If you’ve been bypassing hemp seeds in the grocery store because you associate hemp with cannabis (marijuana) — or maybe you’re just not a seed lover — it’s time to give these tiny, tasty powerhouses another look.
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Hemp seeds are one of the six best seeds you can eat. “The Cannabis sativa plant that we get hemp seeds from is a different variety than the one that produces marijuana,” says registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD. You won’t get high from hemp seeds because it has such a small amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the compound in marijuana that gives you that buzz.
“Hemp seeds are a crunchy seed with a slightly sweet, mildly nutty flavor,” she adds. Despite their name, hemp seeds are actually nuts. (But not tree nuts, so they’re safe for people with peanut allergies or other food allergies.)
While shopping, you may also see packages of hemp hearts. The “hearts” are the inside part of the seed. “Some people prefer the taste or softer texture of shelled hemp seeds,” notes Zumpano. With or without the shells, hemp seeds pack a nutritional punch.
One serving (3 tablespoons or 30 grams) of whole hemp seeds has approximately:
Nutrient-wise, a serving of hemp seeds is a good source of:
There isn’t a lot of research on the health benefits of hemp seeds because it was illegal to grow hemp (or any cannabis plant) in the United States until 2018. Still, we know hemp seeds are chock-full of protein, fiber and good-for-you nutrients. “In many ways, hemp seeds are a superfood,” says Zumpano.
Health benefits of hemp seeds include:
A serving of hemp seeds has almost 10 grams of protein — that’s more than an egg! Plus, hemp seeds are a complete protein, with all nine essential amino acids. “Your body needs essential amino acids for a healthy metabolism, immune system and brain function,” says Zumpano. “You can only get essential amino acids through foods.”
Because it takes longer for your body to break down protein (and this extra effort burns more calories), protein can help you shed pounds. Protein is also important for building muscle. “Hemp seeds are a healthy, high-protein snack for people eating a vegetarian diet or cutting back on animal protein,” she adds.
A serving of unshelled hemp seeds has 1 gram of soluble and insoluble fiber. That might not sound like much. But Zumpano says most Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diets, so any amount helps. A high-fiber diet can fill you up to promote weight loss, bulk up stools to prevent constipation and lower cholesterol. The linolenic acid in hemp seeds has also been shown to help lower cholesterol.
Most of the fiber is in the seed’s crunchy outer shell. But if you prefer the softer inner hemp hearts, you can still get fiber by using ground whole hempseed products like hemp flour and hemp protein powder.
Hemp seeds are a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). This omega-6 fatty acid may reduce the effects of prolactin, a hormone that contributes to breast tenderness and other premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. Experts think that GLA in hemp seeds may also ease menopause symptoms. Research has also found that it has anti-inflammatory effects.
Adding a lot of hemp seeds (especially with their fibrous shells intact) to your diet all at once can lead to stomach upset, gas and diarrhea. A serving is 3 tablespoons, but consider starting off with 1 tablespoon per day and gradually adding more.
And if you take medications, talk to your healthcare provider before adding hemp seeds to your diet. Hemp seeds may interact with certain medications, like:
Hemp is an extremely useful plant. Manufacturers use the fiber in the plant stems to make biodegradable plastics, cosmetics, paper and fabrics.
To add hemp seeds to your diet, you can:
Despite its cannabis connection, eating hemp seeds is more likely to curb your munchies — not bring them on. Plus, you benefit from healthy protein, fiber and nutrients!