The Health Benefits Of Hemp Seeds + How They Compare To Other Seeds
Many healthy eaters are already nuts for nuts, but seeds are another notable source of protein and nutrients. Chia, flax, pumpkin, and sesame seeds are some of the most hyped-up, but the health benefits of hemp seeds deserve attention too.
Here, nutrition experts share six science-backed reasons that hemp seeds are super healthy—and how to work them into your meals moving forward.
Benefits of hemp seeds.
Here are six benefits of hemp seeds and their shelled counterpart, hemp hearts, that make them a deliciously nutritious addition to the average diet:
They are high in complete protein.
According to Emily Peck, a nutrition consultant and head chef at CookUnity, hemp seeds are a complete protein source, meaning that they contain all of the nine essential amino acids we need in our diet but that our bodies cannot naturally produce. They're also a high source of protein, with shelled hemp seeds (or hemp hearts) yielding 9.48 grams1 of the macronutrient per every 30 grams (~3 tbsps).
They're good for your heart.
Research suggests2 that fatty acids are good for maintaining heart health and balancing blood sugar levels. While oftentimes when we think "fatty acids" we think of fish like salmon and sardines, hemp seeds are also loaded with omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6s (like gamma-linolenic acid).
They could be beneficial for your skin.
While we're on the subject, research suggests that fatty acids, like omega-3s, are anti-inflammatory3. We already know hemp seed oil can be used topically for irritated skin (think redness, inflammation, eczema, psoriasis, etc.), but if you'd rather eat your hemp, there's a chance the omegas could work their magic from the inside out—though more research is needed to confirm the theory.
They support digestive health.
Ella Davar, R.D., CDN, CHC, tells mbg that because hemp seeds are 30% to 40% fiber, they serve as "a prebiotic for gut-friendly bacteria," optimizing digestion and the microbiome. But note: Shelled hemp hearts only contain 1.2 grams of fiber per serving. Unshelled, they contain 3 grams of fiber per serving but are tougher to eat.
They're chock-full of vitamins and minerals.
In addition to being packed with protein and healthy fats, registered dietitian and co-founder of FWDfuel Kylene Bogden, M.S., RDN, loves hemp seeds for their vitamins and minerals. Bogden lists potassium, B vitamins, phosphorus, and magnesium as some of the seed's most notable vitamins and minerals4 and explains that, together, they help support muscle function and a healthy immune system.
They help promote brain health.
ALA omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have neuroprotective properties5, making hemp seeds a brain-boosting snack.
The USDA dietary guidelines recommend a daily protein intake of around 50 grams on a 2,000-calorie diet, and as you can see from these stats, hemp hearts are a protein powerhouse, with one serving making up roughly ⅕ of your daily intake. They are also high in healthy fats and low in carbs.
How do they compare to other seeds?
There are a handful of healthy seeds worth incorporating into your diet, with each one offering a unique set of nutritional values. Hemp seeds are most often compared to chia seeds and flaxseeds, so let's see how they stack up.
Hemp seeds vs. Chia seeds
According to the USDA, 28.35 grams (~2 tbsps) of chia seeds6 equates to:
- Calories: 138 calories
- Protein: 5 g
- Carbs: 12 g
- Fat: 9 g
- Fiber: 10 g
Chia seeds are small, round, dark in color, and harder in texture than hemp seeds, which are light in color, soft/easy to chew, and have a nutty taste. In terms of nutrition, chia seeds are much higher in fiber than hemp seeds, while hemp trumps chia seeds in the protein department.
What's more, Davar explains that because hemp seeds are higher in fatty acids (both omega-6s and 3s), they're slightly higher in calories than other seeds, like chia, but they're easier to digest as a topper to meals and snacks, whereas chia seeds require soaking for optimal absorption.
How they compare:
Hemp seeds vs. Flaxseeds
- Calories: 151 calories
- Protein: 4 g
- Carbs: 7 g
- Fat: 10 g
- Fiber: 8 g
Like hemp seeds, flaxseeds have a mild nutty taste, but they're a bit chewier than hemp. As far as nutrition goes, Peck tells mbg that flax must be ground to reap benefits and, compared to hemp seed, is a richer source of antioxidants.
How they compare:
As is the case with anything you intend to put into your body, it's important to know where hemp seeds are sourced from, as well as any sustainability concerns with the food, before making your purchase.
Luckily, hemp seeds are considered a very sustainable food source since hemp plants can be cultivated in many conditions and help enhance soil health as they grow.
When shopping for hemp seeds (be it online or in-store), it's still a good idea to research the brand and its sustainability practices. Davar encourages clients to look for local farmers that used organic and regenerative farming approaches to help support the well-being of our planet.
How to incorporate hemp seeds into your meals.
Hemp seeds have a neutral taste and generally take on the flavor of whatever you're mixing them with. This makes them easy to incorporate into your meals. As far as how much hemp seed to eat in a day, experts recommend eating a serving of 3 tablespoons per day, either all at once or divided between meals and snacks, to reap their benefits.
- Add them to smoothies: Another easy way to incorporate hemp seeds into your diet is to add a few tablespoons to your go-to smoothie recipe. If you like your smoothies creamy, add them to the blender. If you enjoy added texture and something to chew on, mixing them into your drink once it's already been blended is also an option.
- As a DIY breading for chicken: How's this for a cooking hack: To sneak more seeds into their diet, Bogden uses hemp seeds along with another favorite crushed nut or seed to bread chicken rather than using store-bought breadcrumbs.
- Mix them into oatmeal: In addition to popular toppings like berries and nut butter, Bodgen recommends mixing hemp seeds into your morning bowl of oatmeal for added sustenance.
- Turn them into hemp milk: Registered dietitian Rachael DeVaux previously told mbg she likes to blend hemp hearts with filtered water, a pinch of sea salt, cinnamon, and vanilla bean to make a pitcher of homemade hemp milk she can add to a variety of recipes, from her morning coffee to salad dressing.
- Add them to your batter for baked goods: Whether you're whipping up chocolate-coated energy bites, a batch of cookies, or even muffins, adding hemp hearts to the mix is an easy way to put a holistic spin on your favorite sweet treats.
- Snack on seed bark: We realize "seed bark" sounds bland, but trust us when we say this gut-friendly recipe from cookbook author and editor Lindsay Maitland Hunt is sure to curb your chocolate craving, with the added bonus of benefiting your microbes.
- Make a PB&J + H: This writer started adding a sprinkle of hemp seeds to peanut butter and jelly, and the combination just worked. The seeds do add a bit of texture to your sandwich, but it also gives the nostalgic lunch food a protein and fiber boost.
- Put them in homemade salad dressings: Peck tells mbg that because shelled hemp seeds provide an added creaminess to food when blended, she likes to add them to her homemade salad dressings. One of her favorite recipes is a vegan-friendly caesar dressing that's as easy to make as it is delicious on greens and grain bowls. All you need to make it is ¼ cup of tahini, 3 tbsp of hemp hearts, 1 tsp of Dijon mustard, ½ tsp black pepper, ½ tsp capers, 1 tbsp nutritional yeast, 2 cloves garlic, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp olive oil, and 2 tbsp warm water.
Do hemp seeds make you sleepy?
It has not been scientifically proven that hemp seeds can make you sleepy. That said, Davar notes that hemp seeds do contain trace amounts of CBD and CBN, cannabis compounds that support healthy sleep, while Bogden adds that small amounts of melatonin and magnesium are present in hemp seeds, both of which are mild sleep enhancers. To reap the sleep benefits of hemp, you might be better off taking a sleep supplement that contains hemp oil extract.
Are there any hemp seeds side effects?
There are no known side effects of hemp on human health. That said, those who are allergic may experience symptoms, or those with gastro sensitivities, due to the seed's high fat and fiber content.
The key to maintaining a well-balanced diet is incorporating a variety of foods, with unique nutritional profiles, into your daily menu. Hemp seeds are an excellent source of complete protein, making them a healthy (not to mention sustainable) plant protein to keep on hand for smoothies, milks, and beyond.
Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER. Formerly the beauty editor for BestProducts.com, she's contributed to Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, PopSugar, and more. A book worm and fitness enthusiast, her happiest moments are spent with her husband, family, sipping tea, and cuddling with her Tabby cat, Aria.