seed composition. In addition, it has essential amino acids for growth, especially in children.

2-    Help in the fight against diabetes

Thanks to the magnesium and other nutrients contained in sesame seed and especially sesame oil, some experts claim that these foods can help prevent diabetes, as well as control the symptoms of those who already suffer from this disease.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that oil from sesame seed has the power to improve the efficacy of the drug glipalamide used by patients who have type 2 diabetes.
This is because some seed properties help improve the functionality of the remedy by regulating insulin and glucose levels and helping to control the symptoms of diabetes.

3-    Reduces blood pressure

The sesame seed being a rich source of Magnesium, has a vasodilator properties and therefore can lower blood pressure. The consumption of this mineral is very important for those suffering from high blood pressure, since it can avoid future complications.
In a tablespoon of sesame seed we can find almost 25% of the recommended value of daily consumption of magnesium.
In addition, the oils found in sesame seed have been studied in recent research, which claims that their properties are associated with the reduction of hypertension, reducing problems in the cardiovascular system and preventing heart disease.

4-    Improves digestion

To maintain a proper functioning of the digestive system, it is vital to consume foods rich in fiber and water.
The high fiber content that the sesame seed gives our body helps in absorbing nutrients and in the health of our digestive system. This can prevent constipation and diarrhea by protecting the health of the colon and reducing the possibility of developing gastrointestinal diseases and even cancer.

5-    Healthy skin and hair

The high levels of zinc in the composition of the sesame seed help in the formation of collagen in our body, guaranteeing muscles, skin and hair stronger and healthier.
The use of sesame oil directly on the skin can reduce expression marks as it contains anti-aging phytochemicals, in addition to being effective in wrinkles, also reducing marks of burns and scars.

6-    Anti-inflammatory properties

By containing large doses of copper in its composition, the sesame seed can help reduce inflammation in the joints, bones and muscles, thus reducing the pain and swelling caused by arthritis.
In addition, copper is an essential mineral for blood, as it helps in the absorption of iron, which can improve blood circulation throughout the body.

7-    Prevention of cancer

Some components of the sesame seed are considered anticancer, as is the case of magnesium, phytic acid and phytosterols, the latter being found in abundance in sesame seeds.
Phytic acid is an antioxidant that reduces the impact and effects of free radicals, compounds associated with the onset of various types of cancer and other chronic diseases.
Some experts claim that sesame seed can prevent mainly leukemia, breast, lung, pancreatic, colon and prostate cancer.

8-    Helps reduce anxiety

Some types of minerals found in sesame seeds, such as magnesium and calcium, are known to have anti-stress properties.
In addition, sesame seeds contain thiamine and tryptophan, vitamins that help in the production of serotonin, a substance known to reduce pain, control moodiness and improve sleep quality.
Another beneficial compound that we find in the sesame seed is niacin, a vitamin B complex that helps reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol in the blood. This can benefit GABA receptors in the brain, helping to lower anxiety levels.

9-    Bone health

Less than one cup of sesame seed contains more calcium than a glass of milk, and it has enough zinc in its composition. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition relates zinc deficiency to osteoporosis in the hips and spine.
In addition, the seeds contain phosphorus, which also helps prevent diseases such as osteoporosis and even the recovery of those who suffered accidents that caused bone fracture.

10-    Oral Health

In the ancient Ayurvedic medicine, sesame seed oil is used to reduce bacterial plaque, whiten teeth and improve the health of the teeth and gums.
Through a process which consists of a mouthwash with sesame oil, the antibacterial and astringent properties of sesame oil can significantly reduce the presence of caries-causing bacteria.
Oral rinsing with oil should be done in the morning, before eating or drinking, and relies on mouth washing with one to two teaspoons of sesame oil for about twenty minutes. It may seem exaggerated, but experts say this is the secret for mouth cleansing. The oil will gain a greater consistency because of saliva and then just spit it out.

Other health benefits of Sesame seeds

Tone the kidneys and liver; they work as a tonic, especially after bleeding; assist in the event of back pain, knee pain and rheumatism; improve skin elasticity; they have an antioxidant action; they increase energy and are recommended in cases of fatigue, insomnia and nervous exhaustion; they help increase muscle tone and firmness; improve circulation; helps in memory loss, because they strengthen the red blood cells, allowing a better oxygenation of the brain; they slow down aging because they are rich in Vitamin E; have large amounts of calcium; they help to alkalize the blood; helps maintain a healthy weight thanks to its high soluble fiber content; activate metabolism; encourage satiety; facilitate intestinal transit.

What Indian Ayuvedic Medicine says about Sesame indicum?

In India, not only the seeds and the oil are used, but also the roots and leaves of Sesame indicum Linn. The roots and leaves are emollient and a decoction of them forms a good hair-wash which will promote hair growth and will blacken them. The leaves are useful in dysentery, cholera, vitiated conditions of Kapha, nephropathy, uropathy, ophthalmopathy and dermatopathy. The seeds are sweet, astringent, bitter, acrid, emollient, thermogenic, aphrodisiac, laxative, galactagogue, digestive, hair-restorer and tonic. They are useful in hemorrhoids, ulcers, burns, dysentery, vitiated conditions of Vata, strangury, dermatopathy, migraine, alopecia, ophthalmopathy and obesity. In medicated oils sesame oil forms a fat soluble medium. The oil is bitter, astringent, sweet, thermogenic, digestive, anthelmintic, constipating and emollient, and is good for ophthalmopathy, burning sensation of the legs, gonorrhea, otalgia, cephalalgia, obesity and emaciation. Externally it is used for dryness of the skin and leukoderma.

What Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) says about Sesame seeds?

According to traditional chinese medicine there are two main types of sesame seeds, the white sesame seeds (Semen Sesami albi) and black sesami (Sesame indicum). The most medicinal one is the black sesame that is considered to be a tonic for the yin of liver and kidney, prolonging the life of people if taken daily, tonifying the essence of life called Jing. Jing is basically a substance that is used for regeneration and reproduction in the body. Also, traditional books says that can improve eyesight, preventing premature greying of hair.
Taoists alchemists cherish black sesame a lot, they consume its powder with equal quantity of white honey, making a ball of mixed black sesame powder and honey, for treating lung diseases, moistening the five viscera’s (Gallbladder, Large intestine, Bladder, Stomach, Small intestine). Eating it may replace normal food. It fills Jing (Vital Essence) and marrow. Being most beneficial to man, that normally are more Yang, and lacking Yin energy.
Black sesame in ancient times of China was considered a food for immortality, but is no longer used in this way, maybe because it requires a long-time consumption for getting all the benefits, and people are not patient anymore. People want fast results, but it’s doesn’t work like that. Persistent use of black sesame will bring great benefits for health and wellbeing.

About white sesame seeds, traditional chinese medicine books says that it is considered sweet, very cold and non-toxic. Great ancient TCM doctors said that white sesame seeds should be consumed every day. The crude seeds is cold in quality, when its stir-fried, it becomes hot and may induce the onset of diseases. When it is steamed, it is warm and tonifying. It treats deficient and consumptive diseases. It facilitates the function of the stomach and Intestine. It disperses pathogenic wind, promotes blood circulation, and disperses floating wind resting with the head, meaning its good to treat headache that was caused after a person be exposed to wind. It moisten the muscles. Let the woman nursing a baby eat this, and the child will be free from any diseases.

Ancient taoists alchemists in China, steam the seeds and use it to replace normal food consumption., due to its high level of nutrients.

Precautions and side effects of Sesame seeds

Excessive consumption of the sesame seed can cause irritation in the stomach and colon, but only if you ingest very large amounts of food.
Like other foods and nuts, some people with allergies to some dry fruits may have reactions when eating sesame seeds, and it is important to be aware of any changes after eating them.
Sesame allergy cases might be increasing, possibly due to cross-contamination with other nuts or seeds, especially due to manufacturing processes, where the same machines for all nuts and other dried fruits are used, and some residues of different nuts may come impregnated in some seeds.
Sesame is normally safe when taken by mouth in amounts commonly found in food.
Sesame is possible safe when the oil is taken by mouth as a medicine, when applied to the skin during a massage, or when used as a nasal spray, short-term. Sesame oil can also cause nasal dripping and blockage when used as a nasal spray.

Anyone with Wilson’s disease, which is a genetic disorder that causes copper to accumulate in the liver, should avoid consumption of medicinal amounts of sesame seeds due to their higher copper content.
About pregnancy and breast-feeding there is not enough information about the use of sesame as medicine during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and stick to food amounts.
For children, Sesame is possible safe when taken by mouth as a medicine as a short-term.

A gastric obstruction called benign anastomotic stricture may happen to some people, because Sesame seeds contain a lot of fiber. This might increase the risk of bowel obstruction in people with a benign anastomotic stricture.

For people with diabetes, Sesame might lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Observe carefully for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and monitor your blood sugar closely if you have diabetes and normally use sesame in medicinal amounts.

For people with low blood pressure Sesame might lower blood pressure. In theory, using sesame in medicinal amounts might make blood pressure drop too low in people who already have low blood pressure. So, people taking blood pressure medication should be carefully by eating medicinal amounts of Sesame seeds.

If people are planning to have a surgery, Sesame seeds might affect blood sugar levels, making blood sugar control difficult during and after surgery. A person should stop using sesame seeds in medicinal amounts at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Sesame seeds also contain oxalates, and most of the calcium found in the seed hull comes in the form of calcium oxalate. Most tahini found in grocery stores is normally made with seed kernels that remain after the hull has been removed. These products are generally safe in moderate amounts on an oxalate-restricted diet, but keep in mind that intact seed hulls might have more oxalates, which can aggravate some conditions like kidney stones and gout.
It’s difficult for people to know, because the product labels don’t always indicate whether the hulls have been removed or not, so one must judge by the color and taste. When Tahini is made from whole, non-hulled seeds is darker and more bitter-tasting than the heavier oxalate types made with hulled sesame kernels.

How to use Sesame seeds?

It is extremely easy to consume sesame seeds, considering that they must be eaten raw. You can add it to yogurt and cereals as well as salads, soups, rice and pasta. You can also sprinkle sesame seeds on quiches, cakes or pies.
It can and should be included in the diet of everyone, including children, who most need foods with high level of nutrition.
To consume the sesame seed almost without realizing it, you can use the tahine to increase sauces and make homus (arabian chickpeas paste) or babaganoush (arabian eggplant paste).

How to make Tahini (Sesame seeds paste)

How to cook with Sesame seeds:


Warrier PK, Nambiar VPK, Ramankutty C;(2010) Indian Medicinal Plants, A Compendium of 500 species, Univerties Press, Volume 4, 104-105.
Liu, Ganzhon; Xu, Qiuping, Wang, Tai. (2003). The Essentials of Herbal Medicine; Foreigner Language Press, Beijing.
Kaimin Hu, Yousheng Chen. (2003), Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao Gangmu); Vol II, Chapter 22-01; 2287-2297.

Posted by Dr. João Carrilho

Dr. João Carrilho
Doctor in Traditional Chinese Medicine by Southwest Medical University, China.
Licensed Acupuncturist (N.0500096) and Phytotherapist (N.0400028) by the Portuguese Health Ministry.
Post-Graduated in Health Sciences at Oporto University, Portugal

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