Are sesame seeds a superfood? Health benefits explained by a nutritionist


(NEW YORK) — “Superfood” has become a bit of a culinary buzzword, most often used by brands or influencers to sell more products with possibly empty promises. However, there’s a small and mighty contender packed with nutrients that could power an array of potential health benefits and make a great addition to an already balanced diet — one that might already be in your kitchen pantry: sesame seeds.

The tiny, flat, oval-shaped seeds are full of nutty flavor and used in a wide range of cuisines from different Asian and African foods to Latin American, Mediterranean and more. Plus, sesame seeds have dozens of culinary applications, from grinding it into paste to make creamy Tahini or toasting it to extract rich oils.

But the benefits go beyond amping up flavor and texture in a dish.

The protein-packed edible seeds that consumers are familiar with seeing on everything from salmon to bagels actually come from small green pods off the sesame plant (Sesamum indicum), which contains about 80 seeds inside, once hulled.

While there’s not a clear consensus from biologists regarding whether the plant originated in Southeast Africa or India, according to the Real Food Encyclopedia, historians generally agree that it was first cultivated at least 5,000 years ago in what is now Pakistan and India, where it has been a staple food for generations.

Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda — ancient holistic Indian medicine — back the benefits of sesame, particularly in the winter months, however Western medicine has not yet backed that same idea with scientific evidence to support specific claims.

Health benefits of sesame seeds

“Like other seeds, sesame seeds are a good source of fiber and health fats. Sesame seeds are high in magnesium, vitamin E, iron and a good source of calcium,” Liz Weinandy, MPH, RDN, lead dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told ABC News’ Good Morning America.

Everyone has different dietary needs for their own biological makeup, so before making a significant change to your food intake, consult a primary care physician or nutritionist first.

“Given sesame seeds are a good source of fiber and healthy fat, they are considered ‘heart-healthy,"” Weinandy said. “They contain other compounds that may help lower cholesterol and improve triglyceride blood levels.”

The lipid-rich powerhouse ingredient also contains nutrients like copper, known to support immune function.

“Many nutrients in sesame seeds support immune function, including copper, zinc, selenium and B vitamins,” Weinandy said. “Sesame seeds are an especially good source of zinc, which is crucial for the development of many immune system cells.”

One tablespoon of sesame seeds contains 1.6 grams of protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, prompting Weinandy to explain that “they are not a great source of protein, unless eaten in larger quantities.”

“Nonetheless, they are a good source of plant protein,” she added.

Incorporating sesame seeds into a balanced diet

Overall, when considering what makes something worthy of the term “superfood,” Weinandy said that “while sesame seeds are powerhouses in nutrients, the drawback is eating enough of them and eating them regularly to reap the health benefits.”

“If one is eating sesame seeds with other healthy foods, then the benefits would be significant since it is the overall dietary pattern that counts,” she said. “I think of people who eat hummus on a regular basis are probably getting a lot of benefits from sesame seeds.”

For people with an already balanced lifestyle that combines both diet and exercise, Weinandy said “eating something healthy more regularly is probably key.”

“The amount really varies from person to person,” she said, referring to sesame seeds, adding, “I recommend incorporating any healthy foods into one’s diet on a daily or weekly basis as it fits.”

Sesame seeds and oil are commonly used in a variety of ingredient lists and are a known common food allergy.

In the U.S., sesame is the ninth most common food allergy among children and adults, and the Food and Drug Administration added sesame to its list of major food allergens last year.

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