You’ve probably heard the expression, “Open sesame.” It’s a saying that’s supposed to have special powers to unlock the gates to a hidden trove of treasures. Did you ever wonder where that phrase came from?
It’s very much connected to seeds from the Sesamum indicum plant, which split open upon ripening. Since antiquity, the oils and beneficial ingredients contained within these seeds have been accorded mythical powers to restore health and vitality.
As it happens, there’s more than just a grain of truth to the folklore that surrounds sesame seeds. Here are just a few of the facts that scientists and medical researchers are discovering about this amazing food:
- Sesame seeds are rich in essential oils.
- Compounds in sesame seeds (like linoleic and oleic acid) can help reduce inflammation, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
- Sesame seeds are a good source of lingan, a nutrient which may help prevent both breast and colon cancers.
In fact, the oils and phytonutrients in this timeless crop can benefit your health in so many ways. Here are seven reasons you should be including more sesame seeds in your diet:
1. Hormonal balance
Sesame seeds are considered a superfood when it comes to promoting hormonal health. Women are especially apt to benefit from the lingan in sesame seeds because this compound helps balance and eliminate excess estrogen. Additional fatty acids in sesame seeds help promote healthy hormone balance, too. For women who are using seed cycling to optimize fertility or alleviate some menstrual cycle symptoms, sesame seeds should be consumed in the second half (or luteal phase) of the menstrual cycle.
2. Weight loss
Sesame seeds contain fatty acids and phytochemicals that help improve your metabolism while also inhibiting the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin. As a result, adding sesame seeds to your diet optimizes your metabolism (which helps you burn off excess calories) while reducing the hormonal cravings that encourage you to overeat in the first place. Talk about a win-win.
3. Lowered cholesterol
Sesame seeds are rich in phytosterols These compounds are structurally similar to cholesterol, but because they are plant-based they do not have a negative effect on your cardiac health. These phytosterols help block bad forms of cholesterol from getting into your bloodstream, which can greatly reduce a risk factor linked to heart attacks and strokes.
4. Skin care
Sesame seed oil is one of the primary ingredients in many skin care products. That’s because it’s loaded antioxidant-rich essential oils that counteract oxidative stress that can lead to wrinkles and a loss of elasticity in your skin.
Sesame seeds are also a good source of vital minerals (like zinc), which help produce collagen (a protein that is a building block of healthy skin and bodily tissues). Applying sesame oil to your skin can be part of your daily beauty routine. Used as a topical, it can help absorb toxins, soothe sunburn and reduced cracked skin.
For a simple skin care remedy try mixing 1/2 cup of sesame seed oil with a 1/2 cup of organic apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of water. Apply each night and rinse with warm water afterward.
5. Gray hair
Premature gray can be hereditary, but it can also be caused by mineral deficiencies. While the scientific evidence is scant that consuming sesame seeds can reverse that silver-hair look, there’s little question that the seeds are loaded with vital nutrients and minerals including fiber, vitamin E, phytosterols, lecithin, oligosaccharides, selenium, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, magnesium, folate, copper, zinc and iron. Nutrients like these can play a role in the production of the pigment melanin, which gives hair its darker color.
Not surprisingly, sesame seeds have been used by Chinese herbalists for thousands of years to help reverse the effects of aging. Since sesame seeds are rich in essential oils that nourish the scalp, counteract oxidative stress, and boost production of the pigment melanin, there’s probably a lot to be said for the ancient wisdom.
6. Blood pressure
There are at least three studies that show that sesame seeds can help lower blood pressure. One study, published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, noted that sesame oil not only reduces hypertension, but also has “beneficial effects on the levels of triglyceride, electrolytes, lipid peroxidation, and antioxidants.” In other words, sesame seeds are very heart healthy.
Sesame seeds are packed with sesamol lingan, a compound that has been shown to have cancer-busting properties. According to one study, published in the journal Life Sciences, the antioxidants in sesame seeds can induce mitochondrial apoptosis in colon cancer cells. Translation: compounds in sesame seeds may cause cancer cells to commit suicide.
People have enjoyed sesame seeds for thousands of years
Sesame seeds can be added to countless recipes including homemade breads, as a topping for salads and cereals, and to garnish stir-fry meals. The seeds come in a variety of colors, but the two most common types are white and black seeds. The nutritional levels in both these varieties are virtually equivalent.
However, because black seeds have not been de-hulled they tend to provide more fiber and calcium. Tahini, a spread that is popular in both Mediterranean and Asian cultures, is made from sesame seeds that have been crushed and roasted. The paste is a great way of enjoying the metabolism-boosting and heart-healthy benefits of this remarkable plant-based food.
— Scott O’Reilly