Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Tahini Bad For You?

Also Known As: Sesame seed paste



Short answer

Tahini is nutritious, offering healthy fats, protein, and minerals, but its high calorie count and phytic acid content could compromise health benefits if overconsumed. It's also an allergen for some and may harbor aflatoxins if improperly stored. Consume in moderation and source carefully to enjoy its benefits safely.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

Tahini, a paste made from ground sesame seeds, is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine and has gained popularity worldwide as an ingredient in hummus, dressings, and dips. But is this creamy condiment a friend or foe to your health? Let's dig into the hidden aspects of tahini that could impact your well-being.

The Nutritional Profile of Tahini

Tahini is undeniably nutritious. It's rich in healthy fats, particularly unsaturated fats, which can support heart health. It also boasts a decent amount of protein and fiber, though not as high as other seeds or nuts. Plus, it's a good source of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, iron, and calcium. But these benefits can be like a double-edged sword.

Caloric Density: A Hidden Trap?

One major concern with tahini is its high calorie content. Given its smooth, buttery texture, it's easy to consume a large amount without realizing it, potentially leading to unintentional weight gain. Just two tablespoons contain around 178 calories, mainly from fats. While these are "good" fats, they still pack a calorie punch. Overindulgence in tahini could be detrimental to those watching their caloric intake.

Phytic Acid: A Nutrient Blocker?

Tahini contains phytic acid, a natural substance found in plant seeds. Phytic acid can bind to minerals in the gastrointestinal tract and reduce their absorption. This means that the iron and calcium in tahini might not be fully available to your body. For individuals with a well-rounded diet, this is likely a non-issue. However, for those with mineral deficiencies or on a plant-based diet, this could be a point of concern.

Allergies and Intolerances: A Reason for Caution

Sesame seeds, the core ingredient of tahini, are a common allergen, recently recognized as the ninth major food allergen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. An allergic reaction can range from mild to potentially life-threatening. Furthermore, those with certain gut disorders may find that the high-fat content of tahini exacerbates symptoms.

Aflatoxins: An Underestimated Threat?

One lesser-known danger of sesame seeds, and consequently tahini, is the risk of aflatoxin contamination. Aflatoxins are a group of toxins produced by certain molds that can grow on sesame seeds, especially when they are improperly stored. Exposure to aflatoxins is associated with an increased risk of liver cancer and other serious health issues. While modern processing and regulation usually keep aflatoxin levels in check, it's still a lurking danger that consumers should be aware of.

Health and Hormones: Esoteric Effects?

Sesame seeds contain phytoestrogens, plant compounds that mimic the hormone estrogen in the body. There's ongoing debate among experts about whether these compounds have a beneficial or detrimental effect on human health. Some studies suggest that phytoestrogens may help reduce symptoms of menopause or lower the risk of certain cancers, while others raise concerns about potential interference with hormonal balance.

Despite these concerns, tahini remains a healthful food when consumed in moderation. Attention to serving size and frequency can mitigate its caloric impact. Those with allergies or sensitivities, however, should proceed with caution or avoid tahini altogether. Balance and moderation, as with many foods, are key to harnessing tahini's benefits while minimizing potential risks.

In conclusion, tahini, like any other food, is not inherently bad for you. It offers a plethora of nutrients essential for the body's functions. However, mindful consumption is paramount. Ignoring potential risks could edge you away from the benefits and closer to the pitfalls. Beware of overconsumption, be vigilant about allergens, and always source your tahini from reputable suppliers to reduce the risk of aflatoxin contamination.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, you can reduce the phytic acid content in tahini by opting for products made from hulled and roasted sesame seeds, as these processes can decrease phytic acid levels. Some individuals also prefer to make tahini at home, where activating the seeds through soaking, sprouting, or fermenting before grinding can lower phytic acid and enhance mineral absorption.

To enjoy tahini without overconsuming calories, measure out your portions, start with a small amount, and use it as a condiment rather than a base ingredient. For example, drizzle a tablespoon over salads or integrate it into sauces and dressings where its rich flavor will be distributed throughout the dish. Also, consider pairing tahini with vegetables as a dip to add nutritional value while keeping calorie count in check.

The phytoestrogens found in tahini may impact men's health, but current research is inconclusive. Some studies suggest that moderate consumption of phytoestrogen-rich foods might offer protective benefits against prostate cancer, while excessive intake could potentially affect hormonal balance. As research evolves, men should consume tahini in moderation while awaiting clearer guidelines.

Individuals with sesame allergies can use alternative spreads like sunflower seed butter or pumpkin seed butter, which offer similar creamy textures and nutritional profiles. They are less likely to provoke allergies and can be used in similar ways to tahini in recipes. Always check labels to ensure there's no cross-contamination if you have a severe allergy.

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

Possible short-term side effects

  • unintentional weight gain
  • possible allergic reaction
  • gastrointestinal discomfort for sensitive individuals

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of liver cancer from aflatoxins
  • potential mineral absorption interference
  • possible hormonal imbalance

Commonly found in

Ingredients to be aware of

  • high caloric density
  • phytic acid
  • aflatoxins
  • phytoestrogens


  • supports heart health
  • source of protein and fiber
  • provides essential vitamins and minerals

Healthier alternatives

  • nut butters with lower calorie content
  • seed butters with lower phytic acid levels

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Kevala Organic Tahini

  • USDA Organic Certified
  • High in nutrients
  • Non-GMO
  • Gluten-free
  • Rich in flavor
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 11-25-2023
Last updated: 12-15-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 11-25-2023
Last updated: 12-15-2023

Random Page

Check These Out!