What do you think of when you hear the word hemp? Rope, ships’ sails ... marijuana? What about hemp seeds? If you’re unfamiliar with the seeds of the hemp plant, we have one word for you: superfood. Intrigued? Well, then, we invite you to read on to learn more.
What Is Hemp?
Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa. Which means that it is indeed related to marijuana. However, even though hemp and marijuana both contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—the psychoactive chemical in marijuana—hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, so it won’t make you high.
However, what hemp lacks in the ability to make you high it makes up for in its elevated concentrations of cannabidiol, or CBD—a component that’s become well known recently for its ability to treat pain, inflammation, and anxiety.
The misconceptions surrounding hemp caused it to be banned in the United States right alongside marijuana decades ago—that is, until the 2018 Farm Bill, which made it legal to grow hemp again.
And, might we say, it’s about time.
Because hemp is one of the most versatile and environmentally friendly plants on the planet. It’s also one of the first domesticated plants, with evidence of its cultivation going back at least 10,000 years. The Jamestown colony even passed a law in 1619 declaring that all settlers must grow hemp.
And it’s easy to see why.
Hemp grows almost anywhere, it’s naturally resistant to pests, and it can be grown tightly packed, which shades out weeds and reduces the need for herbicides. And, according to some sources, it can be used to create as many as 25,000 products. In fact, studies have found that hemp can be used to clean up toxic waste!
So if hemp isn’t nature’s wonder plant, we don’t know what is.
And that goes for its seeds too.
Hemp Seed Nutrition
We’re all familiar with sunflower seeds and flaxseeds and even chia seeds. But when it comes to nutrition, no one can hold a candle to hemp seeds. In fact, hemp seeds are to nutrition what the cannabis plant is to industry.
For example, a half a cup of shelled hemp seeds contains:
- 160% of the RDA of magnesium
- 53% of the RDA of iron
- 77% of the RDA of zinc
- 13% of the RDA of fiber
- 73% of the RDA of protein
Beyond the impressive levels of magnesium, iron, zinc, and dietary fiber, hemp seeds are such a great protein source that they’re considered on par with animal sources like lamb and beef. They’re also considered a complete protein, which means they provide all nine essential amino acids in a balanced ratio.
What’s more, hemp seeds are a great source of healthy fats, especially the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and the omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). These essential fatty acids are considered powerful anti-inflammatories and are known to boost the immune system, protect the brain, reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and keep blood vessels healthy.
Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds
With all the nutritional value of whole hemp seeds and the foods they produce, including hemp oil, hemp protein powder, and hemp flour, plus the known benefits of essential fatty acids, you’re probably thinking this hemp plant is something else.
And you’d be right.
But what exactly does the science have to say?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, with over 600,000 Americans dying of the disease each year.
Yet many of the risk factors for heart disease are easily prevented through simple dietary changes, including eating more foods rich in essential fatty acids, which block the inflammation that’s associated with the development of chronic diseases like arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.
In addition, the amino acids citrulline, arginine, leucine, and carnitine, which are also found in hemp seeds, help regulate blood flow, improve energy production, and aid in the maintenance of muscle mass.
A study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology found hemp seeds exerted a significant protective effect on the hearts of rats that had undergone postischemic reperfusion.
Another study in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found that the addition of hemp seed to the diet of rabbits fed high-cholesterol diets prevented the clumping of platelets—a known risk factor for heart attacks—a finding researchers hypothesized may be partially due to the large amount of GLA in hemp seeds.
In addition, a study in the European Journal of Nutrition found that hypertensive rats that received hemp seed protein meal experienced significant decreases in blood pressure levels.
Finally, a review published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism concluded that hemp seed has the “potential to beneficially influence heart disease.”
As mentioned, hemp seeds are a rich source of dietary fiber. What’s more, hemp seeds contain both insoluble and soluble fiber, each of which offers different health benefits.
Insoluble fiber is a type of fiber that helps keep your digestive system healthy by adding bulk to stools and increasing regularity. By contrast, soluble fiber is soluble in water, which means it forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that helps you feel fuller longer. Soluble fiber is also known to regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Moreover, it provides food for healthy gut bacteria, which in turn aids digestion, boosts the immune system, and can even improve mental health.
However, it’s important to note that hulled hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, contain far less fiber than their shell-clad counterparts, so if you’re interested in getting more soluble and insoluble fiber into your diet, go for whole hemp seeds instead.
Premenstrual Syndrome and Menopause
Believe it or not, the GLA in hemp seeds can help keep your hormones in balance and your bones strong. In fact, multiple studies have found that supplementing with GLA can reduce symptoms associated with both premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause.
A clinical trial in the journal Reproductive Health found that women suffering from PMS who supplemented with polyunsaturated fatty acids, including GLA, experienced significant improvement in symptoms.
In a study published in the journal Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology, researchers looked at the effects of hemp seed supplementation on behavior as well as lipid and calcium levels in surgically menopausal rats. And what they found may have implications for women, as hemp seed supplementation was found to offset the negative effects on bone, heart, and mental health that can come with menopause.
Similarly, a clinical trial in the journal Aging: Clinical and Experimental Research found that older women who received fatty acids, including GLA, maintained bone density better than those receiving a placebo.
As you might imagine, the positive effects of essential fatty acids on the immune system can improve skin health as well. What’s more, the fatty acids in hemp seeds, when applied topically, have the ability to penetrate skin layers—a property that has implications for skin conditions like dry skin, eczema, and dermatitis.
In a clinical trial published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment, researchers—who acknowledged that hemp seed oil is a “rich and balanced source” of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids—found that patients with atopic dermatitis who supplemented with hemp seed oil experienced significantly improved fatty acid profiles, accompanied by decreased dryness and itching, and required less topical medication.
A study published in the journal ACS Omega found that an extract of hemp seeds fed to mice prevented neuronal damage as well as damage to learning and spatial memory and also decreased levels of inflammatory markers in the brain.
And a study in the journal Molecules and Cells, looking at the effect of hemp seed meal on oxidative stress and cholesterol, found that hemp seeds exert an inhibitory effect on both cholesterol uptake and beta-amyloid—a type of protein that’s been found to accumulate in the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
As you can see, when it comes to nutritional value, hemp seeds really do have it all. From dietary fiber and protein to important minerals and essential fatty acids, it’s hard to find another food that offers the benefits of hemp seeds.
And their nutty flavor makes them a perfect complement to salads, pasta, yogurt—even your favorite smoothie. Plus, there are plenty of hemp products to choose from, so there’s really nothing stopping you from adding more of this superfood to your diet.