The world’s healthiest foods are health-promoting foods that can change one’s life positively and sesame seeds are one of them. Sesame seeds are derived from the sesame plant, which is one of the oldest condiments and probably one of the first oil seeds known to mankind. Sesame (Botanically as Sesamum indicum), popularly known as Beni seed (Benne seed) is often called by different names based on the location and tribes; Ridi in Hausa, Ekuku in Igbo, Isasa in Yoruba, Ishwa in Tiv, Epi Gorigo in Ibira. It’s the erect annual plant of the family of Pedaliaceae, grown since antiquity for its seeds, which are used as food and flavouring and from which a prized oil is extracted. It is extremely resistant to rancidity and can be grown in a variety of climatic conditions. Sesame was introduced to Nigeria after the Second World War and was mostly cultivated as a minor crop in the Northern and Central part of Nigeria until 1974 when it began to gain prominence as a major cash crop in many Northern states such as Plateau, Benue, Kogi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Nasarawa, Katsina, Yobe and Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Nigeria is the second largest producer in Africa after Sudan, and the third largest in the world, with about 580,000 tonnes produced in 2017.
The Sesame seeds are very small in size, about 2 mm wide and 3-4 mm long. They are covered within small pods that line the plant’s axes. One of the distinguishing features of the sesame seed pod is it bursts open when it reaches maturity. Depending on conditions, sesame varieties grow from about 0.5 to 2.5 metres (2 to 9 feet) tall; some have branches, others do not. One to three flowers appear in the leaf axils. The hulled seeds are creamy or pearly white and about 3 mm (0.1 inch) long and have a flattened pear shape. The seed capsules open when dry, allowing the seed to scatter. Considerable hand labour is needed in harvesting to prevent loss of the seeds. With the development of a non-scattering variety of the plant in the mid-20th century, mechanized harvesting of the crop was made possible. Sesame seeds are tiny, oil-rich seeds that grow in pods on the Sesamum indicum plant. Unhulled seeds have the outer, edible husk intact, while hulled seeds come without the husk. The hull gives the seeds a golden-brown hue. Hulled seeds have an off-white color but turn brown when roasted.
Sesame seeds are tiny, flat oval seeds with nutty and fragrant seed variants that come in a host of different colors, depending upon the variety. In Nigeria, based on its colour, it is classified into the white and brown varieties. The white grain (Food Grade) is used by bakeries for pastry garnishing and salad, while the brown grain, often referred to as the oil grade, is used in the production of sesame oil. No matter the type or color of the sesame seeds, their nutritional benefits and values remain the same. The slight difference is just in their flavour and colour. White sesame seeds have higher iron content than the black ones and are mostly used as ingredients in food or in the form of oil. Black sesame seeds are more flavourful and have a stronger aroma than white or brown sesame seeds and are preferably used in medicines. They contain 60% more calcium than the white ones. White sesame seeds are hulled, whereas the black and brown ones retain their hulls.
Beni seed, or Sesame Seed as it is sometimes referred to, is an annual flowering plant which is cultivated for its seeds, grows in pods and is believed to be the oldest cultivated oil seed in the world. The addition of sesame seeds to baked goods can be traced back to ancient Egyptian times from an ancient tomb painting that depicts a baker adding the seeds to bread dough.
Sesame seeds have been grown in tropical regions throughout the world since prehistoric times; traditional myths hold that their origins go back even further. According to Assyrian legend, when the gods met to create the world, they drank wine made from sesame seeds.
These seeds were thought to have first originated in India and were mentioned in early Hindu legends. In these legends, tales are told in which sesame seeds represent a symbol of immortality. From India, sesame seeds were introduced throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Although with a doubtful origin, it is widely believed to have originated from Africa.
The sesame plant likely originated in Asia or East Africa, and ancient Egyptians are known to have used the ground seed as grain flour. The seeds were used by the Chinese at least 5,000 years ago, and for centuries they have burned the oil to make soot for the finest Chinese ink blocks. The Romans ground sesame seeds with cumin to make a pasty spread for bread. Once it was thought to have mystical powers, and sesame still retains a magical quality
Sesame seeds were brought to the United States from Africa during the late 17th century. Currently, the largest commercial producers of sesame seeds include India, China and Mexico.
Nigeria is among the top global producers and exporters of sesame, with many years of very stable production. Nigeria is a major producer of high quality raw sesame seed with minimum 45% of oil content yet under estimates its health and nutritional importance.
The sesame plant is found in most of the tropical, subtropical, and southern temperate areas of the world and is widely cultivated. It is cultivated in 24 countries in the continent- Sudan, Nigeria, Guinea, Morocco, Togo, Gambia, Cameroon, Cote d’ivoire, Angola, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Benin, Kenya, Mozambique, Mali, Chad, Egypt, Central Africa Republic, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Niger, Uganda. Originally, they were native to India and parts of Africa, although many other countries are now cultivating them as well.
Sesame Seeds Health and its Nutritional Benefits
Sesame or beni seed is obtained from the sesame plant and they are rich in several important compounds and nutrients that add value to the overall human health. Sesame contains relatively high oil content, which significantly promotes health benefits.
There are a good number of nutrient-dense condiments in beni seed that provide a lot of benefits to the health and total well-being of man. These seeds also serve several other culinary purposes.
Sesame seeds are highly nutritional as only 100 grams of these seeds can contain up to 573 kcal of energy. Additionally, they also contain almost 50 grams of fat, of which approximately 85% are healthy fats. These Sesame seeds also contain an abundance of vitamin B6, thiamine, and niacin among vitamins, and calcium, copper, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus among minerals.
Sesame seeds have many potential health benefits and have been used in folk medicine for thousands of years. They may protect against heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. However, you may need to eat significant amounts — a small handful per day — to gain health benefits.
Below are some of the science-based and researched benefits of sesame seed to human health and lifestyle.
· Support the Immune System
Sesame seeds are a good source of several nutrients crucial for your immune system, including zinc, selenium, copper, iron, vitamin B6, and vitamin E. For example, your body needs zinc to develop and activate certain white blood cells that recognize and attack invading microbes. Keep in mind that even mild to moderate zinc deficiency can impair immune system activity.
· Moderate Cholesterol Level
Sesame (beni) seed contains phytonutrients as well as phytosterols which helps in lowering the level of cholesterol in the body by reducing its rate of absorption and can as well help in weight loss as it burns body fats. According to reports, sesame contains 400 grams of phytosterols per every 200 grams of the seeds and phytosterols are plant sterols that are comparable to cholesterol but conversely functions actively in the intestine to reduce and displace the level of cholesterol absorption. Research has shown that sesame seed has the highest content of this phytosterol and that is why it ranks the highest in lowering cholesterol. Phytosterols are compounds found in plants that have a chemical structure very similar to cholesterol, and when present in the diet in sufficient amounts, are believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers.
Sesame seeds have the highest total phytosterol content (400-413 mg per 100 grams) of all seeds and nuts. With regards to the nuts and seeds typically consumed as snack foods, pistachios and sunflower seeds were said to be the richest in phytosterols (270-289 mg/100 g), followed by pumpkin seeds (265 mg/100 g). Recent studies also show that sesame seed is considered the best lowering the level of cholesterol in the blood among other grains, seeds and legumes due to its richness in phytonutrients that acts quickly on this waxy fat that causes obstruction in the flow of blood.
Black sesame seeds benefit in lowering the cholesterol levels. They contain two substances called sesamin and sesamolin, which belong to a group of fibers called lignans. Lignans have a cholesterol lowering effect as they are rich in dietary fiber. Black sesame seeds also contain plant compounds called phytosterols which have a structure similar to that of cholesterol. Their consumption not only decreases the blood cholesterol levels, but also reduces the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Some studies suggest that regularly eating sesame seeds may help decrease high cholesterol and triglycerides — which are risk factors for heart disease. Sesame seeds consist of 15% saturated fat, 41% polyunsaturated fat, and 39% monounsaturated fat. Research indicates that eating more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat relative to saturated fat may help lower your cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk.
· Good for Heart (Cardiovascular)
Because of the ability to maintain normal cholesterol levels which in turn improve blood pressure, sesame seeds can help in improving the health conditions of the heart very well. Sesame seed keeps your heart healthy with a high fiber content. It works to reduce levels of bad cholesterol in arteries and blood vessels. Taking a moderate quantity of sesame seed helps to prevent another heart-related sickness called atherosclerotic because of the presence of an anti-inflammatory compound called sesamol in the sesame oil. Sesame seed oil prevents atherosclerotic lesions and hence, is beneficial for heart health.
Lignans which are mainly found in some seeds and whole grains and legumes are present in sesame seeds and helps to enhance lipids and normalize blood pressure. These polyphenols are good for heart health as they prevent the heart from certain illnesses such as stroke, heart attacks and other related. They contain an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound called sesamol that also exhibits anti-atherogenic properties, thus improving the cardiovascular health. Sesame seeds are high in the monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, which helps in lowering the bad cholesterol and increasing the good cholesterol in the body. This prevents the risk of coronary artery disease and strokes
· Good for the Digestive System, Prevents/ Treats Constipation
Beni seed is rich in dietary fiber which makes it good for the digestive system as it helps in proper digestion and eliminating the chances of bloating, cramping and constipation. Eating sesame seeds regularly could help increase your fiber intake. Don’t forget that fiber plays a role in reducing your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. The oily composition of sesame seeds also helps to soften the content of the intestines which in turn helps to prevent hard stool and provide constipation relief. Sesame seeds support a healthy digestive system and colon as they are rich in fiber. This high fiber content helps in smooth functioning of the intestine, thus facilitating waste disposal and relieving constipation
It’s hard to comprehend, but these little Sesame seeds contain an impressive amount of fiber. Fiber is crucial to healthy digestion as it bulks up waste matter and then helps it move smoothly through the large intestine. In this way, fiber prevents the chances of a bowel obstruction. Moreover, it stimulates the peristaltic movement, which is characteristic of the small intestine as it is processing food. Consuming sesame seeds as daily snacks have been directly related to the reduction of gastrointestinal problems like constipation or diarrhea. It also keeps the colon healthy and reduces the chances of developing serious gastrointestinal issues and cancer.
· Maintaining Strong Healthy Bones
The vitamins, calcium; a trace mineral that is vital to bone health which is specifically known to build and maintain the bone as well as zinc and phosphorus and the impressive amount of important minerals contained in sesame make it good for the skin, teeth, bones and general health. Particularly on the bone, these seeds serve as a dietary recommendation for treating bone injuries and boosting the bone mineral density. The presence of copper helps for the prevention or reduction of joint and bone-related problems. The deficiency of this mineral can cause osteoporosis in the hip and spine area.
Another reason for older men to make zinc-rich foods such as sesame seeds a regular part of their healthy way of eating is bone mineral density. Although osteoporosis is often thought to be a disease for which postmenopausal women are at highest risk, it is also a potential problem for older men. Almost 30% of hip fractures occur in men, and 1 in 8 men over age 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture. Consuming moderate amounts of sesame seeds every day can prevent the body from developing deficiencies that impact bone health.
Sesame seeds are a dietary recommendation for people who are already suffering from bone diseases. These Sesame seeds repair bones that could have been weakened by the onset of debilitating conditions such as osteoporosis or by bone injury. In addition, they also strengthen the bone and can facilitate the creation of new bone matter. Overall, it is the perfect antidote to weak bones.
· Detoxify the Liver
Sesame protects the liver from oxidative damage due to the presence of strong antioxidant in it. This antioxidant, on the other hand, helps in promoting proper and healthy functioning of the liver. It is good for the liver because of the presence of methionine which aids in the effective detoxification of the liver and improves its function.
· Good for the Eye
Sesame seed and its oil help to improve eye health, especially the black sesame seeds. Black sesame seeds are beneficial for the liver as they increase the liver blood, thereby nourishing the eyes. Their therapeutic effects help in treating blurred vision and tired, dry eyes. Experiments have shown that black sesame seed plays an important role in enhancing the liver’s blood and nourishing the eye.
The presence of omega 6 fatty acids in sesame contributes greatly to protecting the eyes from certain deteriorations. As the liver is connected to the eye, the function of sesame on the liver also extends to the eye because when the liver is affected, the eyes become very dry and the vision blurs. According to traditional Chinese medicine, there is a strong relationship between the internal organs and external parts such as the eyes and the liver. The liver stores blood and since a certain branch of the liver channel goes to the eyes, the liver can also send blood to the eyes to support their functioning.
· Balances Sex Hormone
Research has proven that sesame helps in the production of sex hormone mainly in post-menopausal women. The presence of fats, protein, and other essential nutrients in sesame seeds helps in the production of lipids and blood sex hormones. Investigations have also shown that taking 50 grams of sesame seed powder on a daily basis is very effective in improving the production of serum sex hormones.
· Aid Hormone Balance during Menopause
Sesame seeds contain phytoestrogens, plant compounds that are similar to the hormone estrogen. Therefore, sesame seeds might be beneficial for women when estrogen levels drop during menopause. For example, phytoestrogens may help counteract hot flashes and other symptoms of low estrogen. What’s more, these compounds may decrease your risk of certain diseases — such as breast cancer — during menopause. Phytoestrogens are compounds found in sesame seeds that may benefit women who are undergoing menopause.
Sesame seeds help in restoring normal sleep patterns in women who are experiencing unpleasant symptoms associated with menopause. Help prevent the bone loss that can occur as a result of menopause or certain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. It does also help prevent migraine headaches in those who suffer from them.
NEXT WEEK: Sesame Seeds Health and its Nutritional Benefits (2)
To be continued next week… Don’t forget to like and follow me on all social media platforms.
Share your experience, suggestions, etc with us in the comment section or via email. Don’t forget to like and follow me on all social media platforms.
Journalist <> Blogger <> Publishing <> Brand Consultants <> Film/Documentary Production Phone:+234-807-202-2024; E-mail: [email protected]; Instagram: evertess2010; LinkedIn: Theresa Moses; Twitter: @moses_theresa; Facebook: Theresa Moses