Is Sesame Oil Paleo?

sesame-oil-2.jpgSesame oil often gets a bad rap and is frequently lumped into the same category with other harmful vegetable and seed oils. There seems to be some confusion in the Paleosphere as to whether or not sesame oil should be used in the Paleo diet, with some people strictly warning against its use. Yet several recipes created by many of our favorite Paleo authors and chefs utilize toasted sesame oil in their dishes…so what gives? In this article I will explain how to choose the best sesame oil, and how it can be used to create healthy and flavorful meals. Sesame oil imparts a distinctive flavor to many Asian dishes that is difficult to replicate. It comes in both roasted and unroasted varieties, with the roasted type exuding a nutty and slightly sweet flavor that is unmatched by any other oil.

Nutritional Value of Sesame Oil

Serving size: 1 tsp (4g)

  • Calories: 40
  • Total Fat: 5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 1 g
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 1.8 g
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.9 g
  • Trans Fat: 0 g
  • Total Omega 6-fatty acids: 1859 mg
  • Total Omega 3-fatty acids: 13.5 mg
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Total carbohydrate: 0 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 0 g
  • Sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Vitamin A: 0 %
  • Vitamin C: 0 %
  • Calcium: 0 %
  • Iron: 0 %

Health Benefits of Sesame Oil

Sesame oil has been used in various cultures around the world for over 5,000 years. The oil contains approximately 40% monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), 46% polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and 14% saturated fatty acids (SFAs). PUFAs (including omega 6- and omega 3-fatty acids) are particularly susceptible to becoming rancid via oxidation, due to the large number of chemical double bonds that they contain. Rancid (oxidized) oils are a source of free-radicals, which contribute to the aging process and to several disease states. Despite its large proportion of fragile PUFAs, unrefined sesame oil is rich in unique antioxidants such as the lignans sesamin, sesamol, and sesamolin. These bioactive lignans have been found to benefit human health including liver detoxification, nerve protection, blood pressure control, and protection against oxidative stress. Sesame oil also contains an abundance of the antioxidant tocopherol, commonly known as Vitamin E. The potent antioxidants found in sesame oil help to protect the delicate PUFAs from oxidation by heat, air, and light, which in turn makes the oil less prone to becoming rancid. Because of its high antioxidant content, sesame oil is one of the most shelf-stable unrefined seed oils around!

How to Store Sesame Oil and Where to Buy Sesame Oil

Sesame oil should be purchased and used mindfully. Due to the abundance of PUFAs, it is prone to becoming rancid (via oxidation) when exposed to heat, air, or light. Thus sesame oil should be stored in a dark-colored container with a tight-fitting lid in a cool area (best in the refrigerator).

Sesame oil is made by extracting the oil from sesame seeds, which come from the annual herb Sesamum indicum, a warm-climate annual herb. The sesame seed contains between 40-60% oil which can be extracted by a number of different methods. Common extraction methods include expeller pressing, expeller pressing at low temperatures (cold pressing), and expeller pressing followed by solvent extraction. Cold pressed oils are the best, as they retain the flavor, aroma, and nutritional value of the sesame seed without the use of chemical solvents (i.e. hexane) or high heat. Make sure to check with the manufacturer of the product you are considering buying, to ensure that it has not been extracted with chemical solvents.

Sesame oil also comes in refined and unrefined varieties. Refined oils are treated to remove debris, which often involves bleaching, deodorizing, and the use of toxic chemicals. This increases the smoke point and stability of the oil, but removes many of the healthful nutrients. The resulting product is lighter in color and much less aromatic and flavorful than unrefined varieties. Unrefined oils contain an abundance of health-promoting components that produce a more pungent flavor and aroma (compared to refined oils), but are less suitable for cooking at high temperatures. In general, unrefined oils are more prone to oxidation, however the abundance of antioxidants found in unrefined sesame oil help to protect the delicate PUFAs from being oxidized. For these reasons, we suggest that you select a brand of sesame oil that is unrefined.

Sesame oil can be obtained from both roasted (seeds are toasted before oil extraction) and unroasted (raw seeds are used) sesame seeds. The toasted variety is darker brown in color and much more fragrant and flavorful than the untoasted variety, which is pale yellow in color and mild in flavor. When sesame seeds are roasted to make toasted sesame oil, antioxidants are formed that further help to resist rancidity and improve the flavor of the oil.

As you can see, there are several different varieties of sesame oil, not to mention all the different flavors and spices that are added to the various types. So which one do you choose? Because it is not recommended for cooking purposes, we suggest that you (ideally) choose an organic, unrefined, cold-pressed, toasted oil to use as a condiment for meals. A little bit of the toasted variety takes the flavor a long way, thus you will need to use less of the oil overall. We really like this brand!

Should I Eat Sesame Oil? Is Sesame Oil Paleo?

As previously mentioned, sesame oil often gets thrown into the same category as the other high omega-6 ‘vegetable’ oils (i.e. soy, cottonseed, corn, sunflower, safflower, etc.). While it’s true that sesame oil contains far more omega-6 than it does omega-3, any deleterious effects on health are mitigated by the low dose called for in most recipes. The abundance of natural antioxidants in unrefined sesame oil have a plethora of health benefits, and also help to protect the delicate PUFAs from becoming oxidized (rancid).

The general consensus in the Paleo community is that sesame oil should be used in moderation, on an occasional basis. To minimize oxidation of the oil, it is best left unheated and added to dishes after the food has already been cooked, or as a cold dressing for raw dishes and salads. Treat sesame oil more like a condiment than a cooking oil, and drizzle it sparingly over food just before serving to maximize the health- and culinary-enhancing qualities of this distinctly delicious oil!

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Kinsey Jackson

Kinsey Jackson, LMP, MS, CNS® is a clinical nutritionist specializing in functional and evolutionary nutrition. Her own experience of overcoming multiple autoimmune disorders by adopting a Paleo lifestyle vastly contributes to her passion for helping others to also reclaim their health and vitality by making informed dietary decisions.