6 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds
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Hemp seeds are the seeds of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa.
They are from the same species as cannabis (marijuana) but a different variety.
However, they contain only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound in 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.
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 to several health benefits (1).
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 are also a great source of vitamin E and minerals, such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc (1, 2 ).
Hemp seeds can be consumed raw, cooked or roasted. Hemp seed oil is also very healthy and has been used as a food and medicine in China for at least 3,000 years (1).
Summary 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.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide ( 3 ).
Interestingly, eating hemp seeds may reduce your risk of heart disease.
The seeds contain high amounts of the amino acid arginine, which produces nitric oxide in your body ( 4 ).
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 ( 5 ).
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 ( 6 , 7 ).
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 ( 8 , 9 ).
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 ).
Summary Hemp seeds are a great source of arginine and gamma-linolenic acid, which have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
Fatty acids may affect immune responses in your body ( 13 , 14 , 15 ).
Studies suggest that your immune system depends on 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.
The oil may also relieve dry skin, improve itchiness and reduce the need for skin medication ( 16 , 17 ).
Summary Hemp seeds are rich in healthy fats. They have a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which may benefit skin diseases and provide relief from eczema and its uncomfortable symptoms.
About 25% of calories in hemp seeds come from protein, which is relatively high.
In fact, by weight, hemp seeds provide similar amounts of protein as beef and lamb — 30 grams of hemp seeds, or 2–3 tablespoons, provide about 11 grams of protein (1).
They are considered a complete protein source, which means that they provide all the essential amino acids. Your body cannot produce essential amino acids and must obtain them from your 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).
The digestibility of hemp protein is also very good — better than protein from many grains, nuts and legumes ( 19 ).
Summary About 25% of the calories in hemp seeds come from protein. What’s more, they contain all the essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source.
Up to 80% of women of reproductive age may suffer from physical or emotional symptoms caused by premenstrual syndrome (PMS) ( 20 ).
These symptoms are very likely caused by sensitivity to the hormone prolactin ( 21 ).
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), found in hemp seeds, produces prostaglandin E1, which reduces the effects of prolactin ( 22 , 23 , 24 ).
In a study in women with PMS, taking 1 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 as well, 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 they may help reduce symptoms of menopause, too.
The exact process is unknown, but the GLA in hemp seeds may regulate the hormone imbalances and inflammation associated with menopause ( 26 , 27 , 28 ).
Summary Hemp seeds may reduce symptoms associated with PMS and menopause, thanks to its high levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
This is a detailed article about hemp seeds and their health benefits. Here are 6 ways that consuming hemp seeds can improve your health.
The best hemp seed
If you’re looking to add more plant-based protein to your diet — or simply some added crunch to a meal — look no further than hemp seeds. These tiny seeds are highly nutritious and pack in high fiber, complete protein, antioxidants, omega fatty acids, and minerals. Many nutrition experts consider hemp seeds (also known as hemp hearts) to be a superfood because they are so nutrient dense.
Read this shopping guide to learn more about hemp seeds’ health benefits as well as what you need to know before purchasing a product. We’ve also included reviews of our top picks at the end, like Navitas Organics’ Organic Hemp Seeds, which provides that much-needed burst of energy in the morning.
Considerations when choosing hemp seeds
Nutrient profile of hemp seeds
Adding hemp seeds to your diet has a whole host of health benefits. Here’s a breakdown of these super-seeds’ healthy components.
Gamma-linolenic acid: Hemp seeds stand out for their rich omega-6 gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) content. GLA may help alleviate a number of conditions from PMS to heart disease to arthritis pain — or other chronic conditions that can benefit from this anti-inflammatory fatty acid.
Complete protein: Hemps seeds are considered a perfect plant-based protein because they contain all 20 amino acids (the building blocks to protein), including nine amino acids that our body can’t produce itself. Two tablespoons of hemp seeds boast around nine grams of protein, making hemp hearts an excellent choice to blend into your morning smoothie to power your day.
Fatty acids: Besides the powerhouse omega-6 gamma-linolenic acid, hemp seeds contain omega-3s in an ideal 3:1 balance (of omega-3s to omega-6s) that is optimal for heart health. This fatty acid profile also naturally reduces inflammation levels and strengthens the immune system. While hemp seeds are high in fat (around two grams in two tablespoons), these fatty acids are considered healthy fats.
High in fiber: Most people don’t get enough fiber in the standard American diet. Fiber keeps your gastrointestinal system regular and can improve digestion. The insoluble fiber contained in hemps seeds (along with their low carb/high fat profile) can help suppress your appetite if you’re trying to lose weight. Two tablespoons of hemp seeds contain two grams of fiber.
Minerals: Lastly, hemp seeds are packed with a plethora of minerals that your body needs to function like zinc, magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium. They also contain the antioxidant vitamin E, known to have cancer-fighting properties.
Hemp seeds come in a variety of packaging. Bulk mylar bags with airtight closures ensure freshness (hemp hearts are susceptible to spoilage). Stand-up, resealable, plastic pouches are the most common packaging, and also protect the seeds from going rancid. Plastic jars or tubs are another option and may come with a convenient measuring scoop.
Hulled or shelled
Most hemp seeds are sold shelled, which means a mechanical process has removed the outer shell of the seeds and sterilized them for storage. Unhulled hemp seeds are not as widely available and may be too “crunchy” for the average consumer. Hemp seeds that are sold “raw” or “cold-pressed” means they haven’t been heat sterilized in the hulling process.
Most “health nuts” prefer organic products, which haven’t been treated with chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Certified organic hemp seeds are easy to find and are also non-GMO.
Our team of experts has selected the best hemp seeds out of dozens of options. Don't buy hemp seeds before reading these reviews.