The nutty tasting, delicious little seeds of the hemp plant, cannabis sativa, come from the same species as cannabis (marijuana). However, hemp seeds contain only trace amounts of THC, the active compound that causes the drugging effects of marijuana. Consumed raw, cooked or roasted the seeds are precious little ‘bombs’ of valuable nutrition. Hemp seed oil is also very healthy and versatile in salad dressings, drizzled across cooked vegetables and added to pesto, dips, hummus.
Technically a nut, hemp seeds are extremely nutritious. They have a mild, versatile flavor. The milled seeds are often referred to as hemp hearts. Containing over 30% ‘good’ fat. They are exceptionally rich in two essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). Hemp seeds also contain gamma-linolenic acid.
Hemp seeds are also a great source of vitamin E and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc.
An exceptional protein source, especially for vegans and vegetarians, hemp seeds provide more than 25% of their total calories from high-quality protein. Providing considerably more than similar foods like chia seed and flaxseed, which provide about 16–18% protein ratio. By weight, hemp seeds provide levels of protein similar to beef and lamb, 30 grams of hemp seeds or 2–3 tablespoons, provides about 11 grams of protein.
Hemp seeds are considered a complete protein source. This means they provide all the essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are not produced in the body and need to be gained from your diet. Complete protein sources are very rare in the plant world, 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.
The digestibility of hemp protein is easier than protein from many grains, nuts and legumes.
Eating hemp seeds has been touted as a wholefood approach which may also reduce the risk of heart disease. Hemp seeds contain high amounts of the amino acid arginine, which is used to produce nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a molecule that causes blood vessels to dilate and relax, which may lead to lowered blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease. In one large study of more than 13,000 people, increased arginine intake was linked with decreased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is an inflammatory marker linked with heart disease (6, 7).
The gamma-linolenic acid found in hemp seeds has also been linked with reduced inflammation, which may decrease the risk of illnesses like heart disease.
Hemp seeds have been found to be beneficial for skin disorders in some people. The fatty acids in hemp may affect immune responses in the body (13, 14, 15). Possibly due to 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 within the optimal range for human dietary needs.
Studies have shown that giving hemp seed oil to people with eczema may improve blood levels of essential fatty acids. It may also relieve dry skin, improve itchiness and reduce the need for skin medication.
A consistant intake of hemp seeds and oil may have a beneficial effect on the symptoms caused by premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS is thought to be caused by sensitivity to the hormone prolactin. The Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), found in hemp seeds, produces prostaglandin E1, which reduces the effects of prolactin (22, 23, 24).
Because hemp seeds are high in GLA, several studies have indicated that hemp seeds may also help reduce the symptoms of menopause. Exactly how this works is unknown, but it has been suggested that the GLA in hemp seeds may help to regulate the hormone imbalances and inflammation associated with menopause ( 27, 28).
Whole hemp seeds are a good source of both soluble (20%) and insoluble (80%) fibre. Soluble fibre forms a gel-like substance in the gut and is a valuable source of nutrients for beneficial digestive bacteria. It may also reduce spikes in blood sugar and regulate cholesterol levels.
Insoluble fibre adds bulk to fecal matter and may help food and waste pass through the gut. Consuming insoluble fibre has also been linked with a reduced risk of diabetes. Please note that the de-hulled or shelled hemp seeds (also known as hemp hearts) contain very little fibre because the fibre-rich shell has been removed.
Plant Culture chef (specialising in hemp foods) Cameron Sims tells us that; New Zealand is one of the last countries to approve hemp seeds for human consumption. At present, hemp seed oil is allowed as a mainstream consumer good, however the protein rich by-product (or pressed seed fibre) is commonly sold only for ‘animal consumption.’ In conjunction with New Zealand’s upcoming legislative changes regarding the purchasing of all hemp seed products, Food Minister David Bennett, has recently endorsed the seed as a beneficial and safe product, fit for humans.