Hemp seeds are the seeds of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa.
They are from the same species as cannabis (marijuana).
However, hemp seeds contain only trace amounts of THC, the compound that causes the drug-like effects of marijuana.
Hemp seeds are exceptionally nutritious and rich in healthy fats, protein and various minerals.
Here are 6 health benefits of hemp seeds that are backed up by science.
1. Hemp Seeds Are Incredibly Nutritious
Technically a nut, hemp seeds are very nutritious. They have a mild, nutty flavor and are often referred to as hemp hearts.
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).
They also contain gamma-linolenic acid, which has been linked with several health benefits (1).
Hemp seeds are a great protein source, as more than 25% of their total calories are from high-quality protein.
This is what whole and shelled hemp seeds look like:
Hemp seeds can be consumed raw, cooked or roasted. Hemp seed oil is also very healthy, and has been used as a food/medicine in China for at least 3,000 years (1).
Bottom Line: Hemp seeds are rich in healthy fats and essential fatty acids. They are also a great protein source and contain high amounts of vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc.
2. Hemp Seeds May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease is the number one killer worldwide (3).
Interestingly, eating hemp seeds may reduce the risk of heart disease via several mechanisms.
Nitric oxide is a gas molecule that makes the blood vessels dilate and relax, leading to lowered blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease (5).
Additionally, 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 (10, 11, 12).
Bottom Line: Hemp seeds are a great source of arginine and gamma-linolenic acid, which have been linked with a reduced risk of heart disease.
3. Hemp Seeds and Oil May Benefit Skin Disorders
This may have something to do with the balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Hemp seeds are a good source of polyunsaturated and essential fatty acids. They have about a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which is considered in the optimal range.
Studies have shown that giving hemp seed oil to people with eczema may improve blood levels of essential fatty acids.
Bottom Line: Hemp seeds are rich in healthy fats. They have a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which may benefit skin diseases. In some cases, this may provide relief from eczema and its uncomfortable symptoms.
4. Hemp Seeds Are a Great Source of Plant-Based Protein
About 25% of calories in hemp seeds come from protein, which is relatively high.
They are considered a complete protein source, which means that they provide all the essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are not produced in the body and need to be gotten from the diet.
Complete protein sources are very rare in the plant kingdom, as plants often lack the amino acid lysine. Quinoa is another example of a complete, plant-based protein source.
Hemp seeds contain significant amounts of the amino acids methionine and cysteine, as well as very high levels of arginine and glutamic acid (18).
Bottom Line: About 25% of the calories in hemp seeds come from protein. Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source.
5. Hemp Seeds May Reduce Symptoms of PMS and Menopause
Up to 80% of women of reproductive age may suffer from physical or emotional symptoms caused by premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (20).
In a study of women with PMS, taking one gram of essential fatty acids (including 210 mg of GLA) per day resulted in a significant decrease in symptoms (22).
Other studies have shown that primrose oil, which is rich in GLA, may be highly effective in reducing symptoms for women who have failed other PMS therapies.
It decreased breast pain and tenderness, depression, irritability and fluid retention associated with PMS (25).
Because hemp seeds are high in GLA, several studies have indicated that hemp seeds may also help reduce the symptoms of menopause.
Bottom Line: Hemp seeds may reduce symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and may also positively affect symptoms of menopause.
6. Whole Hemp Seeds May Aid Digestion
Whole hemp seeds are a good source of both soluble (20%) and insoluble (80%) fiber (1).
Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the gut. It is a valuable source of nutrients for the beneficial digestive bacteria, and may also reduce spikes in blood sugar and regulate cholesterol levels (29, 30).
However, de-hulled or shelled hemp seeds (also known as hemp hearts) contain very little fiber, because the fiber-rich shell has been removed.
Bottom Line: Whole hemp seeds contain high amounts of fiber, both soluble and insoluble, which benefits digestive health. De-hulled hemp seeds have had the fiber-rich shell removed, and therefore contain very little fiber.
Take Home Message
Although hemp seeds have not been popular until recently, they are an old staple food and people are now realizing their excellent nutritional value.
They are very rich in healthy fats, high-quality protein and several minerals.
However, hemp seed shells may contain trace amounts of THC (< 0.3%), the active compound in marijuana. People who have been addicted to cannabis may want to avoid consuming hemp or hemp seeds in any form.
Overall, hemp seeds are incredibly healthy. They might just be one of the few superfoods that are actually worthy of their reputation.