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)
- Hemp Seeds May Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease 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).
- Hemp Seeds and Oil May Benefit Skin Disorders 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-3fatty 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).
- Hemp Seeds Are a Great Source of Plant-Based Protein. 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).
- 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). 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).
- Whole Hemp Seeds May Aid Digestion. Fiber is an essential part of your diet and linked to better digestive health (29). Whole hemp seeds are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, containing 20% and 80%, respectively (1). 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 (29, 30). 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 (31, 32). However, de-hulled or shelled hemp seeds — also known as hemp hearts — contain very little fiber because the fiber-rich shell has been removed.
Though hemp seeds have only recently become popular in the West, they’re a staple food in many societies and provide 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 dependent on cannabis may want to avoid hemp seeds in any form. Overall, hemp seeds are incredibly healthy. They may be one of the few superfoods worthy of their reputation.