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.
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.
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):
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).
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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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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)
This is due to the following factors
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.
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).
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.
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:
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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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).
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:
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 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!