Technically a nut, hemp seeds are very nutritious. They have a mild, nutty flavor and are often referred to as hemp hearts. Although hemp seeds come from the Cannabis sativa plant, they do not produce a mind-altering effect.
These small, brown seeds are rich in protein, fiber, and healthful fatty acids, including omega-3s and omega-6s. They have antioxidant effects and may reduce symptoms of numerous ailments, improving the health of the heart, skin, and joints.
Relatively few plant-based foods are complete sources of protein, making hemp seeds a valuable addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Complete protein sources are very rare in the plant kingdom because plants often lack the amino acid lysine. Quinoa is another example of a complete, plant-based protein source. Hemp seeds also contain significant amounts of the amino acids methionine and cysteine, as well as very high levels of arginine and glutamic acid.
Hemp seeds are a great protein source, as more than 25% of their total calories are from high-quality protein. That is considerably more than similar foods like chia seeds and flaxseeds, whose calories are 16–18% protein. Hemp seeds contain almost as much protein as soybeans. In every 30 grams of seeds, or about 3 tablespoons, there are 9.46 g of protein. In fact, by weight, hemp seeds provide similar amounts of protein as beef and lamb or about 30 grams of hemp seeds, or 2–3 tablespoons, provide about 11 grams of protein. The digestibility of hemp protein is also very good and better than protein from many grains, nuts and legumes.
Hemp seeds also contain high amounts of vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc.
Hemp seeds are packed with antioxidants like fiber. Hemp seeds help the digestive system and boost daily energy. Whole hemp seeds are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, containing 20% and 80%, respectively.
Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in your gut. It’s a valuable source of nutrients for beneficial digestive bacteria and may also reduce spikes in blood sugar and regulate cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool and may help food and waste pass through your gut. It has also been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes.
Hemp seeds contain over 30% fat. They are exceptionally rich in two essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). Hemp also contains GLA, which is harder to find and prevents inflammation. GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) also helps to bind and balance the body’s hormones. The body cannot produce essential fatty acids, so the body must absorb them from the diet. They are crucial for long-term health. The ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s is important. In general, people tend to eat too many omega-6s and too few omega-3s, but adding hemp seeds to the diet may help to promote a balance.
The seeds contain high amounts of the amino acid arginine, which produces nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide is a gas molecule that makes your blood vessels dilate and relax, leading to lowered blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease.
In a large study in over 13,000 people, increased arginine intake corresponded with decreased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammation marker. High levels of CRP are linked to heart disease. The gamma-linolenic acid found in hemp seeds has also been linked to reduced inflammation, which may decrease your risk of diseases like heart disease.
Animal studies have shown that hemp seeds or hemp seed oil may reduce blood pressure, decrease the risk of blood clot formation and help the heart recover after a heart attack. It decreased breast pain and tenderness, depression, irritability and fluid retention associated with PMS.
Because hemp seeds are high in GLA, several studies have indicated that they may help reduce symptoms of menopause. The exact process is unknown, but the GLA in hemp seeds may regulate the hormone imbalances and inflammation associated with menopause.
Hemp products keep skin tone even and clear and open up pores. Additionally, hemp moisturizes skin and hair and helps reduce dryness and itchiness. Hemp also promotes hair growth and prevents breakage.
Studies have shown that giving hemp seed oil to people with eczema may improve blood levels of essential fatty acids. The oil may also relieve dry skin, improve itchiness and reduce the need for skin medication.
How to Buy
Hulled hemp, often called hemp hearts, is the entire hemp seed with the crunchy outer shell removed. Removing the shell also makes the hemp hearts more nutritious, as it increases the overall percentage of protein and essential fatty acids.
For good edible hemp seed, Canada is known to be the best quality among countries that grow hemp. This is not only because of the taste of the hemp strain that the Canadian farmers use, but also because of the strict restrictions that the Canadian government enforces.
Canadian farmers are only allowed to use hemp seed varieties that are listed under Health Canada’s List of Approved Cultivars. All hemp seeds from Canada are non-GMO verified, which means the seeds are not genetically modified. Canadian farmers also don’t use pesticides when farming hemp. You can also look for the “Pro-Cert Organic” certifications on the brands that you buy.
Hemp manufacturers are now warning consumers to watch out for Chinese hemp that is flooding the market. Chinese hemp producers aren’t regulated as strictly as Canadian farmers. Since you won’t be able to taste the hemp until you buy a packet, make sure to check their labels to ensure the hemp is certified from Canada!
How to Store
Once open, put the package or its contents in an airtight glass container and refrigerate or freeze to extend the shelf life. Once opened, you can expect a bag of hemp seeds to last for about a year in the refrigerator or freezer.
How to Cook
- Eat raw as a snack
- Mix into your smoothie
- Sprinkle on top of cereal, salads, yogurt, or even oatmeal
- Blend with water to make hemp seed milk
- Ground hemp seed to use it as a condiment
- Toasted hemp seeds can be eaten like popcorn