Sesame seeds, not unlike Sesame Street, have been around for a while. However, the seeds boast a much longer history with credentials being the oldest oil seeds on earth. Their use goes back to ancient civilizations like Babylon, Egypt and India where they were used for culinary and therapeutic purposes.
The scientific name of sesame seeds is Sesamum indicum. The plant is usually 3 feet tall with pods that contain the seeds. Upon maturation, the pods open and release the seeds.
Sesame seeds have a warm nut-like taste and a slight crunch to them. They come in a variety of colors like black, white, beige, golden and red. Sesame oil is also made from them, which is a cooking staple in Asian cuisine.
The seeds are usually available all through the year with a huge percentage of plants growing in the wild. They adapt to their environment very easily and that is why they are used exhaustively by people in the desert, especially in the Middle East and Africa.
Many famous Middle Eastern dishes including tahini and halava are made from sesame seeds.
Sesame seeds are chock full of vitamins and minerals and contain healthy fats that provide many fatty acids and amino acids. The fatty oils in sesame seeds have sesamin and sesamolin lignans which are beneficial components offering a range of health benefits.
Sesame oil also contains linoleic and oleic acids. One tablespoon of sesame seeds offers ample nutritional value including healthy fats, protein, magnesium calcium, iron and some zinc.
Sesame seeds in the diet
Sesame seeds are filled with minerals and good fats. They have a myriad of benefits for our body including the following:
- Lowers cholesterol
Sesame seeds are the best plant source for lowering cholesterol. These seeds have a high amount of phytosterols in them, which are very similar to cholesterol in their chemical composition.
The phytosterols replace cholesterol in the intestines and hinder its absorption. As such, the body does not feel the need to produce more cholesterol. Sesamin and sesamolin also aid to improve the blood and liver cholesterol levels.
- Improves heart health
Sesame seeds contain a compound called sesamol. It is very good at fighting inflammation and oxidation. It attacks any plaque built up in the arteries that might constrict the flow of blood and so prevents any plaque ruptures and strokes.
The oleic acid in sesame seeds is a monounsaturated fat and helps in the reduction of LDL cholesterol assisting in reducing the risk of many cardiovascular diseases.
- Reduces blood pressure
The high concentration of magnesium in sesame seeds is beneficial for lowering blood pressure. Plus, sesame seed oil also reduces hypertension. It has been found that people who regularly consumed sesame oil for more than a month showed visible signs of lowered blood pressure.
Black sesame seeds are most effective in this regard.
- Stalls cancer
Sesame seeds have antioxidant properties. This makes them beneficial for ridding the body of free radicals and toxins. The sesamolin in sesame seeds protects DNA from mutation and consequently avoids cancer.
These seeds are also rich in mammalian lignans. Mammalian lignans are produced in the colon and are very good at fighting cancer especially colon and breast cancer. They are good at changing the properties of a tumor in the body and slowing down any oxidation of the cells.
A study about dietary lignans shows that women who consumed greater amount of lignans showed lower signs of developing breast cancer.
- Increases metabolism
Sesame seeds are high in proteins. Despite their teeny size, twenty percent of a sesame seed contains proteins which helps develop muscles and other tissues of the body. Higher muscle strength increases the rate of metabolism of the body.
Certain lignans found in sesame seeds also speed up liver function which helps break down fat more rapidly. As a result, metabolism receives a boost and the body burns fat more swiftly.
- Improves digestion
Sesame seeds are high in fiber and can make you feel full for a longer time after consumption. This can also be beneficial for better weight management.
Also, the high fiber content bulks up waste in the intestines and eases the elimination process. The same also prevents constipation and other gastrointestinal problems.
- Enhances the skin
Sesame seeds contain many healthy fats that can nourish the skin. Sesame oil protects the skin against UV rays and prevents premature wrinkles and pigmentation. Due to its anti-oxidant properties, sesame oil helps detoxify the skin.
Plus the zinc content of the seeds increases collagen production making skin more supple and resilient.
- Heals the hair
Sesame seed oil stimulates the scalp and promotes hair growth. It heals many scalp issues like dryness, clogged pores, fungi, and infections. The oil deeply moisturizes and treats brittle and damaged hair. It also has properties that can darken one’s hair. As such, people suffering from grey hair can make good use of it.
- Strengthens bones
Sesame seeds contain a high content of calcium. It is said that a fistful of sesame seeds contain more calcium than a glass of milk. This makes sesame seeds an ideal candidate for strengthening bones.
In addition, zinc enhances the mineral density of the bones and helps avoid osteoporosis. The copper content of the seeds is a great anti-oxidant, helping fight inflammation and swelling. For this reason, it is often used to ease the pain of arthritis.
- Relieves Stress
Magnesium and calcium are both antispasmodic in nature and so make great stress relievers. The thiamin in sesame seeds calms the nerves which reduce mood swings and depression. Plus, an amino acid named tryptophan is also present in sesame seeds. It produces serotonin in the body that relaxes any pain and synchronizes sleep patterns.
- Prevents anemia
Iron deficiency can cause anemia. It happens when the blood is unable to carry enough oxygen through the body. The condition can be extremely menacing for pregnant women as it can lead to poor development of the child.
Sesame seeds are rich in iron and help alleviate anemia. Pregnant women are often recommended to consume moderate amounts of these seeds.