The hemp plant, native to Asia, may be ancient (records mentioning the plant go back more than 10,000 years), but our ancestors definitely had the right idea.
These super seeds supersede in terms of nutrition. Loaded with essential fatty acids, plant-based protein, vitamins, and minerals, hempseed is a rich, nutty way to bump up the nutrition in your diet.
And with potential health benefits ranging from a healthier heart to clearer skin, hempseed is the dietary darling you never knew you needed.
But before you go any further and start dusting off your old Pink Floyd LPs, know that this variety of the Cannabis sativa plant contains very low levels of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis, or marijuana).
Ingesting hempseed won’t get you high. In fact, the amount of THC in food-grade hempseed isn’t even enough to arouse any suspicion on a drug test.
The saying “big things come in small packages” couldn’t be any truer in regard to hempseed. These small seeds pack a big nutrition punch.
Three tablespoons of hempseed offers 166 calories of rich, nutty flavor that some liken to sunflower seeds.
They’re particularly rich in essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) fatty acids, which are important for immune function and can help fight heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease and even symptoms of depression.
Hempseed is also a rich source of the polyunsaturated fatty acid gamma linolenic acid, or GLA.
And don’t forget about the vitamins and minerals. Hempseed is a great source of magnesium, zinc, and iron, and also offers some potassium, phosphorus, and calcium, which are all necessary for normal body function and development.
Antioxidants help prevent or stop oxidants (reactive molecules found in the environment and produced in your own body) from damaging your body’s cells. Antioxidants may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and gastrointestinal disorders, to name a few.
If you haven’t gotten the memo on fiber yet, here’s a primer.
Aside from keeping you “regular” (you know, your poop — because otherwise, who wants to be regular?), fiber feeds your healthy gut flora, helps maintain a healthy weight, protects against developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and inflammation, and even helps boost your mood. (See ya, anxiety; give me some roughage!)
About 3 tablespoons of hulled hempseed contains 1.2 grams of fiber. Eating hempseed with the hull intact gives you a lot more of the good stuff, with 9 grams of fiber in 3 tablespoons of toasted whole hempseed. That’s over 30 percent of the daily recommendation for women and 25 percent the recommendation for men.
Get this. Hempseed are not actually seeds at all — they’re nuts. (Mind = blown.) Which may help explain why they’re such a great source of protein.
Hempseed is one of the few plant-based sources of protein that contain all 9 of the essential amino acids.
As a reminder, amino acids are the building blocks of protein — you basically can’t do much without them. The essential amino acids play important roles in energy production, muscle building, information processing, sleep, and so many other critical processes. And since your body isn’t able to make them, you have to eat them.
Enter hempseed. A mere 3 tablespoons of hempseed contains 10 grams of protein. Your body needs amino acids to build protein? Hempseed says, “I got this.”
You’re not alone in loving hempseed; your heart loves them too.
According to some evidence from animal studies, hempseed may help reduce high blood pressure due to their unique combination of healthy fats and essential amino acids.
Hempseed is particularly high in the amino acid arginine, which has been shown to reduce blood pressure when added to the diet. The arginine in hempseed produces nitric oxide in your bod, which may help blood vessels relax and lower your blood pressure.
Hempseed may also help lower high cholesterol, though results are mixed.
In one older study, people who ate hempseed oil had a lower total cholesterol to HDL (or “good” cholesterol) ratio compared to those who consumed flaxseed oil.
Another well-designed study of children and adolescents with high cholesterol showed eating 3 grams of hempseed oil for 8 weeks improved the amounts of healthy fats in their blood; however, no significant changes in cholesterol were observed.
Got itchy, dry skin? Hempseed can help.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, causes red, cracked patches on the skin, especially during the dry winter months. And it’s often made worse by lots of hand-washing (cue the pandemic!).
Studies show that the high concentration of fatty acids in hempseed oil can help relieve skin dryness and itchiness in people with eczema.
In one well-designed, but older study from 2005, people with atopic dermatitis who consumed 30 milliliters of hempseed oil for 8 weeks had less skin dryness and itchiness compared to those who took olive oil. People who took hempseed oil also were able to decrease their use of medication for dermatitis by 37 percent.
With their nutrition and health benefits, you def want to incorporate more hempseed into your diet.
Nosh on a handful after a workout, or sprinkle them on pretty much anything including yogurt, salads, and soups. They pair perfectly when mixed with granola, and can also be baked into any recipe. For a boost of protein, try blending hempseed into a fruit smoothie.
Ways to incorporate hempseed into your life
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There are also some nontraditional ways to fill up on hemp besides the seeds — look for hemp milk, which tastes great over cereal and can be stirred into hot cocoa or pancake batter.
Hemp protein powder is also a great alternative to whey protein powder: It’s vegan, lactose-free, and contains essential amino acids (1 tablespoon packs more than 3.5 grams of protein — although that’s less than whey powder’s 6 grams per tablespoon).
Or try hempseed oil, which can be used in baked goods and salad dressings.