What Are Hemp Seeds and What Good Are They?

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During a guided tour of my local grocery store, the dietician made a special effort to pick up a bag of hemp seeds—or hemp hearts—and explain that they are even more nutritious than chia seeds or flaxseeds.

I have both chia seeds and flax seeds in my pantry but I haven’t yet bought that bag of hemp seeds. Before I buy them and they end up at the back of the shelf unopened or half-eaten, I wanted to find out more about their nutritional value and how to eat and cook with them.

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What are hemp seeds?

When you hear the word “hemp,” chances are good that two things spring to mind: rope and marijuana. You aren’t wrong in those associations but the plants from which both derive are different.

Both plants are members of the Cannabaceae family but industrial hemp—Cannabis sativa—is the source of fiber and edible seeds. Subspecies of Cannabis sativa are the plants from which marijuana is produced.

Although all Cannabis plants contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the compound responsible for psychoactive effects—industrial hemp only has small amounts of THC as compared to other Cannabis plants.

Primarily used for caged-bird seed, these seeds are shelled and either roasted or left raw prior to packaging. You can also purchase seeds with split shells or seeds that have been ground into a powder.

Because cannabis is a controlled substance and illegal to grow in the majority of the United States, much of the seed supply comes from Canada.

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What’s so great about hemp seeds?

Nutrient-dense hemp seeds really pack a punch. More than 25% of the seeds’ calories come from protein, which is quite a bit more than chia seeds or flaxseed. The seeds are a complete protein, which means that they include all nine essential amino acids. Protein-wise, they have 6.31 grams in two tablespoons.

The source of numerous vitamins and minerals, those two tablespoons of seeds contain almost 250 milligrams of potassium, 330 milligrams of phosphorus, 140 milligrams of magnesium and a relatively high percentage of vitamin E.

Containing more than 30% fat, hemp seeds are high in polyunsaturated (good) fats (7.6 grams in two tablespoons), have no trans fat or cholesterol. The polyunsaturated fats are the familiar omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as less common stearidonic (SDA) and gamma-linolenic (GLA) acids. Both of these acids bolster your immune system, safeguard your heart and fight inflammation.

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The benefits of hemp seeds

Truly a superfood, the pluses for eating hemp seeds are many.

As noted above, the acids in the seeds may offer protection from heart disease.

Hemp seeds are chock full of the amino acid arginine which produces nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide dilates and relaxes your blood vessels, which can cause a decrease in blood pressure that, in turn, can lower your risk of heart disease.

In addition, an increase in arginine may lead to a decrease in C-reactive protein, which is a hallmark of inflammation and has been linked to an increase in the risk of heart disease.

The high omega fatty acid content of hemp seeds may strengthen the immune system, which could help in the control of skin conditions like eczema. Oil from hemp seeds may soothe the itch of skin rashes when used topically.

The acid—specifically gamma-linolenic (GLA)—in hemp seeds may be beneficial for those suffering from symptoms from PMS or menopause. GLA may help regulate hormone imbalances, which are often the source of symptoms.

There also is some evidence that the anti-inflammatory properties of hemp seeds may lessen some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks itself, leading to, in the case of RA, inflammation in the joints.

Hemp seeds’ anti-inflammatory benefits also may help with chronic conditions such as metabolic syndrome, RA and osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, and non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease.

Hemp seeds are great sources of plant-based protein, particularly for those who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. Since they contain all of the essential amino acids, they are considered—along with quinoa—as a complete protein. Complete proteins are rare in the plant world and are important because our bodies don’t produce essential amino acids; they have to be provided through our diets.

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How to add hemp seeds to your diet

You can purchase hemp seeds shelled, ground or with split hulls in health food stores, many chain grocery stores and online.

Mild in flavor, you can eat shelled hemp seeds right out of the bag. You can sprinkle them on salads or sprinkle whole or ground hemp seeds on yogurt or hot or cold cereal.

You can add the seeds to smoothies or add them to baked goods.

Look for hemp seeds in the ingredient list of granola, granola bars, and trail mixes.

Once you have opened the package, extend the shelf life of your seeds by refrigerating or freezing them. They will keep for about a year in the fridge or freezer.

If you store the package in a cabinet or pantry, the shelf life will be three to four months.

Look for a “best buy” or “sell by” date on the package and buy the freshest package possible. If your package has been opened for a while and you aren’t sure if you should eat them, give them a sniff. If they smell rancid, throw them out.

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The risks

Athletes or those who are routinely drug tested for work purposes should be mindful of the fact that eating hemp products may result in a failed urine drug test. Although the importation of hemp products is tightly regulated in the United States, the level of THC in a hemp-based product depends on the source of the supplier and the process by which they are manufactured.

It is probably prudent to read the labels of hemp-based products to determine the country of origin. For instance, most of the consumable hemp seeds in the States are imported from Canada, where the production is strictly monitored to ensure no cross-contamination with THC.

Because of the high (good) fat content in hemp seeds, eating large amounts may cause mild diarrhea.

Those who have digestive issues may want to gradually add hemp seeds to their diets, starting with one teaspoon and working up to two tablespoons.

Hemp seeds can interact with anticoagulant drugs and increase the risk of bleeding. If you take one of those medications, check with your doctor before adding hemp seeds to your diet.


  1. Keri Glassman, Why Are Hemp Seeds Good for Me?, website
  2. Adda Bjarnadottir, 6 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds , website
  3. Cathleen Crichton-Stuart, Health benefits of hemp seeds, website
  4. Megan Ware, What are the health benefits of hemp?, website
  5. Christina Chaey, Everything You Need to Know About How to Eat Hemp Seeds, website