Seeds have long been major players in the superfood league. Chia seeds have been a staple of many diets for a few years now. But hemp seeds are relatively new to the scene.
They are a rich source of nutrition and provide a wide range of health benefits. Could they become a rival to pumpkin seeds and goji berries and be sprinkled on everyone’s porridge?
What Are Hemp Seeds?
They come from the cannabis sativa plant, the plant that produces marijuana. However, hemp seeds do not contain (or have only trace amounts) of THC, so are not a mind-altering product. They are safe to eat and add to food.
Also known as hemp hearts, they have a crunchy texture but are available in powder form to mix with drinks or food. They also make a surprisingly good plant-based milk.
Hemp seeds are high in protein, a good source of fibre, contain omegas 3 and 6, and antioxidants. They are also low carb and low sodium. But that’s not all, so let’s dive a little deeper into their health benefits and nutrition.
Hemp Seeds for Protein
Hemp seeds are one of the best sources of plant-derived protein. They have more protein than current favourite chia seeds, or flax seeds. A 30 g serving contains around 9 g of protein.
They are also a complete source of protein, which means they provide all nine essential amino acids. Amino acids are vital for a healthy functioning body. As the body cannot produce these acids, they must come through the diet.
People on vegetarian, vegan or plant-based diets often look for more complete sources of protein. Hemp seeds, therefore, are a great, simple option and worth considering.
Hemp Seeds – High in Polyunsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fats, particularly omega 3 fatty acids, are important for complete physical health. They usually come from your diet, which means that hemp seeds can be a great source.
Hemp seeds contain omega 3 and omega 6. These have antioxidant effects and are known to benefit the health of the heart, skin and joints. But with these omegas, it’s all about the ratio.
People tend to eat more omega 6 in their diet and not enough omega 3. Hemp seeds are higher in omega 3 than 6 so by adding them to the diet, you may help restore a balance. They are also low in saturated fats which are known to increase levels of bad cholesterol. Furthermore, hemp seeds don’t contain any trans fats, which we know we should avoid.
Omega 6 also supports healthy skin. Research into women taking more omega 6 has shown improvements to dry and thinning skin, compared with those consuming lower levels.
Arginine for a Healthy Heart
One of the essential amino acids found in hemp seeds is arginine, which creates nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessels and helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure level. High blood pressure is a significant factor in heart disease and stroke so it’s important to keep this right.
Arginine may also lower the levels of an inflammatory protein called CRP. High blood levels of CRP are also linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Hemp seeds, which contain arginine, may play a positive role in keeping your heart healthy and lowering your risk of heart disease.
A Source of Fibre
Hemp seeds are a good source of fibre but don’t have as much as chia seeds. It’s mainly found in the outer hull or shell of the seed, so look for ones with the hulls intact. They are still good for fibre though, even without the shells. Fibre is so important in the diet and is known to:
- Keep you feeling fuller and suppress the appetite
- Improve digestion
- Maintain steady blood sugar levels
- Help in weight management
- Promote a healthy gut
Minerals and vitamins
Adding to the list of hemp seed nutrition, they also contain a wide range of vitamins and mineral, including:
- Vitamin E
They are also full of B vitamins, such as:
- Vitamin B6
Other Hemp Seed Benefits
We know that hemp seeds are a great source of protein, fibre, essential omegas, vitamins and minerals. Research suggests that, apart from nutrition, they may play a helpful role in brain, skin and immune (or inflammatory) conditions.
It is important to mention that hemp seeds are not the same as hemp oil. Pure hemp oil is available, but many will contain CBD. This is a cannabinoid extracted from the leaves, flowers and buds of the hemp plant.
CBD is used as a supplement and is thought to promote good health in a number of ways. Many people take it to support muscle recovery, a healthier sleep pattern or to ease daily stresses. Anecdotal evidence also suggests CBD can be helpful in managing a wide range of health conditions.
It is also being considered in managing serious conditions of the brain or muscle system. But a great deal more research needs to be undertaken before any claims about CBD can be confirmed.
Hemp seeds do not contain CBD and their many vital properties may help support general health.
Inflammation in the body can relate to a number of conditions. It can be the swelling or soreness felt with a pulled muscle. It can be redness on the skin caused by acne or eczema.
There can be inflammation in the brain after an impact. And there can be inflammation around the joints, something associated with arthritis. It is also a factor in:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease
- Metabolic syndrome
Omega 3 is known to help reduce inflammation. Hemp seeds are rich in omega 3 but more importantly, have a good ratio to omega 6. Together, these are a helpful weapon in fighting inflammation.
Hemp seeds are also a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid or GLA. This polyunsaturated fatty acid may have anti-inflammatory properties, but more research is needed. Studies in animals suggest GLA can be anti-inflammatory, whereas studies in humans suggest the acid is not always effective.
These studies would have involved high concentrations of hemp seed. The levels of the extracts far exceed what you would get from adding hemp seeds to your diet. Even so, boosting your intake may reduce inflammation and its overall nutrition will benefit health.
Hemp Seeds for Healthy Skin
Everyone has issues with their skin at some time. For some, though, skin conditions like atopic dermatitis or acne can be a big problem. Both result from chronic inflammation so the anti-inflammatory properties of hemp seeds may help.
Deficiency in Omega 3 has been linked to acne alongside other possible dietary issues. Acne symptoms could, therefore, be eased and managed by the high omega 3 content in hemp seeds.
Research has suggested that dietary changes can have a positive impact on skin diseases. There is some evidence that the symptoms of acne can be improved by adding more omega 3 to the diet. But again, this is an area that needs more scientific research.
It has also been suggested that adding prebiotics and plant fibre to the diet may help manage the symptoms of atopic dermatitis. Hemp seeds are a good source of fibre, so they could play a role in this area of skin health.
Treating rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. The immune system usually fights infection but sometimes it mistakenly attacks the cells lining the joints. This can make the joints swollen, stiff and painful. It can result in damage to the joints, cartilage and bone which are usually irreversible.
The anti-inflammatory properties found in hemp seeds could, therefore, have health benefits for people managing rheumatoid arthritis.
Cooking with Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds can be added to the diet in many ways, so be creative. They are crunchy little seeds that also come in powder form. Here are a few tasty options:
- Sprinkle over salads or Buddha bowls
- Use as a topping for cereal or yoghurt
- Add to smoothies for a protein kick
- Use in home-baked muffins or protein bars
- Blend seeds and water for a creamy, nutty milk plant-based milk
Where to Buy Hemp Seeds
You can find hemp seeds in some supermarkets and health food stores but go online for larger, cheaper quantities.
Commercial hemp milk is becoming more familiar on the supermarket shelf. It may contain thickeners or sweeteners and be fortified with vitamins and minerals. But for a pure version, try making it yourself – it’s quick and simple.
Hemp protein powder is also available and offers a vegan alternative to people building muscle.
Any Side Effects?
Hemp seeds come from the cannabis plant but should not contain THC. Anyone on a strict training regime must be aware that using hemp products can sometimes result in failed urine tests. It is possible for seeds to be contaminated in the manufacturing process.
Are Hemp Seeds for Me?
Hemp seeds have a high nutritional value, particularly for protein. And their levels of antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and fibre certainly provide health benefits.
Hemp seed milk is loved by coffee fans as its creamy texture is a close match for cow’s milk.
If you are considering ways to boost your nutrition and liven up your diet, consider adding hemp seeds. Packed with protein and other nutritional goodies, they could soon be the new superfood of the seed world.