By Cathleen Crichton-Stuart
Reviewed by Katherine Marengo LDN, RD
Many people consider hemp seeds to be a superfood. The seeds have a rich nutritional profile and provide a range of health benefits.
Although hemp seeds come from the Cannabis sativa plant, they do not produce a mind-altering effect.
These small, brown seeds are rich in protein, fiber, and healthful fatty acids, including omega-3s and omega-6s. They have antioxidant effects and may reduce symptoms of numerous ailments, improving the health of the heart, skin, and joints.
In this article, we look at the various benefits of hemp seeds and provide tips for adding them to the diet.
Nutritional benefits of hemp seeds
These seeds are full of nutritious compounds, including:
Hemp seeds contain almost as much protein as soybeans. In every 30 grams (g) of seeds, or about a tablespoon, there are 9.46 g of protein.
These seeds are a complete source of protein, meaning that they provide all nine essential amino acids.
Amino acids are the building blocks for all proteins. The body cannot produce nine of these acids, so a person must absorb them through the diet.
Relatively few plant-based foods are complete sources of protein, making hemp seeds a valuable addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Hemp seeds are especially rich in an amino acid called arginine, which has benefits for heart health.
2. Unsaturated fats
The health benefits of polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, are becoming increasingly well known.
Hemp seeds are a great source of essential fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an omega-3.
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The body cannot produce essential fatty acids, and the body must absorb them from the diet. They are crucial for long-term health.
The ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s is also important.
In general, people tend to eat too many omega-6s and too few omega-3s, but adding hemp seeds to the diet may help to promote a balance.
According to results of a 2015 animal study, incorporating hemp seeds and hemp seed oil to hens’ diet led to eggs with increased levels of omega-3s in the yolks and a more healthful omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
Also, hemp seeds are low in saturated fats and contain no trans fats.
Much of the fiber in a hemp seed lies in its outer hull, or shell. If possible, purchase hemp seeds with the hulls intact.
However, even without the shells, hemp seeds are a god source pf fiber, with three tablespoons containing approximately 1.2 g of fiber.
Consuming enough fiber every day can:
- reduce the appetite
- help with weight management
- work to stabilize blood sugar levels
- promote the health of the gut
4. Minerals and vitamins
Hemp seeds contain an impressive array of vitamins and minerals and are especially rich in:
They are also a good source of iron, zinc, and B vitamins, including:
- vitamin B-6
Health benefits of hemp seeds
Alongside the nutritional benefits, some research suggests that hemp seeds have a wide range of positive health effects. They may:
5. Protect the brain
A study published in the journal Food Chemistry found that hemp seed extract has antioxidant effects in lab tests. These effects may result from the seeds’ cannabidiol (CBD) content.
Results of a review from 2018 suggest that CBD and other compounds in the seeds may have neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, effects and may also help to regulate the immune system.
The review suggests that, because of these potential properties, CBD may help with neurological conditions, including:
6. Boost heart health
Hemp seeds contain high levels of omega-3s and a healthful ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
The seeds also contain high levels of arginine, an amino acid that turns into nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide is essential for artery and vein dilation, and it helps keep blood vessel walls smooth and elastic.
7. Reduce inflammation
The amount of omega-3s in hemp seeds and the seeds’ healthful omega-3 to omega-6 ratio can together help to reduce inflammation.
In addition, hemp seeds are a rich source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a polyunsaturated fatty acid which may also have anti-inflammatory effects.
Some studies on animals suggest that GLA can act as a potent anti-inflammatory. However, recent studies in humans suggest that the acid is not always effective.
A review in The European Journal of Pharmacology states that humans process GLA in a very complicated way, which may explain why the studies in humans produce more varied results than those on animals.
When looking at these studies, it is important to note that researchers usually use high concentrations of hemp seed extracts and that eating the seeds may produce less dramatic effects.
Reducing inflammation may help manage the symptoms of chronic diseases, such as:
8. Improve skin conditions
Atopic dermatitis (AD) and acne can both result from chronic inflammation. The anti-inflammatory compounds in hemp seeds may help.
Among other possible dietary causes, acne may be linked to a deficiency in omega-3s. The high omega-3 content in hemp seeds may help to manage and reduce acne symptoms.
A 2018 review explored the effects of dietary changes on skin diseases. While the authors found evidence that eating more omega-3s may improve symptoms of acne, determining the extent of the effects will require more research.
The authors also note that prebiotics and plant fibers may help to manage symptoms of AD. Hemp seeds are a rich source of plant fiber.
9. Relieve rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition. It causes the immune system to attack its own tissues, which leads to inflammation in the joints.
In 2014, research conducted in human cells suggested that hemp seed oil could have anti-rheumatic effects.
However, a 2018 review found a lack of conclusive evidence to suggest that cannabinoids could effectively treat rheumatic diseases. The authors noted that more research is needed.
Nutritional profile of hemp seeds
Hemp seeds contain plenty of protein, healthful fatty acids, and fiber.
|Total fatty acids||14.62 g|
|Monounsaturated fatty acids||1.62 g|
|Polyunsaturated fat||11.43 g|
|Saturated fatty acids||1.38 g|
Hemp seeds are also a healthful source of vitamin E and minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
How to add hemp seeds to the diet
When considering the results of studies, it is important to note that researchers often use hemp seed extract, rather than whole hemp seeds.
People can purchase shelled, ground, or split seeds. To remove the seeds’ hard outer shells at home, a person can use a mortar and pestle or a food processor.
Whole seeds act as a bulking agent, and they also add fiber to the diet, which can aid digestion.
Try incorporating hemp seeds into the diet by:
- sprinkling whole or ground seeds on cereal or yogurt
- adding the seeds to smoothies
- baking with hemp seeds and others rich in omega-3s
- making hemp milk at home using whole seeds
- sprinkling hemp seeds, along with other seeds or nuts, on a salad
People can find hemp seeds in some supermarkets, health food stores, and online.
Although hemp seeds come from the cannabis plant, they ideally contain no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the active ingredient in cannabis.
Hemp seeds will not produce a mind-altering effect.
However, athletes and others who undergo drug testing should be aware that consuming hemp products can, in some cases, lead to failed urine tests. The level of THC in any hemp-based product depends on the suppliers and the manufacturing process.
In Canada, the production of hemp seeds is tightly regulated to prevent cross contamination of THC from the cannabis plant.
A legal principle in the U.S. prohibits people from growing hemp seeds with THC concentrations higher than 0.3 percent. The U.S. government also strictly regulates the importation of hemp seeds and hemp-based products.
Hemp seeds have a rich nutrition profile. They contain high levels of antioxidants, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins.
The shells add fiber to the diet, and grinding the seeds helps the body to absorb more of the other nutrients.
Some research has suggested links between hemp seeds and health benefits, but these studies tend to use extracts with high concentrations.
While there are potential health benefits to consuming hemp seeds, avoid eating excessive amounts. There is evidence that some seeds contain levels of THC that exceed the legal limit.
The most healthful choice is to eat a varied diet that contains a wide range of nutrients.