Hemp seed is similar to flaxseed, but because hemp cultivation has historically been prohibited in most of the United States, its health benefits are less commonly known here. But as industrial hemp is putting down new roots in the U.S., it’s worth getting reacquainted with the nutritional benefits of this seed.
The term “superfood” gets thrown around a lot, but hemp seed deserves the title. It contains almost as much protein as soybeans, and is rich in vitamin E, calcium, potassium and magnesium. A study conducted in Finland found that both hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are an excellent source of nutrition, and that concerns about THC (the active compound in marijuana) in these food are “not supported by scientific evidence.”
But perhaps most importantly, hemp seed contains high levels of essential fatty acids, including linoleic acid, omega-6, and omega-3. Diets rich in these fatty acids, and lower in saturated fats, are associated with lower incidents of heart disease.
Hempseed oil has been part of traditional medicine for thousands of years, but there’s only limited clinical research into its benefits. Nonetheless, new trials are confirming some of these traditional uses.
One review paper found that there has been enough research to support “the hypothesis that hemp seed has the potential to beneficially influence heart disease.” However, the authors argue that we still don’t fully understand how much hemp seed is needed to produce this benefit, or how hemp seed should be used therapeutically.
Other preliminary studies found that eating hemp seed could have positive effects on eczema and can help heal wounds when topically applied.
How to eat
Hemp seeds have a lightly nutty flavor and can be eaten whole, hulled or ground. They can be added to recipes for baked goods, or sprinkled over just about anything.
Hemp seeds are cold-pressed to extract oil, which can be used in dips, spreads, or salad dressings. However, it’s not a good idea to cook with hemp seed oil, because heat will damage its nutritional value.
Our U.S. readers will probably have to rely on imported hemp products for some time. Our northern neighbors in Canada have had success exporting hemp seed oil, but hopefully locally grown options in the U.S. will be available soon.