If you’ve been hip to health foods for long, you’re probably aware that most snack foods are to be avoided. The vast majority of them are designed to be as satisfying (i.e. addictive) as possible. They’re full of sugars, unhealthy fats, and preservatives, and usually lack most of the nutrients your body really needs.
Hummus, on the other hand, is one popular snack dip that’s actually a wise choice—just make sure you aren’t eating too many chips and bread along with it (try dipping fruits and veggies instead).
This time-honored snack includes all sorts of healthy ingredients that we’ve lauded in other articles, including garlic, lemon juice, and black cumin. The real star of the show, though, is tahini—a nutrient-dense sauce made from sesame seeds that has a number of incredible healing benefits.
Sesame seeds: an underrated superfood
Sesame seeds seem awfully run-of-the-mill in comparison to some of the more exotic superfood seeds out there, like chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds. But they’re a perfect example of a superfood hidden in plain sight—it turns out that they’re packed with as many uniquely healthful compounds (or more) than their more popular (and more expensive) cousins.
To say that sesame seeds are nutrient-dense is an understatement. Take a lot at this sampling of what these seeds (especially when made into tahini) have to offer.
Highly absorbable vitamins and nutrients. When it comes to nutrients, tahini has it all. Sesame seeds have the highest fatty oil content of any seed, 60% of which is made up of sesamin and sesamolin, two highly beneficial polyunsaturated fats.
Another 20% of their makeup is in the form of easily absorbable amino acids, meaning they’re a better protein source than almost any other nut or seed. Some of these amino acids—such as linoleic acid, oleic acid, lysine, tryptophan, and gamma-tocopherol, also help to boost the immune system, regulate metabolism, and aid fat burning. Another amino acid called methionine even facilitates liver detoxification.
Tahini is also a great source of B vitamins, which are notoriously difficult to find in plant-based foods. And here’s the best part: tahini naturally boosts the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (including the vitamins in any other foods or supplements you consume). And higher levels of these essential nutrients, like tocopherol, translates to reduced inflammation and oxidative stress, and therefore a dramatically reduced risk of chronic disease.
Tons of minerals. As we’ve touched on in other articles, mineral deficiency is a huge issue that affects the vast majority of Americans. Tahini offers a simple and delicious solution: it contains high levels of magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and zinc. It’s even an excellent (and safe) source of iron, a deficiency that causes anemia, a condition that can lower red blood cell count and lead to severe fatigue.
No molds or fungi. Many nuts and seeds are highly prone to contamination by mycotoxins, as well as many other health-sapping molds and fungi (wheat suffers from this same weakness). Even some of the most healthful varieties easily fall prey to mold growth, which can all but cancel out their healing benefits (mycotoxins are a leading risk factor in chronic inflammation and increased oxidative stress). Because sesame seeds are not susceptible to mold growth, tahini makes an excellent healthful alternative to most nut butters and seed-based dips.
Powerful hormone support. In a world riddled by endocrine-disrupting chemicals, hormone support is absolutely essential. Studies have demonstrated that tahini can be particularly beneficial for women navigating menopause, due to the natural phytoestrogens it contains. While estrogenic (i.e. estrogen-boosting) foods have their downsides, they’re a life-saver to those suffering from low estrogen levels—they’ve even been shown to decrease the risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer, and heart disease.
Consuming too much tahini (and other estrogenic foods) when you don’t have low estrogen can be problematic, but most experts agree that it only becomes an issue at a high volume of consumption—including tahini as part of a balanced diet is a perfectly healthful choice.
Blood pressure and cholesterol regulation. Sesame seeds pack a surprising punch when it comes to maintaining good heart health and optimal blood pressure. Studies have demonstrated that the plant lignans in sesame seeds lower LDL (the “bad cholesterol”) and improve overall ratios of LDL to HDL. Other studies also showed that they lower blood pressure with remarkable effectiveness, and even that they reduce the arterial fatty buildup that can lead to arteriosclerosis.
How to make your own tahini and hummus
If you’re ready to claim all the benefits discussed above (and to enjoy a delicious snack food in the process), be sure to integrate tahini and hummus into your diet. If you purchase the packaged variety, make sure to check the ingredients—the store-bought kind often contains unhealthy oils, preservatives, or inferior-quality ingredients.
There’s certainly good and reputable products to be found in well-stocked health food stores, but your best bet is to make your own.
All you need is some sesame seeds and a bit of olive oil. You can roast the seeds at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or leave them raw for maximum nutrient density. If you use raw sesame seeds, soak 1 cup of seeds in 2 cups of water for at least 4 hours. Blend them in a high-powered blender or food processor, and add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil.
Use your homemade tahini on its own as a wonderful dip and spread, or use it to make hummus. This hummus recipe is amazing, but feel free to experiment and find your favorite!