Hemp seed comes from the hemp plant, which is in the same family as cannabis sativa, commonly known as marijuana.
Since there are only trace amounts of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) present in hemp, eating the seeds won’t impart the same drug-like effects of using marijuana, and the nutritional profile of hemp seed is impressive.
Also called hemp hearts, these seeds are rich in protein, healthy fats and an assortment of minerals.
Technically a nut, hemp seed has a mild flavor and can easily be incorporated into a variety of dishes to enhance the nutritional value of meals.
Hemp seed can be eaten cooked or raw, and the oil made from hemp seed has a long history of medicinal use in China.
You may be surprised at some of the benefits you can realize from adding hemp seed to your diet.
Hemp Seed is a Nutritional Winner
At over 30% fat, hemp seed is rich in two essential fatty acids; alpha-linoleic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid is from the omega-6 group.
Hemp seed also delivers a significant amount of gamma-linoleic acid, which is linked with various health benefits. (1)
They are a good source of plant-based protein, with 25% of calories derived from high-quality protein that is actually more bioavailable than protein from many other nuts, legumes and grains. (2)
You’ll get 11 grams of protein from 30 grams of hemp seed, which amounts to between 2 and 3 tablespoons. (3) By weight, this amount is similar to lamb or beef.
The protein in hemp is complete, which means it contains all the essential amino acids we can’t make in our bodies; complete protein sources are not easy to find in plants, though a few, like quinoa, also fall into this category.
Amino acids found in hemp include glutamic acid, arginine, cysteine and methionine. (4)
Hemp seed contains much more protein by weight than either chia or flax seed, and it also provides vitamin E, as well as various minerals including iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium, calcium and sulfur. (5)
Improve Digestion and Heart Health with Hemp Seed
Unshelled hemp seed is a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which makes it a boon to digestive health. (6) However, the fiber content of hemp hearts is much lower than the whole seed.
During digestion, soluble fiber is transformed into a gel-like substance that provides nourishment for the friendly bacteria so important to the proper inner environment; it can also aid in regulation of blood cholesterol levels, as well as preventing blood sugar spikes. (7)
Insoluble fiber is integral to bulking up feces, assisting in the process of moving waste through the digestive system; adequate insoluble fiber in the diet is associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes. (8)
Eating hemp seed has also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, which kills more people worldwide than any other health condition. (9)
Several mechanisms may positively influence heart health. The generous amounts of arginine, an amino acid, present in hemp seed may be one of them. (10)
Arginine is necessary for the production of nitric oxide, a gas molecule that sends signal integral to the relaxing and dilation of blood vessels. When blood vessels relax, blood pressure drops; when there’s not enough nitric oxide, blood pressure is higher, which is a known risk factor for developing heart disease. (11)
In a large study with 13,000 patients, higher levels of dietary arginine led to lower levels of C-reactive protein, which is an inflammatory marker associated with heart disease. (12)
Inflammation can also be positively influenced by the gamma-linoleic acid present in hemp seed. Lower levels of inflammation decrease the risk of developing a range of chronic diseases. (13)
- Decreased risk of blood clot formation
- Lower blood pressure
- Better recovery from heart attack
Other Benefits of Eating Hemp Seed
Women of reproductive age suffer emotional and physical symptoms commonly called PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, at the astronomical rate of nearly 80%. (17)
Researchers believe this is caused by sensitivities to a hormone called prolactin. (18) Hemp seed contains gamma-linoleic acid, which in turn generates prostaglandin E-1, a substance that decreases the effects of prolactin. (19)
One study of women suffering from PMS utilized an added a gram of essential fatty acids daily, resulting in an appreciable reduction of symptoms; the supplement included 210 mg of gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), which is found in hemp seed. (20)
Primrose oil is also rich in GLA, and has been used to help women who had little success with other PMS therapies; improvements noted included less tenderness and breast pain, lower levels of fluid retention, as well as fewer feelings of depression and irritability. (21)
Other studies indicate the high levels of GLA provided by hemp seed may be helpful in reducing symptoms of menopause as well, perhaps through regulating hormonal fluctuation and decreasing inflammation. (22)
The fatty acids found in hemp seed and hemp seed oil may also serve as an immune system booster through modulating the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The ratio runs at 3 parts omega-6 fatty acids to 1 part omega-3 fatty acids, which is considered ideal. (23)
Clinical trials analyzing the effects of hemp seed oil on eczema patients indicate blood levels of fatty acids improve, leading to moister skin, reduced levels of itching, and lower overall use of medications designed to relieve symptoms. (24, 25)
Hemp seeds have been used as a reliable source of good nutrition for a very long time, and have only recently become more popular as a “health” food.
The trace amounts of THC in hemp seeds shouldn’t pose a problem for most people, but anyone who has had addiction issues with marijuana might want to leave them alone.
Summary: Hemp seed is enjoying a comeback as a superfood, and can be a nutritious addition to the diet as a rich source of protein, minerals and essential fatty acids.