By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (July 6, 2006)—New evidence suggests that postmenopausal women who eat sesame seeds might be protected against heart disease—the greatest health threat to women over 50.
Roasted sesame seeds are a popular part of traditional Asian cuisine. Besides having a distinctive flavor, they are widely believed to have anti-aging effects. Sesame seeds and sesame oil are good sources of unsaturated fat, vitamin E, and compounds known as lignans, which have antioxidant and anticancer effects and can be converted by gut bacteria into phytoestrogens (chemicals from plants that can act as weak estrogens). Previous research has found that eating ground sesame seeds can lower cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol.
A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating ground toasted sesame seeds reduced cholesterol levels in postmenopausal women. Half of the 24 women in the study took 50 grams (a little more than 3 tablespoons) of sesame powder made from ground toasted sesame seeds every day while the other half took 50 grams of rice powder (placebo) every day for five weeks. After a three-week break, the groups were switched for another five weeks.
The women had a 5% decrease in total cholesterol levels and a 10% decrease in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels after taking the sesame powder, but they had no change after taking the rice powder. They also had more vitamin E in their blood and slower oxidation of LDL cholesterol (a process linked to hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis). These findings suggest that sesame seeds might prevent heart disease in at least two different ways.
Both sesame seeds and flaxseeds have been found to lower cholesterol, but might have different health benefits because of the differences in their fatty acids. The fats found in sesame are relatively stable, rendering sesame oil safer for cooking and the oil and seeds less susceptible to rancidity than flaxseeds and flaxseed oil. People who want to eat sesame seeds to help prevent heart disease might find the familiar flavor of sesame enjoyable.
“We conclude that sesame seed may benefit postmenopausal women, and the effects are at least comparable with those found in flaxseed,” the study authors stated. “Sesame seeds or oil can be easily incorporated into a healthy normal diet as a rich source of lignans and phytoestrogens.”
In light of these findings and those from many previous studies, it is clear that a heart—healthy diet should include nuts and seeds. Although they are high in fat, a variety of nuts—including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, macadamias, cashews, and even peanuts (which are not true nuts)–have been found to reduce cardiac risk. Some public health guidelines are beginning to reflect this evidence, says Mary Saucier Choate, a registered dietitian and food and nutrition educator.
“You can look to any of the major health organizations’ guidelines and you’ll find that nuts and seeds are encouraged as alternative sources of protein, excellent sources of unsaturated oils, and for beneficial health effects,” said Choate. “These organizations emphasize a diet that is low in saturated and trans fats and moderate in total fat.”
(J Nutr 2006;136:1270–5)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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