In celebration of International Women’s Month, we’re taking a closer look at the potential ways tahini can empower women’s health!
First of all, a recap. What exactly is tahini?
Tahini is a delicious paste made from ground sesame seeds. It can be used as a dip, spread, drizzle (and much, much more) and been around forever - enjoyed for centuries as part of the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean diet.
In more recent years, tahini has gained the reputation for being a ‘superfood’ - a term used to describe certain foods believed to have exceptional nutritional benefits.
Tahini’s powerhouse status is all down to the nutrient-dense credentials of its main ingredient: the sesame seed.
Rich in healthy fats, minerals, vitamins, protein and dietary fiber, sesame seeds have been described by some as an “all-purpose nutrient bank”. It’s not surprising that this mighty seed has come under the spotlight in several scientific studies:
“A number of in vitro and in vivo studies and clinical trials have found sesame seeds to be rich in lignan-like active ingredients. They have antioxidant, cholesterol reduction, blood lipid regulation, liver and kidney protection, cardiovascular system protection, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and other effects, which have great benefits to human health” Online Journal Nutrients, September 2022
But how might tahini benefit women specifically?
From menopause to menstruation - we’ve answered some frequently asked questions that relate to tahini and women’s health.
Disclaimer: At SoCo, we make delicious things out of sesame seeds - we don’t study them. If you are interested in using tahini as a healing food, we’d always recommend you do your own research, read widely, talk to registered dietitians and doctors, and consult healthcare professionals.
Tahini and estrogen: does tahini increase estrogen?
Estrogen is a super important hormone for women.
It plays a crucial role in the development of the female reproductive system, as well as being an important hormone for skeletal and cardiovascular health. Some of the key functions of estrogen in women include:Menopausal symptom management: Estrogen helps to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood changes (hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which involves taking estrogen supplements, is sometimes prescribed to manage these symptoms).
So where does tahini come into all of this? Can sesame seeds increase estrogen levels?
Sesame seeds (the main ingredient in tahini) contain a type of phytoestrogen called lignans, which are compounds that can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body.
A 2006 study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Nutrition investigated “whether sesame can be a source of phytoestrogens and promote the cardiovascular health of menopausal women” (the study tested a group of postmenopausal women who consumed 50 grams of sesame seeds per day for five weeks).
The results? Increased estrogen activity, meaning tahini may be helpful in dealing with hormonal changes that come with menopause.
“Based on the variables tested, we conclude that sesame seed may benefit postmenopausal women […] results suggest that sesame ingestion benefits postmenopausal women by improving blood lipids, antioxidant status, and possibly sex hormone status.” The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 5, May 2006, Pages 1270–1275
Can tahini help with period pains?
Some women report experiencing relief menstrual cramps after consuming foods rich in certain nutrients found in tahini, such as magnesium and calcium. In fact, a growing trend in the wellness space for women is seed-cycling, a practice that involves eating certain seeds at specific times of the month to help manage PMS symptoms. Read this article here for more information on seed-cycling and insight into whether it works.
While there is limited scientific evidence to support the idea that eating tahini can help with period pains (most evidence is anecdotal), our hope is that in the future, there will be more government funding and scientific investment dedicated to studying the benefits of sesame for women’s periods and health more largely!
Is tahini good for your hair?
A well-balanced diet that includes a good dose of tahini may indeed help support and nourish healthy hair growth and maintenance!
Tahini is a good source of several nutrients that are important for healthy hair, including protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
For example, protein is a key component of hair, and consuming adequate amounts of protein is essential for maintaining healthy hair (for anyone following a vegetarian or vegan diet - tahini is a great source of plant-based protein!)
Tahini is a good source of healthy fats, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are important for maintaining healthy hair and scalp. It contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6, which are important for overall hair health, as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron, which can help promote hair growth and prevent hair loss.
Does tahini have health benefits for skin?
Many of the same nutrients in tahini that benefit hair extend to skin - such as its high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which can help support healthy skin by reducing inflammation and improving hydration. Tahini is also a good source of vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals.
Tahini also contains minerals such as zinc and copper, which are important for skin health; zinc helps regulate oil production and may help reduce the occurrence of acne, while copper helps promote collagen production (said to improve skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles).
Of course individual results may vary, and other factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and hair care practices can also affect hair and skin health.
The final scoop: a round-up of tahini’s potential benefits women
May support hormone balance and improve female hormone levels: Sesame seeds, the main ingredient in tahini, contain lignans, which have been shown to have estrogenic properties and may help to support hormone balance in women.
Rich in calcium: Tahini is a great source of calcium, which is important for bone health, especially for women who are at a higher risk of osteoporosis.
Contains iron: Tahini is a good source of iron, which is important for women, as they are at a higher risk of iron deficiency.
Good source of healthy fats: Tahini is high in healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can help to reduce inflammation and support heart health.
Easy, delicious and healthy tahini recipes
Cooking with tahini is a great way to incorporate more sesame seeds into your diet. Here are two recipes we really recommend:
References and further reading:
The Journal of Nutrition: Sesame Ingestion Affects Sex Hormones, Antioxidant Status, and Blood Lipids in Postmenopausal Women