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Sesame Seed

Sesame seeds are a tiny oil rich seeds; its distinctive nutty flavor is used in food from cultures around the world. The oil is used for cooking and the seeds flavor many foods. Sesame seeds are rich in nutrients and fiber.

Sesame Seed
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What it is

Sesame seeds come from the sesame plant, which is a small annual plant grown mostly for its oily seeds. The seeds have a tiny oval shape ranging in color from a cream or tan to red and deep charcoal-black.  They have a nutty taste and a delicate crunch to eat. In the west the light seeds are more common while in East Asia the black seeds are the most popular. The oil from the sesame seeds is valued greatly in Arabic and Asian cooking, from the Far East to west Asia and into North Africa.


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What is in it

Sesame seeds are a very good source of copper and manganese and a good source of tryptophan, calcium, zinc, vitamin B1 (thiamin), magnesium, iron and fiber.

The oil in sesame seeds is also rich source in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. 

Sesame seeds contain sesamin and sesamolin. Both of these substances belong to a group of beneficial fibers called lignans. 

Sesame seeds had the highest total phytosterol content of all nuts and seeds.


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What it is good for

Common tan sesame seeds have the same properties as black sesame seeds but they are milder acting.

• Strengthens the liver and kidneys
• Lubricates and protects the liver 
• Lubricates the intestines, heart, kidneys, lungs and spleen-pancreas.
• Relieves rheumatism 
• Reduces constipation
• Strengthens bones and increases bone density
• Treats dry cough, blurry vision
• Lowers cholesterol 
• Relieves joint stiffness and improves weak joints
• Assists in cases of wasting diseases and other conditions of age.


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When you get it

Sesame seeds can be found in markets all year around.


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Which to select

Sesame seeds can usually be bought packages or in bulk containers. For the freshest product buy seeds that are stored well in sealed airtight containers in markets or shops with good turnover. Be sure that there is no evidence of moisture of mold. 

Nuts and seeds become rancid when they are hulled, this deterioration begins immediately. Buy, store and eat only fresh nuts and seeds.

I you want seeds with a roasted flavor, buy seeds that have been dry roasted without oil and no other additives such as sugar or preservatives better still, roast your own.

Why Organic
Choose organically grown vegetables whenever possible. To eat organic means to live cleanly, free of pesticides and toxins. It is a conscious choice. One made in order to survive right along with the planet that sustains us. Organically grown foods do not over-run the landfills with toxic waste from their farming or subject your body to unhealthy toxins. For your health and for the planet, choose to eat organic foods. To understand more about why organic is better please read our “Why Organic?” special feature.


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Where to store

Because of the high fat content in sesame seeds it is very important to store them well to stop them from becoming rancid. Store the whole seeds in a dark and cool place in a sealed container. Store hulled seeds in a sealed, airtight non-plastic container in the refrigerator. Heat and light speed oxidization

Do not store in plastic, oil rich foods combine with plastics to form plasticides.


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How to use

Eat nuts and seeds in moderation.

Soaking sesame seeds overnight, pan-frying and then grinding the seeds makes them more digestible and helps to reduce the effects of their oxalic acid content.

Beware: commercial tahini is a refined food as the seeds have had their hulls removed before milling. Tahini lacks fiber, minerals and other nutrients needed for good digestion of the seeds.

Roasting reduces the oiliness making the seeds and seeds easier to digest. Lightly roast at 160-170°f for 15 – 20 minutes, to preserve the healthy oils.

Gomasio is a traditional seasoning that can be bought or easily made at home. Nix together one part salt and two parts sesame seeds then grind in a mortar and pestle or a coffee or seed grinder.

Sesame seeds can be crushed and turned into sesame butter – a healthy alternative to peanut butter and used in place of tahini.

Sesame seeds add a good nutty crunch to many Asian dishes.

Chew well to increase the medicinal value of nuts and seeds.


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How much you need

To reach your health goals and become healthy the most important step is to eat a well balanced diet of food from across all the food groups. 

For an average person 
 
Servings per food group:
• Whole Grains (Carbohydrates):  6 – 8 
• Meat and beans (Protein):  1 – 2 
• High quality fats: 1
• Dairy:     2 – 3
• Fruit: 2
• Vegetables: 5
• Water: 6

This list is of recommended daily amount of each food group for an average person 19 to 50 years old with a low level of exercise (30minutes of less a day). If you are older you may need a little less, if you are younger, a little more and if you are very active even more food should be eaten. For more information on serving sizes see our special feature on Sizing Up A Serve.

It is important to ensure that the foods that you eat are of a high quality. The highest quality product is one that is fresh, whole and organic.

Fresh – over time the quality of nutrients degrades with their potency dying off.

Whole – many foods, particularly vegetarian foods carry a lot of their nutrients in their outer skins. So leave bran, germs and skins on the food where possible; always with grains and whenever the fruit of vegetable permits.

Organic – ensure you have the cleanest food by using only foods that are grown without pesticides, or other chemicals, in a natural way as people have in all bar the last 80 years of history. Chemical burdened foods are a modern invention designed to increase output with little regard to the health of the end user.


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Things to watch out for

Eating too any nuts and seeds can cause problems with digestion, blemishes and pimples and can cause bad smelling flatulence.

People with signs of excess like a robust body and personality, ruddy complexion, thick tongue coating, strong voice and pulse should use most nuts and seeds little if at all.

 The hulls of sesame seeds contain oxalates, a naturally accruing substance that is found in plants, animals and humans. When these oxalates become too concentrated in the body they can crystallize to form health problems including stones in the liver and gall bladder. Also these oxalates can cause problems with the joints and arthritis. 


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References

The Journal of Nutrition – The American Society for Nutrition, http://jn.nutrition.org, retrieved 02/2009.

Wikipedia,  Sesame, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sesame_seed#Uses_in_food_and_cuisines, retrieved, 02/2009 

Prepared by the editors at Harvard Health Publications in consultation with Meir J. Stampfer, M.D., Dr.P.H., Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, Vitamins and Minerals: What you need to know,  Harvard School of Public Health, 2008.

Bratman, Steven, and David Kroll. Natural Health Bible. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1999.

Paul Pitchford. Healing with whole food, North Atlantic Books, 2002.

Goldman L, Ausiello D. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders, 2004.

Norton Greenberger M.D. and Roanne Weisman, 4 Weeks to Healthy Digestion, Harvard School of Public Health. (2008)
 


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