Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Sesame Oil Bad For You?



Short answer

Sesame oil, high in unsaturated fats and antioxidants, offers heart and skin health benefits and may combat chronic diseases. However, it's calorie-dense and should be consumed in moderation. It's also a potential allergen. While beneficial, it contains omega-6 fatty acids which must be balanced with omega-3s to prevent inflammation. Refined sesame oil is more stable for high-heat cooking than unrefined, but the latter retains more nutrients. Overall, sesame oil can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, considering type, use, and individual allergenic potential.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content and Health Benefits of Sesame Oil

Sesame oil, derived from sesame seeds, is a plant-based oil that has been used in various culinary and medicinal applications for centuries. Its nutritional content is distinctive and offers several health benefits. To fully understand the impact of sesame oil on health, let's break down its nutritional profile and explore the specific benefits associated with its components.

The primary nutritional components of sesame oil include:

  • Healthy Fats: Sesame oil is rich in unsaturated fats, particularly linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) and oleic acid (omega-9 fatty acid), which are considered heart-healthy fats.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Though not a significant source of vitamins and minerals, sesame oil does contain some Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and trace amounts of minerals such as zinc, calcium, and magnesium.
  • Antioxidants: Sesame oil is notable for its antioxidants, such as sesamol, sesamin, and sesamolin, which can help combat oxidative stress in the body.

The health benefits of sesame oil are directly linked to its nutritional content:

  • Heart Health: The unsaturated fats in sesame oil can help manage cholesterol levels, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease. Studies show that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated ones like those found in sesame oil can benefit cardiovascular health.
  • Skin Health: The Vitamin E content in sesame oil acts as an antioxidant that may help protect skin cells from damage caused by environmental factors such as UV rays and pollution.
  • Anti-inflammatory Properties: The substantial amount of omega-6 fatty acids in sesame oil could have anti-inflammatory effects. However, it is essential to maintain a balanced ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fats in the diet to avoid exacerbating inflammation.
  • Antioxidant Effects: The antioxidants in sesame oil, such as sesamol, have been studied for their potential to help protect against chronic diseases by reducing oxidative stress within the body.
  • Bone Health: While sesame oil itself isn't a rich source of calcium, the seeds it's made from are. Regular consumption of sesame oil as part of a diet that includes other sources of calcium could support bone health in conjunction with other nutrients.

Moreover, some research suggests that the lignans in sesame oil, such as sesamin, may benefit blood pressure regulation and have anti-cancer properties, though further research is needed to fully establish these effects.

It's worth noting that while sesame oil offers these health benefits, it is also high in calories, like all oils, providing about 120 calories per tablespoon. Thus, it should be consumed in moderation within the context of a balanced diet to avoid excessive calorie intake.

When incorporating sesame oil into your diet, consider both the type and quantity of oil used. Cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oils tend to preserve more of the natural nutrients and antioxidants compared to oils extracted using chemical solvents or high heat refining processes.

In summary, the nutritional content of sesame oil contributes to various health benefits, making it a potentially valuable addition to a balanced and health-conscious diet.

Potential Allergic Reactions to Sesame Oil

Sesame oil, derived from sesame seeds, has a variety of culinary and medicinal uses. However, it's important to consider the allergenic potential of sesame oil. Allergic reactions to sesame seeds and their oil can range from mild to severe, including the risk of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition requiring immediate medical attention.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), sesame allergies are increasing worldwide. It's now among the top nine most common food allergens in the United States, which prompted the inclusion of sesame labeling in the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021. Individuals with known sesame allergies should diligently avoid sesame oil and products containing it.

Bear in mind the following points:

  • Sensitization: Individuals can become sensitized to sesame at any age. It's crucial to be cautious when introducing sesame oil into your diet if you have a history of food allergies.
  • Hidden sources: Sesame oil can be found in many products, such as processed foods, cosmetics, and medications. In some cases, it might not be clearly labeled, so individuals with allergies need to be vigilant about reading ingredient labels and inquiring about food preparation practices.
  • Cross-reactivity: There is a phenomenon known as cross-reactivity, where people allergic to one type of seed or nut might also react to sesame. Allergy tests, conducted by healthcare professionals, can help determine if such cross-reactivity exists.
  • Refined vs. Unrefined: The level of processing can affect the allergenicity of sesame oil. Highly refined sesame oil may have lower levels of allergenic proteins, potentially causing less severe reactions compared to less processed or unrefined oils. However, caution is still advised for those with sesame allergies.

Reactions to sesame oil are not solely limited to ingestion. Topical application of products containing sesame oil can also provoke allergic responses in sensitized individuals, ranging from contact dermatitis to systemic reactions. This underscores the significance of allergen awareness beyond dietary exposure.

Recent studies suggest that the prevalence of sesame oil allergy appears to be underestimated, possibly due to under-reporting or misdiagnosis. A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology pointed out that sesame allergies may affect around 0.2% of the US population, emphasizing the need for awareness and accurate diagnosis.

Being aware of the symptoms of an allergic reaction to sesame oil is essential. They can include:

  • Itching or tingling in and around the mouth
  • Flushing, hives, or a rash
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the face, throat, or other parts of the body
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting

If you suspect a sesame oil allergy, it is imperative to seek guidance from an allergist for testing and personalized advice. For individuals with diagnosed sesame oil allergy, carrying an epinephrine auto-injector and understanding its appropriate use is fundamental for managing accidental exposures and preventing severe allergic reactions.

The Oxidative Stability of Sesame Oil When Cooking

When discussing the healthfulness of cooking oils, one critical aspect to examine is oxidative stability. This term refers to an oil's resistance to reacting with oxygen, which can lead to rancidity and the formation of harmful compounds. Oxidative stability is particularly significant when oils are subjected to high temperatures, as during cooking or frying.

Sesame oil, pressed from the seeds of Sesamum indicum, brings a nutty flavour to many dishes and contains a healthy variety of nutrients and compounds such as sesamin, sesamol, and sesamolin, which are all known to contribute to its stability and beneficial properties. When considering the use of sesame oil for cooking, its oxidative stability is of concern due to the potential formation of unhealthy oxidation products that can result from oil breakdown at high temperatures.

The oxidative stability of oils is typically determined by factors such as:

  • Fatty Acid Composition: Oils rich in polyunsaturated fats tend to oxidize more rapidly than those high in monounsaturated or saturated fats.
  • Antioxidant Content: Natural or added antioxidants can help to stabilize oils by preventing the oxidative chain reaction.
  • Processing: Refined oils often have higher oxidative stability than unrefined (virgin) oils due to the removal of compounds that can promote oxidation.

Sesame oil has a balanced fatty acid profile with a good mix of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fats. Unlike many oils with high polyunsaturated fat content, sesame oil boasts a significant amount of lignans such as sesamolin and sesamol. These lignans are notable for their antioxidant properties, which help protect the oil from the oxidative stress associated with high-heat cooking.

Studies such as the one published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have shown that the unique antioxidant makeup of sesame oil can grant it greater stability compared to other cooking oils when exposed to heat. The research indicates that its antioxidants may raise its smoke point—an approximation of the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke and degrade—and protect against the formation of oxidative byproducts.

Moreover, the refining process of sesame oil further improves its stability. Refined sesame oil, commonly used for high-heat cooking, has fewer impurities that may catalyze oxidation, thus enhancing its resistance to rancidity and extending shelf life. Conversely, cold-pressed sesame oils, while preferred for their superior flavor and nutrient content, may not fare as well under high temperatures due to a higher concentration of compounds susceptible to heat-induced degradation.

In light of these factors, consumers should consider the type of sesame oil they are using for various cooking methods:

Type of Sesame Oil Recommended Use Oxidative Stability
Unrefined/Cold-Pressed Low-heat cooking, salads, and finishing Lower
Refined High-heat cooking, stir-frying, and deep-frying Higher

It's important to remember that cooking methods also affect oxidative stability. For example, stir-frying, which involves moving food rapidly over high heat for a short period, may be more forgiving than deep-frying, where the oil is subjected to high temperatures for longer durations. Consequently, the wise selection of oil, based on both type and anticipated cooking method, is key to optimizing health benefits and minimizing potential harm.

Sesame Oil's Role in Inflammatory Processes

Inflammation is the body's natural response to protect itself against harm and can be categorized into two types: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the initial response to injury or infection, while chronic inflammation can lead to various diseases and is a concern for long-term health. The role of dietary choices in inflammation is a subject of extensive research, with particular interest in the effects of oils and fats.

Sesame oil, extracted from sesame seeds, is composed of a variety of beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants, and other compounds that may influence inflammation. Let's dissect the components in sesame oil that have been shown to play a role in inflammatory processes:

  • Unsaturated Fats: Sesame oil is high in unsaturated fats, particularly linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) and oleic acid (an omega-9 fatty acid). While omega-6 fatty acids are essential, an imbalance in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids can contribute to inflammation. However, the presence of oleic acid and the antioxidant properties of sesame oil can help mitigate this inflammatory response.
  • Antioxidants: Sesame oil contains significant levels of antioxidants such as sesamin, sesamolin, and sesamol. These compounds have drawn attention due to their anti-inflammatory and protective effects. Research suggests that sesamin, in particular, may suppress the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, thus potentially reducing inflammation.
  • Vitamin E: Known for its antioxidant properties, vitamin E in sesame oil also helps fight inflammation in the body. The tocopherols present in the oil can help neutralize free radicals, which are known to contribute to inflammatory processes if not properly managed.
  • Phytosterols: Sesame oil is a good source of phytosterols, plant-based compounds structurally similar to cholesterol that have been found to possess anti-inflammatory properties. Their role in reducing inflammation may benefit those with conditions such as arthritis or other inflammatory-related diseases.

A study by the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2006 observed the effects of sesame oil in individual with knee osteoarthritis, noting improvements in both the pain and the inflammatory markers when sesame oil was applied topically; suggesting potential anti-inflammatory benefits outside of dietary intake. Though the study focuses on topical use, it indicates the oil's inherent anti-inflammatory properties.

Another study, published in the Scientific World Journal in 2014, indicates that the use of sesame oil in the diet could exert an anti-inflammatory effect and was associated with a decrease in inflammatory markers in patients with hypertension.

It's important to note, however, that no single food item can act as a magic bullet in controlling inflammation. Inflammatory processes in the body are complex and can be influenced by a myriad of dietary and lifestyle factors. Balance and moderation, along with a diet rich in a variety of nutrients, are key in managing inflammation through diet.

When considering the inclusion of sesame oil in your diet, it's also essential to look at your overall consumption of various types of fats and oils, as well as your specific health needs and conditions which may be influenced by your dietary fat intake.

Balancing Omega-6 Fatty Acids in Sesame Oil

When considering the health impacts of sesame oil, a critical aspect to examine is its fatty acid composition, particularly its omega-6 fatty acid content. Omega-6 fatty acids, while essential for the human body, must be consumed in balance with omega-3 fatty acids to maintain optimal health. This section will delve into the omega-6 content in sesame oil and its implications for health.

Sesame oil is predominantly composed of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), with a significant amount being linoleic acid—an omega-6 fatty acid. The body cannot synthesize omega-6 fatty acids; therefore, they must be ingested through the diet. The standard Western diet, however, tends to be disproportionately high in omega-6 and low in omega-3, which can lead to an imbalance that has been associated with various health issues, such as inflammation and an increased risk of chronic diseases.

Research indicates that the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should range from 1:1 to 4:1 for maintaining heart health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Unfortunately, the ratio in a typical Western diet can be significantly higher, sometimes as much as 15:1 to 17:1, which tilts towards pro-inflammatory processes.

When incorporating sesame oil into your diet, it's important to consider the following:

  • Quantify: Be mindful of the quantity of sesame oil consumed, as well as omega-6-rich foods in your overall diet, to avoid exacerbating an omega-6 to omega-3 imbalance.
  • Balance: Include more omega-3-rich foods like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, or consider a high-quality omega-3 supplement.
  • Quality: Choose high-quality, cold-pressed sesame oil, which preserves the nutritional profile of the oil and may provide a healthier balance of fatty acids compared to oils processed at high temperatures.
  • Diversity: Rotate sesame oil with other oils that have a more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, such as flaxseed oil or walnut oil.
  • Cooking: Since heating can affect fatty acid stability, use sesame oil in low or no-heat dishes to maintain its nutritional integrity.

An intriguing study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food has highlighted the potential antioxidative properties of sesame oil, which might counteract the negative effects of high omega-6 consumption to some extent. However, relying solely on sesame oil's antioxidant capabilities without addressing the balance of omega fatty acids is not advisable.

Certain health experts suggest that while sesame oil contains beneficial compounds like sesamin, sesamol, and sesamolin, it should complement an already balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Such balance is not only essential for physical well-being but also mental health, as the omega-6/omega-3 ratio can influence mood and behavior.

As a practical tip, individuals can track their omega fatty acid intake through food diaries or nutritional apps to gain a better understanding of their consumption patterns and adjust their diets accordingly.

In summary, while sesame oil has various healthful properties, mindful consumption is key to ensuring that its omega-6 content does not disrupt the delicate balance of fatty acids necessary for maintaining good health.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, cooking with sesame oil can contribute to an unbalanced omega-6/omega-3 ratio if not used in moderation and balanced with omega-3 rich foods. Sesame oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which, when consumed in excess relative to omega-3s, may promote inflammation. To maintain a healthy balance, include omega-3 rich foods in your diet, such as fatty fish or flaxseeds, and use a variety of oils with different fatty acid compositions.

Sesame oil can be included in a weight management diet when used in moderation due to its high calorie content, with approximately 120 calories per tablespoon. It's important to measure serving sizes and account for the oil's caloric contribution within your daily caloric intake to avoid weight gain. Opting for sesame oil may also provide the benefit of healthier unsaturated fats compared to some other oils high in saturated fats.

Sesame oil and olive oil both have health benefits due to their unsaturated fat content and antioxidants. While olive oil is higher in monounsaturated fats and has been widely studied for its heart-health benefits, sesame oil contains unique antioxidants, such as sesamol and sesamin, which contribute to its healthful properties. Both oils can be included in a healthy diet, but it's beneficial to use them for their different flavor profiles and cooking properties.

Yes, sesame oil can be suitable for individuals with high cholesterol levels as it's rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats, like oleic and linoleic acids. These fats can help manage cholesterol levels when they replace saturated and trans fats in the diet. However, it should be used in moderation and as part of a diet that includes a variety of heart-healthy foods.

Ask a question about Sesame Oil and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of inflammation
  • possible imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids
  • allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis

Ingredients to be aware of

  • high calorie content
  • potential allergens


  • supports heart health
  • promotes skin health
  • has anti-inflammatory properties
  • provides antioxidant effects
  • supports bone health
  • may lower blood pressure
  • potential anti-cancer properties

Healthier alternatives

  • omega-3 rich oils (flaxseed oil, walnut oil)
  • high-quality, cold-pressed oils

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Kevala Organic Sesame Oil

  • Rich in antioxidants
  • Aromatic toasted flavor
  • Certified organic
  • Non-GMO
  • Versatile culinary use
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-20-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-20-2024

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