Hemp seeds come from a controversial cannabis plant. Instead of getting you high, they deliver a blast of essential nutrients and some crucial benefits for your heart, brain, and skin. Whether you want to prevent disease or boost your nutrition, hemp seeds have got you covered. Read on to learn how to get the most out of them and prevent unpleasant side effects.
What Are Hemp Seeds?
Hemp seeds are the seeds of a cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). Unlike marijuana, hemp is a cannabis strain low in psychoactive THC, and people mostly grow it for industrial and nutritional purposes [R].
- Hemp seeds are packed with essential nutrients
- CBD from hemp delivers a wide range of health benefits
- Hemp fiber is perfect for making ropes, clothes, and paper
- It can replace plastics and even build solid constructions
- Hemp is a potential source of biofuel
Did you know? Mentions of hemp date back to the beginning for history, and it’s probably among the first crops we started cultivating. Various factors caused unfair scrutinization and prohibition of this plant, but we’re witnessing its comeback.
Each potential use of hemp deserves a separate article (a book, actually); this one will be about hemp seeds nutrition, health benefits, and precautions.
Hemp seeds deliver an array of essential nutrients and have a mild nutty flavor that blends well in smoothies and spreads. People have mixed feelings about hemp seeds due to hemp scrutinization, but the number of avid consumers is on the rise.
Get ready to meet one of the most nutritious foods on our planet!
Snapshot of Hemp Seeds
- Loaded with protein, healthy fats, and minerals
- Optimal omega-6/omega-3 ratio
- High protein quality with all essential amino acids
- Protect the heart and the brain
- May help with diabetes and constipation
- Soften the skin and relieve eczema
- Not well studied in humans
- Shelled seeds/hemp hearts are low in fiber
- May be contaminated with psychoactive THC
Hemp Seeds Nutrition
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, and minerals. One serving packs an array of essential nutrients in their optimal ratio, along with modest 166 kcal (Table 1).
|Nutrient||Unit||Per 100 g||Per serving (30 g)|
|Fatty acids, polyunsaturated||g||38.1||11.43|
|18:2 n-6 (linoleic acid)||g||27.36||8.2|
|18:3 n-3 (alpha-linolenic acid)||g||8.684||2.605|
|18:3 n-6 (gamma-linolenic acid)||g||1.34||0.4|
- Combat inflammation
- Protect the heart and blood vessels
- Enable brain development
- Improve skin health and complexion
Hemp seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, which is an essential omega-3 fatty acid. One serving delivers 160% (men) and 230% (women) of the daily value [R].
The second essential fatty acid is linoleic acid (omega-6), and hemp seeds will supply you with 68% (w) or 48% (m) of the daily value per serving.
The omega-6/omega-3 ratio of hemp fatty acids is 2-3/1, which most experts consider optimal for keeping inflammation in check. Western diets have a ratio of 15-17/1 and crave good omega-3 sources such as hemp seeds [R, R, R].
But healthy fats are just one part of their superb nutritional profile…
With 32% protein, hemp seeds are among the best protein sources you can get.
You will often hear claims about the poor quality of plant protein, but that’s not the case with hemp seeds. Protein quality score considers the content of essential amino acids and protein digestibility. With a value of 83.5-92, hemp seeds beat even some types of meat [R].
Find more details about unique compounds of hemp protein in “Health Benefits” below.
Vitamins and Minerals
Having a hard time achieving the optimal intake of different minerals and vitamins?
- Magnesium: 53% (m), 68% (w) DV
- Iron: 30% (m), 13 % (w) DV
- Zinc: 27% (m), 37% (w) DV
- Phosphorus: 70% DV
- Copper: 53% DV
- Manganese: 100% (m), 128% (w) DV
- Thiamin (vitamin B1): 33% DV
*m=men; w=women; DV=daily value for adults
Hemp Seeds vs. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are another amazing source of healthy fats and other nutrients. Hemp seeds are more nutritious in general, but chia seeds have the following advantages (Table 2):
- Fewer calories
- Much more fiber
- More vitamin A
- Much more calcium
- More omega-3 fatty acids
Hemp seeds are higher in all other nutrients, especially protein, unsaturated fats, and minerals.
|Nutrients per 100 g||Unit||Hemp Seeds||Chia Seeds|
|Fatty acids, polyunsaturated||g||38.1||23.67|
|18:3 n-3 (alpha-linolenic acid)||g||8.684||17.83|
But you don’t have to choose between hemp and chia seeds, right? Combine these two for optimal nutrition and a range of health benefits.
Hemp Seeds Health Benefits
How It Works
1) Prevent Heart Disease
- Reduce cholesterol and blood lipids
- Enhance heart function and protect blood vessels
- Decrease blood pressure
- Prevent blood clotting
Cholesterol and Blood Lipids
Omega-3 fatty acids help to keep blood lipids in check, but the specific effects of hemp seeds and their oil are not well studied in humans.
In 14 healthy volunteers, hemp seed oil (30 ml daily for 4 weeks) had only minor effects on blood lipids and cholesterol [R].
Hemp seed extract prevents LDL oxidation, a major cause of plaque buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis) [R].
Daily consumption of hemp seeds will supply you with nutrients that prevent heart disease. Evidence for their therapeutic effects in humans remains limited.
2) Protect the Brain and Nerves
Dietary fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, are essential for mental health and brain development. Thanks to their high omega-3 content and other anti-inflammatory components, hemp seeds may protect the brain and nerves.
A study on mice confirmed that hemp seed oil can combat autoimmune nerve impairment in diseases such as MS [R].
- Cut the inflammatory molecules in the brain (IL-1B, IL-6, TNF-alpha)
- Protected the nerves in the hippocampus
- Prevented memory loss
Grossamide, a polyphenol from hemp seeds, blocked LPS-induced nerve inflammation in test tubes [R].
In Alzheimer’s disease, mutated proteins called amyloid plaques kill the neurons and drop the levels of acetylcholine, causing cognitive impairment. In a study on flies, hemp seed extract inhibited the toxic effects of these plaques [R, R].
Polyphenols from hemp seeds provided antioxidant support and increased the levels of acetylcholine in a cell study [R].
3) Relieve Constipation
Hemp seeds stimulated the colon and relieved constipation in rats [R].
Note: The majority of fiber, which supports bowel movements, is in the outer shell of hemp seeds. Whole seeds would thus have a stronger impact on constipation, but their consumption comes with certain risks (see “Hemp Seeds FAQ” for more details).
4) Help With Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
According to a large observational trial (1.2K patients), high intake of arginine from plant sources can lower the risk of metabolic syndrome by 42%. With 4.6 g of arginine per 100 g, hemp seeds are among the best plant sources of this amino acid [R, R].
5) Postmenopausal Syndrome
Hemp Seed Oil Benefits for the Skin
- Skin cancer
Although people tend to focus on omega-3s, one omega-6 fatty acid from hemp seeds has powerful skin benefits: gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
6) Eczema and Dry Skin
Propionibacterium acnes is, you guessed it, a leading cause of acne. Hemp seed extract inhibits the growth and blocks inflammation caused by this germ [R].
Limitations and Caveats
Despite the fantastic nutritional profile of hemp seeds and their potential health benefits, we lack solid clinical data to shed more light on this peculiar food.
Most trials have examined hemp seed oil, isolated nutrients, and active components but not the seeds themselves. Researchers emphasize the need to better understand the metabolism of hemp seeds and their nutrients [R].
Now let’s see if there’s something about hemp seeds that should concern you.
Hemp Seeds Side Effects
Hemp seeds are natural plant food, and there’s no reason to avoid them unless you’re allergic to hemp (Cannabis sativa).
There’s public concern about psychoactive THC in hemp seeds, and it may be more than just “anti-cannabis propaganda.”
As a matter of fact, doctors reported a case of one child with mildly altered behavior due to 3-week hemp seed oil consumption [R].
To learn more about this issue and how to overcome it, read “Hemp Seeds FAQ” below.
How to Eat Hemp Seeds
In terms of quantity, you can start with 1 tablespoon daily and increase to a standard serving for seeds: 28-30g or 3 tbsp. Hemp seed oil showed beneficial effects in doses of 20-30 ml daily.
If you’re aiming to boost your nutrition, stick with the seeds because they contain healthy fats + loads of other essential nutrients.
Hemp seeds have a rich nutty flavor, and they blend well in salads, smoothies, spreads, oatmeal, etc. They’re also a good option for people with nut allergies. Delicious hemp seeds recipes are easy to come across—go find your favorites.
Besides the oil, other products made from hemp seeds include:
- Hemp butter: blended hemp seeds +/- added oil
- Hemp flour: a byproduct of oil extraction (no oil)
- Hemp protein: hemp flour with a higher protein content
- Hemp milk: blended hemp seeds with water +/- other ingredients
Hemp Seeds FAQ
What Is in Hemp Hearts?
Hemp hearts are seeds without the shell, also known as hulled/shelled hemp seeds or hemp kernels. They are more common, tastier, and easier to digest than the whole seeds.
On the other hand, whole seeds contain much more fiber and may help relieve constipation. The shell is quite hard so you may want to go for ground seeds or pills. Also, you can sprout the whole seeds only.
Do Hemp Seeds Contain THC? Can They Get you High?
First of all, hemp is an ‘industrial’ strain of Cannabis sativa with negligible THC content. The seeds themselves contain only trace amounts of cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, even in marijuana strains.
However, THC from the plant may end up on the outer surface of the seeds during the harvest or storage. In most countries, the official limit for THC content in hemp seeds is 10 mcg/1g (10 ppm), but some products may have up to 12 times more THC [R].
But how’s that if hemp doesn’t contain THC? Well, due to weak regulations, some producers actually cultivate THC-rich strains instead of industrial hemp [R].
Still, it’s highly unlikely that eating the seeds will get you high.
To be 100% sure your product has no THC:
- Buy from trusted brands that test their products for THC content
- Choose hemp hearts (shelled hemp seeds) instead of the whole seeds
- If you consume whole seeds, make sure to wash them thoroughly first
Hemp Seeds and Drug Tests
If hemp seeds are contaminated with THC, can they cause you to fail a routine drug test? Well, they might just do so!
If you follow the above steps, you won’t have issues with THC contamination and drug test results. To stay on the safe side, however, you may want to skip hemp seeds a few days before the scheduled testing.
Buy Hemp Seeds
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Hemp seeds are made from industrial cannabis (Cannabis sativa), also known as hemp. They are loaded with essential amino acids, proteins, healthy fats, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, and more. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in hemp seeds have an ideal omega-6/omega-3 ratio.
Overall, this superfood can combat inflammation, protect your heart and blood vessels, support brain development, and soften and soothe your skin. But despite their promising health effects, clinical research on hemp seeds remains limited.
You can use hemp seeds in salads, smoothies, spreads, oatmeal, and other delicious recipes. Butter, oil, milk, flour, and protein powder from hemp seeds are also available.
To avoid contamination with psychoactive THC, make sure to buy from verified suppliers who test their products. If you consume whole seeds (with the shell), wash them thoroughly first.