Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. The paste is one of the main ingredients in hummus, a Middle Eastern dip often served with pita bread or fresh vegetables. If you've overlooked tahini in the past, perhaps it's time to give it a chance in your healthy eating plan. In addition to protein, potassium and calcium, tahini also supplies good amounts of several key vitamins and minerals. You can use it in many more recipes than just hummus, too.
Calories and Fat
One ounce of tahini contains 169 calories and 15.24 grams of fat. That's a startling amount for such a small amount of food, but the good news is that most of the fat is heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. These unsaturated fats help lower your cholesterol level, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. The unsaturated fats in tahini might help normalize your heart beat and reduce inflammation, which can lower your chances of developing certain types of cancer.
An ounce of tahini supplies 2.5 milligrams of iron, which is 32 percent of the 8 milligrams men need on a daily basis and 14 percent of the 18 milligrams women need. Iron helps your body make red blood cells and can prevent fatigue, too. The same serving of tahini contains 1.31 milligrams of zinc, a mineral that helps your body heal from injury. That translates to 12 percent of the 11 milligrams men need on a daily basis and 16 percent of the 8 milligrams women need. One ounce of tahini provides 1.5 milligrams of niacin, which is about 10 percent of the 14 to 16 milligrams you need each day. Niacin is a B vitamin that helps you make energy.
Sesame seeds, the main ingredient in tahini, can raise your plasma gamma tocopherol levels, according to a 2001 study published in "Nutrition and Cancer." Increased plasma gamma tocopherol levels can reduce your risk of heart disease, and the benefits come from the unsaturated fats found in the seeds. Plasma gamma tocopherol is a natural form of vitamin E, a nutrient that helps prevent cell damage that can lead to heart disease. A 2005 article published in the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry" reports that sesame seeds contain compounds called phytosterols. Phytosterols are found in plant foods and might help lower cholesterol, boost the health of your immune system and reduce your risk of certain types of cancer, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Look for tahini in the ethnic food section of the supermarket. Puree tahini with chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic to prepare a tasty and nutritious batch of hummus. Add tahini to pureed eggplant and garlic to make another Middle Eastern dish called baba ganoush. Add a tablespoon or so of tahini to homemade salad dressing or stir it into creamy potato soup. Combine tahini with ground turkey or beef to add fiber and a nutty flavor to your favorite burger recipe.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Seeds, Sesame Butter, Tahini, From Roasted and Toasted Kernels (Most Common Type)
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out With the Bad, In With the Good
- National Institutes of Health: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron
- National Institutes of Health: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Zinc
- MedlinePlus: Niacin
- Nutrition and Cancer: Effects of Dietary Sesame Seeds on Plasma Tocopherol Levels
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: Phytosterol Composition of Nuts and Seeds Commonly Consumed in the United States
- Linus Pauling Institute: Phytosterols
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.