Egusi (Melon seeds) and the Cholesterol Myth

I was inspired to write this post after a few comments I got following my previous post where I added ground Egusi to my smoothie. I had people ask me if Egusi was healthy because it had high cholesterol, a few people actually told me they had stopped eating Egusi because of its high cholesterol content.  At first, I found the notion quite strange because no where had I heard or read that a plant-based food was high in cholesterol. But then I thought cholesterol is needed in the production of bile which is needed for the digestion of fats, so if a seed contained both the fat and the means of digesting it, then surely it was a perfect seed.

This however led to me research further and I think before we answer the question of whether or not Egusi has high cholesterol it is important to lay the proper foundation by explaining what cholesterol is and what it is not.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like (it’s not fat) substance that is found in all the cells of the body, in fact we could not survive without cholesterol. They form a vital part of the cell membrane and are essential for the production of hormones (Estrogen, Testosterone, Progesterone, Cortisol and Aldosterone), Vitamin D, Bile and Brain synapses.

Cholesterol is so important that the body hasn’t left us to decide how much of it gets; the body produces all the cholesterol it needs using anything – carbohydrates, fats, or proteins. This is why eating a diet that is totally cholesterol free doesn’t guarantee you won’t have high blood cholesterol as we will see later.

What foods contain cholesterol?

Cholesterol found in food is often referred to as dietary cholesterol and will typically be found in animal based foods because all animal cells contain cholesterol. Foods such as beef, chicken, eggs, liver, milk, butter etc will have some cholesterol though some will have more than others.  That said dietary cholesterol has been shown to have less of an impact on blood cholesterol levels when compared to the effect saturated fat consumption has on blood cholesterol levels. The reason being the interesting relationship that exists between cholesterol and fat.

Bile which is essential for the digestion of fats is produced in the liver using cholesterol. Therefore if we eat a diet high in saturated fats, the body naturally will produce higher amounts of cholesterol and if for some reason the body is unable to turn this cholesterol into bile and/or other hormones this leads to high cholesterol being found in the blood. This is why those with high blood cholesterol are often advised to reduce their consumption of saturated fats.

What Cholesterol is not

Cholesterol is not fat, it is similar to fat in that it contains the same compounds hydrogen, carbon and oxygen but it is not fatty.

Saturated and Unsaturated Fatty Acid Chains

Cholesterol

Without being scientific I’m sure you can appreciate that the two are very different. Whilst fat consist of a simple long chain, cholesterol is more of a complex combination of hexagon and pentagon rings. A testament to the complex beauty that the human body is capable of producing.

Does Egusi have cholesterol?

Given that cholesterol is found mainly in animals, all plants are technically cholesterol free though they do contain the plant form of cholesterol known as phytosterols, the richest source of which is vegetable oils from seeds such as the Egusi seed. Hence in answer to the question, Egusi does not contain cholesterol but it does contain phytosterols which the body doesn’t assimilate very well, in fact the major part of assimilated phytosterols is directly eliminated via the liver and the biliary system so that, in the end in healthy individuals, less than 1% is retained¹.

Phytosterols have however been shown in many clinical trials to reduce LDL cholesterol, though it is unclear whether phytosterols have a positive effect on cardiovascular disease¹. One such research titled Fatty Acid Composition of Citrullus Lanatus (Egusi Melon) Oil and Its Effect on Serum Lipids and Some Serum Enzymes was carried out in a lab using rats divided into two groups, one group was fed a diet containing 5% cholesterol while the others were fed a diet with 5% cholesterol and 5% Egusi melon oil. At the end of the period, the rats fed with “Egusi melon oil with a rich content of polyunsaturated fatty acid was found to produce a significant reduction (p<0.05) in serum total, free and esterified cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations”².

Now you will notice that this post is about Egusi seed in its natural state and not Egusi soup.While eating Egusi will not increase blood cholesterol levels, I cannot say the same if the Egusi soup is doused with an overload of palm oil and fatty-meat is eaten with reckless abandon. (lol)

The purpose of this article is not to prescribe Egusi as a means of reducing blood cholesterol. The information is for educational use and simply aimed at doing away with the myth surrounding Egusi and cholesterol. If you do have health concerns relating to blood cholesterol this might be due to a number of factors which are beyond the scope of this post, please do consult your health care practitioner.

In my next post I will be sharing an Egusi soup recipe for your pleasure so watch this space. 🙂

I do hope you have found this post useful and that you will now be able to enjoy your Egusi soup in 2015 without fear of cholesterol.

References

Weingärtner O, Böhm M, Laufs U. Controversial role of plant sterol esters in the management of hypercholesterolaemia. European Heart Journal2009;30(4):404-409. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehn580.

O Oluba, O Adeyemi, G Ojieh, I Isiosio. Fatty Acid Composition Of Citrullus Lanatus (Egusi Melon) Oil And Its Effect On Serum Lipids And Some Serum Enzymes. The Internet Journal of Cardiovascular Research. 2007 Volume 5 Number 2.

					
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20 thoughts on “Egusi (Melon seeds) and the Cholesterol Myth

  1. I look forward to reading the Egusi soup recipe. I’ve never heard of Egusi before and love to try new things. Do you know how the oil compares to Extra Virgin Olive oil? I have very high cholesterol (hereditary type – my liver just over produces it, grrr!), so am always on the look out for foods that help, even if it’s just in small way…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tosin says:

    Got this post since 2014 via BBM, and only just read it today because I had my mom over, and being the Ijebu woman that she is, copious amount of egusi went down. Lol.

    Found the post rather informative. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lovinjiatis says:

    THANKS FOR THE POST, FIND IT VERY HELPFUL, JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT AND WHAT TO EAT AND NOT TO EAT WEN U HAVE HIGH CHOLESTEROL LEVEL WHEN IT COME TO FOOD.THANKS SOOOO MUCH

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are a number of factors that contribute to high cholesterol. It is however advocated that you reduce your consumption of saturated fats as this can lead to increased cholesterol production in the body. Do consult your dietician/nutritionist for tailored health advice. 😊

      Like

  4. Victor Agbe. says:

    Thanks for the well researched article. I had a Conversation with my elderly Uncle, and He said we should not be making Egunsi Soup for Him anymore because He was told they contain High amount of Cholesterol. I was taken by surprise by the proposition because, as you said in your article, I have always thought, Egunsi, being in plants form, would be safe for consumption. That has always been the generic formula for me. Thanks for posting something Informative about this, at the least, we have a better understanding of how things works.

    Like

  5. Eric says:

    Great information. However, if the seeds are high in omega 6 but not omega 3 that may pose a problem in many diets where there is already enough omega 6, since it’s usually a problem trying to obtain enough omega 3. The ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 should be 1 to 1 and a ratio of 1 to 4 is said to be dangerous. It seems that eating engusi seeds could easily push many people past this 1 to 4 ratio. What are your thoughts on this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t believe we can look at foods in isolation, all foods provide only a piece of the jigsaw which is why balance is key. Its hard to think of one’s diet in terms of ratios so I advocate balance. Egusi soup for one is often cooked with sea foods a major one being crayfish and mackerel which are a good source of Omega 3.

      Like

  6. REMI says:

    My wife prepared egussi vegetable soup with oil recomended for me, in my mouth i felt some stickiness of the egussi or what…this sticky issue…i was afraid and dropped it…thanks to your article, i shall give it second try today…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Opeyemi Komolafe says:

    Thanks for this enlightening article. I was wondering if you could throw more light on the steps/process of conversion of saturated fat into cholesterol. I am trying to do a talk on cholesterol in diet. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Opeyemi, thanks for stopping by. Saturated fat isn’t converted to cholesterol in the body. Some cholesterol is found in food of animal sources like meat or eggs but these have been shown to have little impact on blood cholesterol levels. The major cause of high blood cholesterol seems to be the one the body produces itself – overproduction. Hope that helps.

      Like

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