You’re probably familiar with seeds like flax and chia as incredibly healthy foods, but hemp seeds are more of a new kid on the block. It’s actually impressive how many benefits of hemp seeds have already been documented, since they haven’t been the subject of as many studies.
A long-time ban on hemp products in the U.S. is one of the reasons these seeds have only recently gained widespread attention.
However, they have a lot to offer as a highly nutritious and easy-to-eat superfood. And with the ban now lifted, you can buy and enjoy hemp seeds with ease.
What Are Hemp Seeds?
Hemps seeds need a bit of an introduction. Due to the ban on all hemp products in 1937, many people are still confused about whether hemp is the same thing as marijuana.
The source of hemp seeds is the Cannabis sativa plant. With origins in Central Asia, hemp plants were likely first cultivated in China. Sources put the earliest cultivation at around 2800 BCE, which is quite a long time ago!
From China, hemp cultivation slowly spread to Mediterranean Europe, through the rest of Europe, and eventually to South and North America. It was mainly grown for fiber, but the seeds were also eaten and pressed to make oil.
Even though it disappeared from the U.S. for a few decades, many other countries have continued to grow and use hemp without interruption. The seeds are now well-recognized as an incredibly healthy food and can even be used to make a dairy-free milk.
You can find the seeds in many health stores. They are sold whole or shelled. The shelled version is often referred to as “hemp hearts.”
Are They Related to Marijuana?
Hemp is indeed related to marijuana, which also comes from the Cannabis plant. However, the two are not the same, and no hemp product causes the “high” associated with marijuana.
The psychoactive compounds in marijuana that cause its well-known effects are known as tetrahydrocannabinoids (THC). There is still much debate about whether they are beneficial or not.
However, you can enjoy all the benefits of hemp seeds without worrying about the same effects marijuana has. Hemp contains little to no THC. In fact, trace amounts are often present in the leaves and flowers but not the seeds.
The reason hemp products were banned in the first place is because they were all (incorrectly) lumped into the same category as marijuana. Research has definitively shown that hemp does not possess the same properties as marijuana, which led to the ban eventually being lifted.
Top Health-Boosting Benefits of Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are rich in both nutrients and beneficial fatty acids. They are made up of about 25% percent protein and 30% fat (in the form of oil).
About two tablespoons (30 g) of the seeds contain a good amount of manganese (140% DV), magnesium (75% DV), phosphorus (41% DV), zinc (34% DV), and iron (22% DV).
This means that just a small amount of hemp seeds is a great source of several important minerals. Magnesium, especially, is vital for many functions within your body, but many people are deficient.
Hemp seeds also contain about 77% of the daily value for vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant vitamin that’s great for skin health.
Besides minerals and vitamin E, hemp contains the very beneficial fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6. The seeds typically contain between a 2:1 and 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. This is considered the optimal ratio for human health.
Last but not least, hemp seeds are also rich in a specific omega-6 fatty acid known as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA has its own impressive health benefits, but more on that later!
Great Source of Easily Digestible, Plant-Based Protein
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein. In fact, their protein content is more comparable to meats like beef or lamb than it is to other plant-based sources.
Protein is important not only for increasing muscle mass (when combined with strength training), but also for preventing muscle loss as you age. It’s also vital for bone health, healthy metabolism, and recovery from injury. High-protein meals can also make you feel fuller for longer, helping with appetite control.
Plant-based sources of protein are more sustainable than animal-derived ones, but it can be challenging to find high-protein plant foods. Hemp seeds make getting that protein easy.
Another of the benefits of hemp seeds is that they are a source of what’s known as “perfect protein.” This means they contain all 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential ones that your body can’t produce.
As an added bonus, hulled hemp seeds are an extremely digestible form of protein. One study found that hemp protein is more easily digestible that the protein found in most grains, nuts, and legumes.
Rich in Hormone-Balancing GLA
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is a polyunsaturated fatty acid with several health benefits. A research review from 2016 reports that it has potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Consuming rich sources of GLA (like hemp seeds) can lower inflammation in your body. This, in turn, lowers your risk of developing chronic diseases that are related to chronic inflammation.
Another important and unique aspect of GLA is its ability to help with hormone imbalance. It has specific potential for helping with hormonal symptoms of menopause and PMS.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is something that affects an estimated 80% of woman who have reached reproductive age. Its effects can be severe and are directly connected to unbalanced hormone levels. Researchers think a sensitivity to a hormone called prolactin can also be a major cause of symptoms.
GLA can help because it’s involved in producing a hormone known as prostaglandin. This specific hormone reduces the effects of prolactin, which can help related physical and emotional symptoms.
Supplementing with GLA has been shown to specifically decrease symptoms of PMS like breast tenderness, fluid retention, depression, and irritability. It has also demonstrated potential for helping menopausal symptoms.
Boosts Skin and Hair Health
The main benefits of hemp seeds for your skin come from the healthy fatty acids they contain.
Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, have been well studied for their skin-boosting properties. They benefit the overall health of your skin by improving your skin barrier. This barrier is what keeps moisture in and potential toxins out.
Other studies show that fatty acids like omega-3 can help with symptoms of skin disorders like psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis. Symptoms like dryness, roughness, redness, and scaling can all be reduced by supplementing with omega-3.
Interestingly, research also indicates that omega-3 could play a role in treating acne. A few smaller studies have documented a reduction of breakouts by adding more omega-3 to the diet, but the results are still inconclusive.
One major reason omega-3 sources like hemp seeds can help acne is because of their anti-inflammatory activity. Acne and many other skin issues are linked to inflammation within the body, even though there may be other factors (like bacteria).
Most of the studies done specifically on hemp seeds and the skin have used hempseed oil. It’s been shown to reduce dryness and improve dermatitis, among other things.
Of course, all these skin benefits will help your hair as well, since hair health starts with scalp health.
Good for Your Digestion and May Aid Weight Loss
Hemp seeds are a great source of fiber. They contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which are both important for digestive health.
You’ll get the most fiber from whole hemp seeds because much of it lies in the tough outer hull. However, even shelled hemp seeds (also called hemp hearts) still contain about 1.2 grams of fiber per a 2 tablespoon serving.
Getting enough dietary fiber in your diet helps food and waste pass more quickly through your digestive tract. This helps keep you regular and may be enough to aid occasional constipation. In fact, one trial with a hemp seed pill found that it effectively relieved functional constipation in participants.
Many types of fiber are also considered prebiotics. They provide a source of food to the good bacteria in your gut, which in turn keeps bad bacteria from getting a foothold.
Besides digestive health, soluble fiber has been linked to better blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity in both diabetics and non-diabetics. Consuming enough insoluble fiber can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Still another benefit of the fiber in hemp seeds is for weight loss or weight management.
Along with protein, fiber is one the best substances for keeping you full for longer. It can help curb excessive appetite or cravings, which will help you better manage your weight. Higher fiber intake is also associated with lower body weight.
To get the most amount of fiber, make sure you go with whole hemp seeds!
May Reduce Pain and Inflammation
The fatty acids in hemp seeds give them some major potential benefits for relieving pain and chronic inflammation.
GLA, in particular, has shown an anti-inflammatory effect in studies. Omega-3 is another anti-inflammatory substance, and the two combined may work even more effectively.
Relieving inflammation in your body can help with the treatment or prevention of many chronic diseases.
Hemp seed has shown specific potential for relieving the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. The research was conducted with hempseed oil, which has a much more concentrated amount of fatty acids, rather than the hemp seeds themselves.
However, hemp seeds still make a great addition to a diet focused on relieving chronic inflammation in your body.
Boosts Brain and Heart Health
Multiple studies have shown that hemp seeds are protective of heart health and may reduce your risk of heart disease.
To start with, they’ve demonstrated an ability to reduce high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart problems. They may also reduce the risk of a blood clot forming and protect your heart better from the aftereffects of a heart attack.
The anti-inflammatory nature of hemp is great for your heart as well, since heart disease is one of the many disorders related to chronic inflammation.
Newer research indicates that hemp seeds and sprouts possess good antioxidant activity. These antioxidants have shown serious potential for protecting brain health and possibly lowering the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Of course, any antioxidant food is also a great anti-aging food!
Ways to Eat Hemp Seeds for Their Health Benefits
Going by most of the studies on hemp seeds, consuming 1-2 tablespoons a day will give you the greatest therapeutic benefits. However, even a lower amount than that will still boost your health.
Like chia seeds, hemp seeds are fairly easy to add to your diet. They has a mild nutty flavor but aren’t overpowering, especially in small amounts.
The seeds add a nice texture when sprinkled on top of meals or used in a mix with other nuts and seeds. You can also add them to smoothies or grind them up to make them disappear in oatmeal, cereal, etc.
Another option is to try some products made from hemp seeds. Hemp nut butter is a newer alternative to peanut butter, and hemp milk is a non-dairy milk alternative. Hemp protein powder is thought to be one of the best plant-based protein powders because of the high quality and easily digestible protein in hemp.
There are just a few things to keep in mind with hemp seeds.
To start with, hemp seeds (and products made out of them) are sensitive to both heat and light. It’s best to store them in your refrigerator or at least somewhere cool and dry.
This also means that already processed hemp products (like protein powder) are likely to lose some of their beneficial qualities more quickly. That doesn’t mean they are without benefit, just that the least processed version of a food is usually the best.
You can easily buy whole hemp seeds and grind them yourself at home right before you want to use them.
Are There Precautions for Hemp Seeds?
Great news! There are no precautions or known side effects associated with hemp seeds. Consuming a large amount of fiber all at once can upset your digestion, but that’s about it.
The one side note is that there is a slight potential for hemp products to cause athletes to fail a urine drug test because of THC. This is not because there is any THC in the seeds themselves but due to the risk of cross contamination with marijuana products.
There are strict regulations to prevent cross contamination from happening, but mistakes still occur.
Hemp Seeds: The Newest Superfood?
It’s very likely that we’ll discover even more benefits of hemp seeds as time goes on. Research on their potential is still very new, so they may contain even more health-boosting properties than we know about!
Still, the research already out there is very impressive. Hemp seeds are right up there with chia and flax seeds as an incredibly healthy food. They are packed full of nutrients that can benefit your hormones, skin, heart, and brain.
It’s a good thing hemp seeds were recently “rediscovered”!