When is being a little nutty a good thing? When you’re enjoying sesame seeds. Sesame seeds not only add a nutty flavor and delicate crunch to many foods, they also raise our immune function, strengthen our bones, improve our cholesterol, and even beautify our skin. Not surprising, since sesame seeds were used by ancient Egyptians. More than 3,500 years ago, the Ebers Papyrus, a record of ancient Egyptian medicine, listed sesemt, or sesame, as a medicinal drug.
Here are 17 ways that eating more sesame seeds benefits your health. Daily Value (DV) is a one-ounce serving:
- Beautiful skin. Sesame seeds are a good source of zinc (13% DV). Zinc makes collagen, which firms up skin by improving its elasticity — think baby soft and younger looking!
- Strengthens our immune system. Spread some sesame butter on some gluten-free bread, and get a boost of thiamin (15% DV) and even a little riboflavin too (4% DV). Both of these vitamins power up the immune system to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. How’s that for self-defense?
- An active antioxidant. Zinc and selenium are antioxidants. Sesame seed gives a beneficial boost of zinc (13% DV) and a small amount of selenium (2% DV). Antioxidants are the body’s first line of defense. They guard against free radical damage and prevent chain reactions that cause further cell damage.
- Maintains cells and DNA. Zinc is found in all cells throughout the body. Zinc is important in making protein and the genetic material DNA. Sesame seeds contain a zip of zinc — this is a biologically important mineral.
- Helps us breathe. Our red blood cells transport oxygen in the body. Iron and copper are key to healthy red blood cells. Sesame seeds have a healthy dose of both: 23% DV of iron and 35% DV of copper.
- Builds strong bones. Sesame seeds are a good source of calcium (28% DV), phosphorus (18% DV) and magnesium (25% DV) — all basic building blocks of strong bones.
- Deters osteoporosis. Calcium, copper, zinc, iron and magnesium all help to build and maintain strong bones, and deter osteoporosis. Sesame seeds contain all of these minerals.
A 2013 study, performed at Dokuz Eylul University School of Medicine in Turkey, involving 728 women, found that low levels of the minerals copper, zinc, iron and magnesium were an important risk factor for osteoporosis. Eating sesame seeds can help to increase your intake of these minerals.
- Supports kidney function. Phosphorus helps remove waste from the kidneys. Sesame seeds are a good source of phosphorus.
- Curtails migraine frequency. Balanced magnesium levels reduce the prevalence of migraine headaches. Sesame seeds are a good source of magnesium.
A 2011 study performed at Tabriz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, involving 120 adults, showed a correlation between low serum magnesium levels and migraine attacks. The study supported using magnesium for the prevention and treatment of migraines.
- Decreases blood pressure. A 2006 study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine showed edible sesame oil lowered the blood pressure of the 18 female participants.
- Lowers cholesterol. Phytosterols lower LDL cholesterol. Phytosterols work by lowering the amount of cholesterol we absorb in the gut. Sesame seeds are a good source of phytosterols. Eating sesame seeds improves our cholesterol.
You begin to see this happen at 150 mg/day of phytosterol. American’s average 80 mg/day of phytosterol. That’s about 70 mg/day still needed for the cholesterol-lowering effect. This translates to a little over a tablespoon of sesame seeds (1.17 tablespoon). Tahini or sesame butter spread on gluten-free bread is a good phytosterol boost.
- Prevents and regulates type 2 diabetes. Diabetes tends to raise LDL cholesterol. Magnesium lowers LDL cholesterol. Sesame seeds provide a magnesium boost that can bring cholesterol levels back into balance.
A 2015 study performed at Wenzhou Medical University in China, involving 178 participants, found that low magnesium may be a risk factor in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Adding sesame seeds to your diet is an easy way to increase your magnesium levels.
- Guards against some cancers. Sesame seeds contain a high level of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are hormones found in plants that provide protection against hormone-related cancers.
- Improves prostate health. Phytoestrogens are a group of phytosterols. Sesame seeds are a good source of beta-sitosterol, a phytosterol. Beta-sitosterol improves prostate health.
A 1995 study performed at Ruhr-University in Germany involved 200 men with benign prostatic hyperplasia. The men, who consumed beta-sitosterol, showed a significant improvement in their symptoms related to the prostate disease.
- Builds and repairs tissues. A two-tablespoon serving of tahini spread on some gluten-free bread can add to your protein count each day — about two grams of protein. Protein helps build and repair tissues in the body.
- Keeps you regular. Sesame seeds contain mostly insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber helps food pass through your digestive system.
- Good dental health. The calcium, phosphate, magnesium and protein in sesame seeds give you strong bones. Strong bones equal strong teeth.
Five great sources of sesame seeds
- Sesame butter
- Sesame bagels
- Halvah (a Turkish dessert)
So head on out and get some sesame seeds. You can dip gluten-free pita chips in hummus, drizzle tahini on your favorite vegetables, bite into some sweet halvah, enjoy a gluten-free sesame bagel just how you like it, or simply sprinkle some sesame seeds on your salad or dinner dish. Now you have some healthy reasons to add sesame seeds to your diet!
Nikki Walsh is a freelance writer and mom of two kids living in Southern California. She holds an MBA in marketing from University of California, Irvine and a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from UCSD. She has been practicing Kelee meditation for 19 years. When she is not writing she can be found out and about having fun with her kids.