What are the nutritional and health benefits of hemp seeds? If you have had a vested interest in healthy eating and superfoods for a while – or maybe you are just starting to gain the interest, then you may have stumbled upon recipes that call for hemp seeds or hemp hearts. These seeds are especially popular in the plant-based communities, especially with vegans and raw food dieters. But are these seeds actually good for you or do they have more disadvantages than benefits? Will hemp seeds get you high? Read on to find out the nutritional facts, side effects, and health benefits of hemp seeds.
What Are Hemp Seeds And Where Do They Come From?
As the name suggests, these are the seeds of the hemp plant, aka the cannabis sativa plant. The debate on whether cannabis is good or bad remains a point of contention for governments to date.
However, regardless of where you stand on this matter, there is no denying that some parts and compounds of this plant have beneficial and non-mind altering effects (6). The seeds are one of the parts of the cannabis sativa plant that have positive and healthy effects when consumed.
Please note that while hemp seeds are also referred to as hemp hearts, there is a slight difference between the two. Hemp hearts are what you will often find at the grocery store. They are the tiny inner part of the larger seed. Hemp hearts do not have the outer husk part of the kernel.
Hemp Seeds Nutrition Facts
Understanding the nutritional profile of your foods is the first step in healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Remember that healthy eating promotes longevity, stronger muscles, improved immunity and reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, supports health pregnancies and childbirth, improves gut health, and strengthens bone health among many more benefits (4).
Here is the nutritional data for a 3 tablespoon (30 g) serving of hemp seeds according to the USDA (15):
- Hemp seeds calories – 166 kcal
- Carbohydrates – 2.6 g
- Total fats – 14.6 g
- Protein – 9.48 g
- Fiber – 1.2 g
- Sugar – 0.45 g
- Calcium – 21 mg
- Magnesium – 210 mg
- Phosphorus – 495 mg
- Potassium – 360 mg
- Folate – 33 µg
- Iron – 2.38 mg
- Zinc – 2.87 mg
- Manganese – 2.28 mg
- Niacin – 2.76 mg
- Cholesterol – 0 mg
These seeds also have trace amounts of other healthy nutrients such as copper, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, as well as being a good source of plant-based omega 3 fatty acids (15).
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What Are The Benefits Of Raw Hemp Seeds?
First things first, whether you choose to eat them raw, grind them into a fine powder, or lightly toast them, the nutritional profile of fresh hemp seeds does not change and thus the benefits remain the same.
Here are some health benefits of hemp seeds:
Low In Sugar
Research has shown that a diet high in added sugars increases the risk of many chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular illnesses, obesity, metabolic syndrome and even tooth decay (12). Going on a low-sugar or no-sugar diet is one of the best ways to not only reduce how much sugar you consume but also to lower your risk of such illnesses.
While natural plant sugars are not always taken into consideration on such an eating plan, some people prefer to be stricter and consume foods with as little natural sugars as possible. Hemp hearts/seeds are perfect for this.
High In Fiber
Please note that this is especially true for the whole seeds and not the hearts. This is primarily due to the husk/shell on hemp seeds – while it may make them harder to eat it is higher in fiber, but the hearts still contain some. A high fiber diet helps maintain bowel health and normalizes bowel movements, keeps you full longer, aids in weight loss, lowers LDL cholesterol, and helps you live longer.
Boosts Heart Health
Several compounds in hemp hearts are said to help lower high blood pressure which reduces the risk of heart disease. These seeds are also rich in omega 3 fatty acids which reduces the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat and helps prevent the buildup of plaque, which clogs your arteries, among other benefits (10).
One study published in 2015 found that these seeds have a ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids of approximately 3 to 1, which is said to be optimal for heart and brain health (14).
High In Protein
This is what makes these seeds such a favourite among many plant-based eaters. With almost 10 g of protein per 30 g serving, it is one of the highest protein plant-based foods around today.
It Has All 9 Essential Amino Acids
Also known as indispensable amino acids, these are amino acids that humans and other vertebrates cannot synthesize from metabolic intermediates. Basically we need them for proper functioning – such as tissue growth, energy production, immune function and nutrient absorption -but our bodies cannot make them and thus we have to get them from other sources (food). Hemp seeds are among the few vegan friendly foods that have all 9 essential amino acids (7, 11). Other vegan sources include quinoa, amaranth, and soy products.
Rich In Nutrients
As seen in the nutrition facts above, hemp is rich in nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, as well as vitamins all needed for the body not only for proper function but to also support our immune system.
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What Are The Side Effects Of Hemp Seeds?
Despite their magnificent nutritional profile and their incredible health benefits, these seeds are not good for everyone. Here are some hemp seeds side effects and risks to look out for as you include them in your diet.
Yes. Allergic reactions to cannabis are a real thing. With the legalization of products from hemp and the use of different parts of the cannabis sativa plant in multiple foods and medication, there has been a rise of allergic reactions in many people.
According to articles and studies by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, cannabis allergy symptoms present as the following (3, 8, 16)
- Sneezing and runny nose,
- Swollen and watery eyes
- Angioedema – rashes, hives and swelling of the skin
- Dry scaly skin
- Asthma including wheezing and shortness of breath
- Anaphylaxis shock – This specific life threatening allergic symptom is often seen in people who ingest hemp seeds.
Might Not Be Suitable For Children
This is due to the following factors
- According to WebMD as of now, there isn’t enough reliable research and information on how safe these seeds are for children.
- In 2017, the journal of Pediatric Emergency Care reported a case of a preschool child who developed mild cannabinoid poisoning after 3 weeks consuming hemp seed oil (5).
- WebMD also states that while rare, these seeds have been known to lead to sleepiness and blood shot eyes in kids.
Though the seeds do not naturally contain the phytocannabinoids (CBD and THC) which are present in the leaves, stems, and flowers of the plant, cross contamination can occur during processing. In light of these factors, you might want to take proper precautions or avoid giving these seeds to children.
Not Suitable For Pregnant Or Breastfeeding Women
Due to the many health benefits of hemp seeds many women may rush to add them to their breastfeeding/pregnancy diet. However, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA for short) strongly advises against the use of cannabis and cannabis-derived products during this time.
Cannabis is known to affect fetal brain development which results in hyperactivity, poor cognitive function, and other long-term consequences. In relation to CBD, both the FDA and WebMD stress on the fact that there isn’t enough research so far to show us how safe this product is for the mother and child (19).
According to one animal study published in 1986 by the International Journal of Andrology, researchers found that male lab rat offspring delivered by mothers who had been exposed to cannabinoids produced 20 percent less sperm. They also had less than average testicular function as compared to the offspring whose mothers had no contact with cannabinoids (9).
Traces Of THC In Urine
As previously mentioned, while hemp seeds come from the Cannabis plant, they do not naturally contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the main compound that is psychotropic.
However, should THC come into contact with hemp seeds during processing, and you end up consuming them and subsequently showing up to work for a urine test, you could find yourself in the human relations office trying to explain how hemp seeds and not an illegal substance led to you failing your drug test.
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May Lower Blood Pressure
For people suffering from high blood pressure this is one of the health benefits of hemp seed that will have them jumping on the opportunity to add them to their diets. However, for people with hypotension (low blood pressure), hemp seeds may not be a good idea.
WebMD also warns that if you are due for surgery, you should stop eating them at least 2 weeks before your surgery date as they may cause your blood pressure to fall too low while in the operating room where a life threatening situation could arise.
Do not ingest hemp seeds without talking to your doctor if you are taking the following:
- Cardiac Glycosides – Hemp seeds are known to slow down your heart rate and thus taking them with medication meant to do the same could make your heart rate drop too low
- Diuretics – They are given to patients to lower their blood pressure and increase their urine. As stated above these seeds are known to lower your blood pressure and combining them with diuretics only spells trouble.
- ACE inhibitors – Any medication meant to treat high blood pressure should not be taken with a diet that has these seeds as your blood pressure could drop too much
- Anticoagulants/blood thinners – These seeds are known to slow down blood clotting and thus these two should not interact.
Despite the above-mentioned hemp seeds’ side effects and risks, most people tolerate them without ever facing any negative consequences. However, just to be on the safe side, speak to your doctor before trying them out and once you do, monitor how you are feeling to determine if they are okay for you or not.
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How Many Calories In Hemp Seeds?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 100 g of hemp seeds has 553 calories while three tablespoons of the same (about 30 g) only has 116 kilocalories (15).
How To Get The Most Nutrition Out Of Hemp Seeds In Food
Just like chia seeds, hemp seeds do not require any major preparation before they are ready for consumption. As long as you buy hulled hemp hearts from the store, you are ready to enjoy them as soon as you open the packet. Raw fresh hemp hearts have all their nutrition intact
Some popular ways to enjoy these seeds include:
- Making homemade hemp milk – a cheaper and healthier alternative to dairy
- Sprinkling them on salad for that extra crunch and protein boost
- Adding them to smoothies just as you would chia or flax seeds
- Making hemp granola
- Sprinkling them on to protein pancake batter, yogurt parfaits, oats, or some morning cereal
- Making a low calorie salad dressing – with a bit of pink salt and olive oil
- Adding them to your homemade pesto
- Making hemp-fu – aka hemp tofu (18), vegan burgers, and even hummus.
If you would like to change the flavour and texture of hemp hearts, you can also lightly toast them before adding them to whichever recipe or dish you are making. They will still retain their nutritional profile.
A word of caution – If you are using hemp seed oil do not under any circumstance cook it. Adding heat to it quickly destroys its nutritional value, especially the essential amino acids which are known to break down under high temperatures (17).
This oil is best used in its raw form. When consumed, the potential benefits of hemp seeds oil may include management of stress and anxiety, promoting a good night sleep, as well as relieving nausea, diarrhea, and cramping. It is also used as a topical treatment that can condition hair, relieve eczema and acne, promote hair growth, strengthen nails and cuticles, as well as removing makeup (2, 1).
The Bottom Line
The health benefits of hemp seeds certainly go a long way in showing us why this little kernel is considered a superfood in many healthy eating circles. If you can get your hands on some we would suggest that you get some – just be sure that you are not allergic first. As for pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as people with pre-existing heart and blood pressure conditions, we highly suggest that you speak to your doctor first before adding them to your diet.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 8 Ways To Use Hemp Oil & Hemp Seed Oil For Better Sleep, Softer Skin & More* (2020, mindbodygreen.com)
- 9 Ways to Use Hemp Oil In Body Care (And Why You’d Want To) (2017, huffpost.com)
- An emerging allergen: Cannabis sativa allergy in a climate of recent legalization (2020, aacijournal.biomedcentral.com)
- Benefits of Healthy Eating (2021, cdc.gov)
- Cannabinoid Poisoning by Hemp Seed Oil in a Child (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Evaluating the quality of protein from hemp seed (Cannabis sativa L.) products through the use of the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score method (2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Marijuana Cannabis Allergy (2020, aaaai.org)
- Maternal cannabinoid exposure. Effects on spermatogenesis in male offspring (1986, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Heart Health (2015, ahajournals.org)
- Protein concentration and amino acid profile in hempseed and flaxseed meal (2015, researchgate.net)
- Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Review of the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Seed composition of ten industrial hemp cultivars approved for production in Canada (2015, sciencedirect.com)
- Seeds, hemp seed, hulled (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Sensitization to Cannabis sativa caused by a novel allergenic lipid transfer protein, Can s 3 (2007, jacionline.org)
- Thermal decomposition of the amino acids glycine, cysteine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, glutamine, arginine and histidine (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- What Is Hemp Tofu? (2021, thespruceeats.com)
- What You Should Know About Using Cannabis, Including CBD, When Pregnant or Breastfeeding (2019, fda.gov)