Hemp seeds come from a controversial cannabis plant. Instead of getting you high, they deliver a blast of essential nutrients and potential benefits for your heart, brain, and skin. Whether you want to improve your health or enrich your diet, 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 and CBD extraction .
“Miracle plant” sounds like a cliche, but here’s why hemp deserves this label [2, 3, 4, 5]:
- Hemp seeds are packed with essential nutrients
- Cannabinoids from hemp have a range of potential 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
Each potential use of hemp deserves a separate article (a book, actually); this one will be about hemp seeds nutrition, potential 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. Get ready to meet one of the most nutritious foods on our planet!
- Loaded with protein, healthy fats, and minerals
- Optimal omega-6/omega-3 ratio
- High protein quality with all essential amino acids
- May protect the heart and the brain
- May help with diabetes and constipation
- Softens the skin and relieves eczema
- Therapeutic value lacks stronger clinical evidence
- Shelled seeds (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|
Hemp seeds contain impressive 11.5 g of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and zero trans fats per serving. PUFAs are super-important for your health as they [6, 7, 8, 9, 10]:
- 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 .
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 [1, 12, 13].
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 .
Hemp seeds are high in arginine, an amino acid that boosts cardiovascular health and relieves inflammation [15, 16, 17].
Vitamins and Minerals
Having a hard time achieving the optimal intake of different minerals and vitamins?
One serving (30g, 3 tbsp) of hemp seeds will provide you with [18, 19, 15, 20]:
- 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.
Table 2 — Hemp Seeds vs. Chia Seeds Nutritional Profiles [15, 21]
|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
As mentioned above, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in their optimal ratio reduce inflammation, soothe the skin, and lower the risk of various chronic diseases [6, 7, 8, 9, 22].
Hemp seeds contain unique polyphenols – cannabisinins – with potent antioxidant activity. Hemp protein and flavonoids such as quercetin also combat free radicals [23, 24, 25].
Arginine and other active compounds in hemp protein shield the heart and blood vessels [17, 26].
1) Heart Health
According to different reviews and clinical trials, optimal intake of alpha-linolenic acid and other omega-3s found in hemp seeds can [27, 28, 29, 30]:
- Reduce cholesterol and blood lipids
- Enhance heart function and protect blood vessels
- Decrease blood pressure
- Prevent blood clotting
Arginine from hemp protein stimulates the production of nitric oxide (relaxing blood vessels) and cuts the levels of inflammatory CRP, according to a study of over 13,000 participants. Both effects can prevent heart disease [17, 31, 32].
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 .
Low doses of hemp seed oil (3 g daily) enriched red blood cells of 36 children with omega-3 fatty acids but didn’t affect their blood lipid profile .
In animal trials, hemp seeds lowered cholesterol levels and provided antioxidant support [35, 36].
In test tubes, hemp protein acted similar to statins (lipid-lowering drugs) by blocking an enzyme vital for the production of LDL cholesterol. According to another cell-based experiment, hemp seed extract may prevent LDL oxidation, a major cause of atherosclerosis [37, 38, 39].
Still, this doesn’t mean hemp seeds would do the same in the human body.
2) Brain and Nerve Protection
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 .
In 100 patients with multiple sclerosis, a combination of hemp seed and evening primrose oils helped repair nerve damage and improved the symptoms .
Researchers observed the ability of hemp seed oil to combat autoimmune nerve impairment (as seen in MS) in a study on mice .
In a clinical trial of 120 patients, hemp seed pills (15 g daily for 8 weeks) improved the symptoms of constipation by 43% vs. 8% placebo .
Hemp seeds stimulated the colon and relieved constipation in one study on rats .
Note: The majority of fiber, which supports bowel movements, is in the outer shell of hemp seeds. Whole seeds would thus be more beneficial for constipation, but their consumption comes with certain risks (see “Hemp Seeds FAQ” for more details).
4) Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a complex condition that involves obesity, insulin resistance, and increased blood lipids .
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 [46, 47].
Consumption of both soluble and insoluble fiber from hemp seeds may reduce the risk of diabetes [48, 49].
In cell studies, hemp protein cut the levels of glucose using the same mechanism as diabetes drugs called gliptins. Scientists speculate if hemp protein may enhance their potency while reducing side effects, but the available evidence is far from conclusive [50, 51].
5) PMS and Menopause
Supplementation with essential fatty acids found in hemp seeds (1-2 g daily for 6 months) reduced the symptoms of PMS in 120 women .
The beneficial effects mostly come from gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which may reduce inflammation and maintain hormonal balance [53, 54].
When women enter menopause, they lose the beneficial effects of estrogen and often face unpleasant mood swings. Hemp seeds reduced anxiety in postmenopausal rats [55, 56].
Bone loss and osteoporosis are one of the hallmarks of menopause. A supplement with GLA increased bone mineral density (BMD) in 65 older women .
Hemp Seed Oil Benefits for the Skin
Hemp seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that nurture the skin and prevent disorders such as [58, 6, 7]:
- Skin UV damage
Although people tend to focus on omega-3s, GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid from hemp seeds that delivers powerful skin benefits.
6) Eczema and Dry Skin
In 20 patients with eczema, hemp seed oil (30 ml daily) supplied the skin with PUFAs and reduced symptoms such as skin irritation. It showed better results than olive oil .
According to clinical trials, foods and oils rich in gamma-linolenic acid can soften the skin and relieve eczema [60, 61, 62].
Propionibacterium acnes is, you guessed it, a leading cause of acne. Hemp seed extract inhibited the growth and reduced inflammation caused by this germ in test tubes .
A review of herbs used for skin conditions underlined hemp seed oil as a potential remedy for dry skin, eczema, acne, psoriasis, and more .
Hemp seeds are rich in oil, but it’s not sure if they would deliver the same health benefits.
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 findings stem from low-quality clinical, animal, and cell-based research.
Also, the majority of 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 .
Now let’s see if there’s anything about hemp seeds that should concern you.
Hemp Seeds Side Effects
Clinical trials with hemp seeds and their oil haven’t reported major side effects in children and adults [33, 43, 41, 34].
Hemp seeds are natural plant food, and there’s no apparent reason to avoid them unless you’re allergic to hemp (Cannabis sativa).
But… There’s public concern about psychoactive THC in hemp seeds, and it may be more than just “anti-cannabis propaganda.”
Although the seeds contain only trace amounts of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids (even in marijuana strains), contamination with THC from the plant is possible .
As a matter of fact, doctors reported a case of one child with mildly altered behavior due to 3-week hemp seed oil consumption .
Some lab analyses confirmed there’s a possibility of hemp seed THC contamination. If you are concerned about this, consult with your doctor before consuming hemp seeds. 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 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. Secondly, 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 .
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 .
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, though, make sure to wash them thoroughly first
Hemp Seeds and Drug Tests
If hemp seeds can be contaminated with THC, can they also cause you to fail a routine drug test? Well, they might just do so! Some people did have detectable urine THC levels after consuming hemp seed oil, butter, and other products [69, 70].
On the other hand, some studies didn’t detect THC after regular hemp seed consumption [71, 72].
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.
Hemp seeds are made from industrial cannabis (Cannabis sativa), also known as hemp. They are loaded with high-quality protein, 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 may combat inflammation, protect the heart, brain, and blood vessels, and soothe the skin. But despite their promising health effects, clinical research on hemp seeds and their therapeutic potential 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.