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The Health Benefits of Hemp Hearts

Just like chia and flax seeds, hemp hearts pack a punch of nutrition in just a few tablespoons. Here’s the low-down.

Over the last decade, chia and flax seeds have gone from hipster products hidden in the back of a Whole Foods to beloved pantry staples, all thanks to their portable size, versatility in flavor combos, and nutritional values. And it’s about time hemp hearts got the same kudos.

Derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp hearts are actually just hulled or unshelled hemp seeds, and no, they don’t naturally contain CBD — the compound that can potentially ease anxiety and treat other health concerns — or THC — the chemical responsible for cannabis’ mind-altering effects, per the Food and Drug Administration. While hemp hearts do have an ever-so-slightly nutty taste and creamy texture, that’s not their main draw. “Just like chia seeds or flax seeds, you don’t recommend hemp hearts for the taste — you recommend them for the added nutrition,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N, a dietitian and Shape Brain Trust member. That’s not to say hemp hearts taste bad (some people may enjoy that added bit of nuttiness!), it’s just that their nutritional qualities are probably the primary reason you’ll want to add them to your diet.

In fact, the health benefits of hemp hearts run aplenty. They offer everything from nutrients that support bone and heart health and essential minerals for plant-based eaters, to muscle-building macronutrients. And luckily, there’s an abundance of creative ways to add them to your diet too. “Any way you’d use chia seeds or flax seeds, you can use hemp hearts,” says Gans. “Add them to your smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, or salads.” You can even incorporate them into homemade cookies, muffins, bread, granola, and energy balls for a punch of nutrients.

If this quick rundown didn’t quite convince you to swap your chia seeds for hemp hearts, read up on all the benefits of these little seeds below.

They’re loaded with protein.

Hemp hearts may be small, but they sure are mighty. Three tablespoons of the hearts contain a whopping 9.5 grams of protein — three grams more than a single egg and nearly double that of chia seeds, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In case you forgot everything from high school health class, protein helps support your immune cells, hair, skin, and importantly, muscles. Following a round of exercise, your body uses protein to repair damaged muscle fibers, which helps them become even stronger. Unsurprisingly, if you don’t get enough of it through your diet, you could suffer from muscle loss, weak hair and nails, or immune issues.

For the average woman following a 2,000 calorie diet, the USDA recommends scoring 46 grams of protein a day. Do a little math wizardry, and that means one serving of hemp hearts offers nearly 20 percent of your daily need. Admittedly, a three-tablespoon serving is a lot, so you might eat only half a serving — and thus get half the protein — in one sitting. But every little bit adds up, so add as many as you’d like to your post-workout smoothie, and you’ll be on your way to achieving those #gains.

They boast omega-3 fatty acids.

While fresh fish and seafood are typically the go-to sources for omega-3 fatty acids, hemp hearts deserve to be on the favorites list, as well. In just three tablespoons of hemp hearts, you’ll get more than double the daily recommended amount of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 that your body can’t produce on its own — meaning they need to be obtained from your diet, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce levels of triglycerides (a type of fat linked with increased risk of heart disease), curb the buildup of plaque in your arteries (which can ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke), and slightly lower blood pressure, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Related: Vegetarian Foods That Offer a Healthy Dose of Omega-3 Fatty Acids)

They support good bone health.

Though it’s not the most glamorous benefit of hemp hearts, it is one of the biggest. Just three tablespoons of hemp hearts provide 210 milligrams of magnesium and 495 milligrams of phosphorus, which breaks down to a whopping 68 percent and 70 percent of your recommended daily allowances, respectively, for each of those nutrients.

ICYDK, “magnesium can help in the whole bone equation,” says Gans. “We always talk about calcium and vitamin D, but magnesium also plays a role in keeping our bones strong.” In fact, research has found that people who consume more magnesium have higher bone mineral density, which is essential in reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis (a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle.)

Likewise, the primary function of phosphorus in the body is to help build and maintain your bones and teeth, according to the NLM. Along with calcium, this essential nutrient forms the tiny crystals that give bones their rigidity, and when dietary intakes of phosphorous are lacking for a prolonged period, bones can actually weaken, per the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

They supplement nutrients for plant-based eaters.

Listen up, vegetarians, vegans, flexitarians, and any other all or mostly all plant-based eaters. Three tablespoons of hemp hearts contain 13 percent of the recommended daily allowance for iron, a mineral that’s used to make proteins in red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the body and to muscles. Without enough of it, less oxygen is moved throughout the body, which can cause gastrointestinal upset, weakness, tiredness, lack of energy, and difficulty concentrating, per the NIH. Not exactly a pleasant situation to be in.

Along with pregnant women and young children, plant-based eaters are at a greater risk than most humans for iron deficiency, says Gans. That’s because the iron in food comes in two forms, heme iron (found only in meats and seafood) and non-heme iron (found in plant foods, iron-fortified products, meats, and seafood). Since the body doesn’t absorb non-heme iron as well as heme iron, plant-based eaters need to consume nearly twice as much iron to get their fill, per the NIH. And luckily, these crunchy hemp hearts can help herbivores easily amp up their iron intake, says Gans.

They help your body convert food to energy.

You can thank the tiny seed’s thiamine and manganese content for this hemp heart benefit. Also known as vitamin B1, thiamine helps your body break down carbohydrates so they can be used as energy, explains Gans. It’s also essential for the growth, development, and function of the cells in your body, according to the NIH. Without enough of the nutrient, you can start to experience weight loss, reduced appetite, confusion, memory problems, muscle weakness, and heart problems, reports the NIH. But not to worry, you can snag 35 percent of your recommended daily allowance in just three tablespoons of hemp hearts. (Related: Why B Vitamins Are the Secret to More Energy)

What’s more, a three-tablespoon serving of hemp hearts boasts nearly 130 percent (!)) of the recommended daily allowance of manganese, a mineral that helps break down the starches and sugar you eat and process cholesterol, carbohydrates, and protein, per the NLM. The nutrient also helps support strong bones, blood clotting, and a healthy immune system. It’s the bundle of nutrients you never knew you needed.

Wondering exactly what hemp hearts are? Here, the answer to what are hemp hearts, plus all the hemp hearts benefits and hemp heart nutrition facts.

The Health Benefits of Hemp

Nutritional Advantages of Eating Hemp Seeds and Hempseed Oil

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Lana Butner, ND, LAc, is a board-certified naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist in New York City.

Hemp seeds, oil, and protein powder

Verywell / Anastasiia Tretiak​

Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is cultivated for making a wide range of products including foods, health products, fabric, rope, natural remedies, and much more. The various parts of the hemp plant are used to make different products.

The seeds of hemp are edible and are considered highly nutritious with a high concentration of soluble and insoluble fiber, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for heart health and skin health.

Hemp is grown for non-drug use because it contains only trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant that is responsible for getting a person high).

Also Known As

  • Narrow-leaf hemp
  • Bitter root
  • Catchfly
  • Indian-hemp
  • Milkweed
  • Wild cotton

Health Benefits

There are three different species of plants that come from the Cannabis genus (in the Cannabaceae family). These include Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

Hemp classifies as varieties of Cannabis that contain 0.3% or less THC content. Marijuana, on the other hand, describes Cannabis plant species that have more than 0.3% THC, which can induce euphoric effects.

The hemp seeds are the primary part of the hemp plant that is edible. The leaves can be used to make a tea, but it’s the seeds that contain most of the plant’s nutrients. In fact, hemp seeds have over 30% fat, including essential fatty acids. The health benefits of hemp, therefore, primarily come from its seeds.

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are, pretty much, as the name implies—the seeds of the hemp plant. Sometimes, the seeds are also referred to as hemp hearts.

They are high in insoluble and soluble fiber, rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which has been linked in studies to many health benefits, offers a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.   Note that hemp hearts have had the fibrous shell removed and, thus, are lower in fiber and other nutrients than whole hemp seeds.

A 2016 study discovered that GLA has very strong anti-inflammatory properties and has a “great potential to dampen [the] inflammatory processes and improve signs and symptoms of several inflammatory diseases.”  

Hemp seeds contain the perfect 3-to-1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which is considered the optimal ratio for heart and brain health. This ratio is difficult to attain in the Western diet, as most foods contain far too many omega-6 fatty acids (like vegetable oil) and not nearly enough omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon and other wild-caught, cold-water fish).

Hemp seeds contain many nutrients, including minerals (such as magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc) as well as vitamins.  

The high content of 20% soluble and 80% insoluble fiber, in whole hemp seeds, may aid in digestion while helping to lower bad cholesterol and improve heart health.   The insoluble fiber in hemp seeds has also been linked with a lower risk of diabetes.  

Hemp Oil Versus CBD Oil

Hemp oil (also called hempseed oil) comes from the seeds of the hemp plant; it is made by cold-pressing hemp seeds. Hempseed oil differs from CBD oil in that CBD oil is extracted from the cannabis plant and then combined with a base oil (such as coconut, MCT, or olive oil).

Hempseed oil, which comes from the seeds only—and not from a hemp variety of the Cannabis plant itself—does not contain any psychoactive properties (such as those from THC which cause a person to get high). Hemp oil has its own unique properties and health benefits.

Hemp oil is used in foods for its high level of healthy nutrients such as:

  • Proteins
  • Essential fatty acids (EFAs)
  • Minerals (such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron, and more)
  • Antioxidants (such as Vitamin E)

Hemp oil can be used as a cooking oil and, just like any other type of healthy oil, can be added to foods such as salads, dips, and spreads.

Animal studies have shown that hempseed oil may lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.  

Hemp oil is often used as a hair conditioner, a skin moisturizer. Some studies found that hempseed oil may improve dry, itchy skin and help symptoms of eczema, reducing the need for prescription medication.  

Hemp Protein

Hemp protein is a powder made from the seeds of the hemp plant; it contains over 25% high-quality protein with nearly 20 amino acids and nine essential amino acids.

Hemp protein is an excellent choice in a protein powder for vegetarians or vegans because it also contains essential fatty acids that are vital to health. The protein content in hemp seeds is considerably higher than that of flax or chia seeds, which contain only around 15% to 18% protein.

Other Health Benefits

Hemp has been used to treat a variety of health conditions, but there is not enough clinical research data to back up the claims that hemp is safe or effective to treat many illnesses. These include:  

  • Asthma
  • Cough
  • Bloating
  • Arthritis
  • Syphilis
  • Pneumonia
  • Heart problems
  • Urinary conditions (increasing urine flow)
  • Warts (when applied topically to the skin)

How it Works

It is thought that hemp contains chemicals (like the drug Lanoxin) that lower the blood pressure, slow heart rate, and increase the strength of the heartbeat, and increase urine output.

Hemp is also known to have terpenes, which are molecules produced by plants that are responsible for the plant’s distinctive smell (such as lavender). Studies are beginning to show that terpenes are thought to have many health benefits including neuroprotective (brain-protective), anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties.  

Possible Side Effects

According to RX List, taking whole hemp by mouth can cause many side effects including:  

  • Throat irritation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

There is not enough clinical research data to prove that hemp is safe for use in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or to use topically (on the skin).

Eating hemp seeds is not considered as unsafe as is ingesting the hemp leaves or other parts of the plant. But the seeds can cause mild diarrhea because of the high-fat content.

Interaction with Medications

Do not ingest hemp when taking cardiac glycosides or diuretics.

Cardiac Glycosides

Cardiac glycosides, such as Lanoxin (digoxin) help the heart beat strongly and can slow down the heart rate. Hemp is also known to slow the heart rate; this could result in bradycardia. Do not take hemp when taking Lanoxin without consulting with the prescribing physician or another healthcare provider.

Diuretics

Diuretics such as Diuril (chlorothiazide), Thalitone (chlorthalidone), Lasix (furosemide), Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide) and others may lower potassium in the body as they work to flush fluids. Hemp has a similar action.

When there is an increase in urine/fluid output, it’s common that potassium is also lost. Taking diuretics and hemp together may result in dangerously low potassium levels which could adversely impact the heart.

Hemp seeds

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

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Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, or cooked with other foods. Hempseed oil has been used as food or made into medicine for thousands of years in China.

There are many ways to eat hemp protein, oil, and seeds, including:

  • In a smoothie
  • On oatmeal or cereal
  • Sprinkled over salads
  • As a nut butter
  • As a form of milk (hemp milk)
  • On yogurt
  • In meal bars or granola bars
  • As a salad dressing (hemp oil)
  • Sprinkle (hemp seeds) on casserole dishes
  • Add hemp seeds to baked goods
  • In recipes
  • As a cooking oil

Storage

Exposing hemp seeds to air for long periods of time or storing hemp at high temperatures can cause the degradation of its healthy fat content; this could result in trans-fatty acids (which are the very worst type of fats a person could eat).

It is recommended to store hemp seeds and hemp oil at cool temperatures, away from exposure to bright light, in an airtight container. It is best to refrigerate hemp products after opening.  

Many hemp products, including hemp oil, hemp milk, and hemp protein powder can be purchased at a health food store, or online.

Cooking hemp seeds or heating the oil to temperatures above 350 degrees Fahrenheit can denature the fats, destroying the healthy fatty acids. Hemp seeds and oil are best eaten raw; if cooking with hemp oil, use low heat.

Dosage

The dosage of any herbal or natural supplement depends on several factors, including a person’s age, health condition, and more.

Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking hemp (or any other herb) regarding the recommended dosage. When taking herbal preparations, never exceed the dosage or other recommendations on the package insert.

When eating hemp seeds, some experts suggest starting out slow (such as 1 teaspoon) then gradually working up to more as tolerated, particularly for those with digestive problems.

Selection

Hemp seeds are grown in many different countries, but the hemp that is grown in Canada is said to produce a great tasting, high-quality seed.   Look for products that have been tested in the lab for purity and potency.

Keep in mind that the regulations on hemp grown in the U.S., Europe, and Canada are stricter than those in other countries, such as China. Also, Canada’s products are non-GMO. Be sure to select an organic product for the ultimate in nutritional value, taste, potency, and overall quality.

Common Questions

Are hemp seed hearts that same as hemp seed?

No. Hemp hearts have had the fibrous shell removed and, thus, are lower in fiber and other nutrients than whole hemp seeds. Hemp hearts not as nutritionally beneficial as the whole hemp seed. However, hemp hearts are very high in healthy polyunsaturated fats.

Are hemp seeds legal to ingest in the U.S.?

Yes, hemp seeds are legal in the United States, but the seeds must contain a minimal amount of THC (the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant that gets a person high).  

According to the FDA, some hemp products, including hemp seeds, hemp seed protein powder, and hempseed oil are safe for food, and therefore there is no need for special legislation regarding legalization.

Can eating hemp cause a person to fail a drug test?

No, not when eating moderate amounts of hempseed oil, protein powder made of hemp, or hemp seeds. There are only trace amounts of THC in hemp; unless a person is using other variations of the hemp plant, such as marijuana, (or ingesting abnormally large amounts of hemp) failing a drug test from eating hemp seeds is unlikely.

Although hemp hearts do not contain any THC at all, the shells do have trace amounts (below 0.3% THC).

Therefore, although a person is very unlikely to test positive on a drug test from eating hemp seeds, those who are recovering from cannabis addiction—with a goal of avoiding all exposure to THC— may want to avoid eating the whole hemp seeds, and opt for hemp hearts instead.

What does hemp taste like?

Hemp seeds have a very pleasant, mild, nutty flavor, like unsalted sunflower seeds, but the texture is not as hard.

Learn what medical research says about the nutritional benefits of eating hemp seeds, hempseed oil, and hempseed protein powder.