Despite their tiny size, hemp seeds are packed with health and nutritional benefits. In fact, the nutritional density of hemp seeds tops that of many other plant-based foods and it’s easy to add them to your meals and snacks. Add a sprinkle to a bowl of oatmeal or a tablespoonful to a smoothie. In fact, hemp seeds might be one of the healthiest plant-based foods you’re missing out on. You can find these crunchy gems in most supermarkets, in packages and, sometimes, in bulk bins. If you can’t locate them in a general grocery store, natural food markets and health food stores are a reliable source.
What are hemp seeds? When you think of hemp, a vision of hippies hanging out might come to mind, but don’t confuse hemp seeds with marijuana. You won’t feel the slightest high from eating these crunchy seeds. Although marijuana and hemp belong to the same species, they come from different plants. With hemp seeds, you won’t get a buzz, only a ton of nutritional value.
Let’s look at some reasons to add hemp seeds to your diet:
Plant-Based Protein Galore!
Plant-based protein is growing in popularity because of environmental concerns and hemp is a concentrated source of plant protein for body maintenance, muscle repair, and muscle building. In fact, 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds supply 12 grams of protein, a substantial quantity for a plant-based food. Plus, hemp contains all the essential amino acids your body needs and can’t synthesize, making them an ideal protein source for people who eat a vegan diet. However, omnivores can still enjoy their other health benefits.
Many plant proteins lack one or more essential amino acids, but hemp seeds won’t let you down in the protein department. The high protein content of these tiny seeds may explain their satiety benefits. In fact, a study found that people who consumed hemp seeds for breakfast took in 10% fewer calories over the rest of the day. That’s the power of protein! It keeps you full longer.
Hemp Seeds Are Heart Healthy
Fiber-rich, plant-based foods are heart healthy as a whole but hemp seeds are also a rich source of arginine, an amino acid that blood vessels convert to nitric oxide, a gas that opens up blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. Nitric oxide also changes blood vessel function in a way that reduces the risk of blood clots.
Other components in hemp seeds, like the fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid, may also reduce inflammation. One study found that gamma-linolenic acid reigns in inflammation, the driving force behind blood vessels damage and cardiovascular disease. Hemp seeds are also an excellent source of plant-based omega-3s. These, too, may be favorable for heart health, although your body can convert less than 10% of the omega-3s in hemp seeds to long-chain omega-3s, the heart healthy kind most abundant in fatty fish.
In addition, hemp seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral linked with heart health. In fact, two teaspoons of hemp seeds supply a quarter of the day’s requirements. Studies show that diets higher in magnesium may lower blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity. Both are favorable for metabolic and heart health. Preliminary studies also find a lower risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease among people who eat a diet high in magnesium. Studies show that up to half of all people don’t get enough magnesium in their diet. Blood tests aren’t very reliable for picking up deficiencies in magnesium since they can’t detect tissue levels of this important mineral.
Hemp Seeds Promote Intestinal Health
The health of your digestive tract plays a key role in how healthy you are overall. That’s because you absorb nutrients from your gut. From there, nutrients from your diet enter your lymphatic system and bloodstream where they’re carried to other tissues and organs. If you have impaired digestion, you may not consume enough essential nutrients from the foods you eat. Plus, you have trillions of gut bacteria that comprise gut microbiome and they affect all aspects of health, including digestive system function. The fiber in hemp seeds supports gut microbiome diversity, a marker of health.
Beyond the microbiome, fermentable fiber has other health benefits. The essential fatty acids in hemp break down into short-chain fatty acids that help keep the lining of your colon in pristine shape. Short-chain fatty acids, like proprionic acid and butyric acid, provide energy for colon cells and help reduce inflammation. Some studies suggest that short-chain fatty acids, like these, lower the risk of colon cancer.
In addition, hemp seeds are easy for your body to digest. They lack components called trypsin inhibitors that reduce how much protein you absorb from your gut. So, the protein in hemp seeds is very bioavailable to your body. That’s not true of some forms of plant-based protein. One caveat: To get the fiber benefits of hemp seeds, choose whole hemp seeds, not shelled or dehulled ones. Shelling of hemp seeds removes most of the fiber.
The Bottom Line
Hemp seeds add a hint of crunch to foods and you can toss them into salads, porridge, wraps, salads, yogurt, or even sprinkle them on vegetables for added nutritional benefits. You can even use hemp seeds in baked goods. How about hemp seed muffins? You can also buy hemp milk made from hulled hemp seeds, water, and a sweetener, however it may be less flavorful than other types of plant-based milk, but if you plan on using it with smoothies, the other ingredients will mask the taste. Hemp seed oil is another product made from hemp seeds. It’s an even more concentrated source of arginine, the heart-healthy amino acids, than even hemp seeds. However, you won’t get the fiber inherent to the seed when you use the oil – but why not try both? Enjoy the added nutritional perks of hemp seeds.
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- Medical News Today. “What Are the Health Benefits of Hemp?”
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- DiNicolantonio JJ, Liu J, O’Keefe JHMagnesium for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Open Heart 2018;5:e000775. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2018-000775.
- American Society for Microbiology. Dynamics of Human Gut Microbiota and Short-Chain Fatty Acids in Response to Dietary Interventions with Three Fermentable Fibers. Nielson T. Baxter, Alexander W. Schmidt, Arvind Venkataraman, Kwi S. Kim, Clive Waldron, Thomas M. Schmidt.