Hemp seeds are the seeds of the hemp (Cannabis sativa) plant. Technically, the hemp plant is the same as the cannabis (marijuana) plant. Despite being the same genus and species, hemp doesn’t have the same effects as cannabis, but it still shares a similar history.
In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act made hemp production illegal throughout the United States. In the 1970s, it was classified along with cannabis as a Schedule 1 federally controlled substance. It wasn’t until the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill that industrial hemp became legal again. It’s a versatile plant that many people use to make fabrics, plastic and paper bag alternatives, pet bedding, biofuel, and food. The seeds of the plant are edible as well, and the FDA lists them as a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) food.
Unlike the cannabis plant, hemp plants only contain trace amounts of THC. The seeds cannot get you high.
Hemp seeds, which are also often called hemp hearts, are a highly nutritious food. They’re over 30% fat and are rich in two essential fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6). The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is typically 2:1 or 3:1 in hemp seeds, which is considered excellent for human health.
In addition to the essential fatty acids, hemp seeds are a great source of protein, which makes up approximately 25% of their calories. These small seeds provide many important health benefits, including:
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber. They contain soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which are necessary for healthy digestion. Healthy digestion is important for avoiding issues such as constipation. Getting enough fiber in your diet is also linked to a lower risk of developing certain health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer.
Keep in mind that while hemp seeds are high in fiber, their hulls are what contain a majority of the nutrient. Hulled hemp seeds (hemp hearts) don’t have the outer layer, making them much lower in fiber.
Improves Heart Health
Fiber plays a role in lowering your cholesterol levels, which is important for a healthy heart. Hemp seeds also contain various other nutrients that can aid in the health of this vital organ, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as the amino acid arginine.
Arginine is responsible for producing nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide helps blood vessels to relax, which lowers your blood pressure and reduces your risk of developing heart disease. Arginine may also help to reduce C-reactive protein levels, which further helps your heart.
In addition to alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, hemp seeds also contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Some studies on animals suggest that GLA may help to reduce inflammation in the body. More research is needed to confirm the results for humans. Reducing inflammation may help to lower your risk of developing many conditions, such as:
Aids in Skin Health
Inflammation can contribute to skin conditions such as acne and atopic dermatitis. Acne may also occur as a result of too little omega-3s in your diet. Some research suggests that increasing your omega-3 intake can help to reduce the symptoms of skin conditions and improve your skin’s health.
The gamma-linolenic acid in hemp seeds produces prostaglandin E1, which helps to reduce the effects of prolactin, particularly those that cause the side effects of premenstrual syndrome. GLA may help to reduce breast tenderness, irritability, and water-retention.
The fatty acid may also help to reduce symptoms of menopause. Studies show that GLA may help with the hormone imbalances that occur during menopause, as well as inflammation.
Hemp seeds are a highly nutritious food. They contain many important nutrients, such as:
Nutrients Per Serving
In 3 tablespoons hemp seeds, you’ll find:
- Calories: 170
- Protein: 10 grams
- Fat: 12 grams
- Carbohydrates: 5 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Sugar: 1 gram
Things to Watch Out For
While hemp seeds are a healthy addition to your diet, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, they are high in calories and fat. Eating the seeds in moderation can be beneficial, but eating too many may lead to high caloric and fat intake.
You should also avoid eating hemp seeds if you take certain medications. The seeds may interfere with cardiac glycosides, such as digoxin. These medications help to maintain a healthy heart rate, and hemp can do the same. Combining the two may lead to bradycardia.
How to Use Hemp Seeds
You can find hemp seeds for sale in most grocery and health food stores, and you can use them in a variety of different ways. Some of the most popular applications include:
- Blending them into smoothies
- Topping salads or yogurt
- Baking hemp seeds into muffins
- Making homemade hemp milk