Hemp Seeds: Nutrition, Benefits & Recipes
From chia to flaxseed, I love using nutritious seeds in salads, as toppings on soups and stews, and in baking. Today, I’m focusing on another super seed – the hemp seed! I wanted to share why the hemp seeds have so many health benefits and a few tips on how to eat and cook with hemp seeds.
When it comes to some of the most nutritious pantry staples, I know it’s true that big things often come in small packages. I love nutrition boosts like hemp seeds and want to share why its a must-have ingredient for your paleo diet (or any diet, really).
What are hemp seeds?
Hemp seeds come from the plant Cannibus sativa L, which is not exactly the same as the marijuana plant, although they are very similar and are part of the same Cannibus family. Let’s get one thing clear: hemp seeds will not get you high and are perfectly safe to eat. This is because hemp contains more CBD (or cannibidiol) than it does THC. To clarify, hemp seed is only about 0.3-1.5% THC. This means that it has little to no psychoactive effects.
The hemp seed is a simple dry fruit with a hard shell, kind of like the sunflower or sesame seeds. It has a mild, nutty flavour. The seed is one of the most versatile plants and is used for much more than just food. Most notably, hemp is used as fibre or textile and has been used that way for 10,000 years or more. Now, it’s sold hulled and ready-to-eat as a health food too.
When it comes to eating hemp seeds, they can be consumed raw, sprouted, or in powder form. Hemp is a natural plant protein with a full amino acid profile. They are high in fat – healthy fats – like many other seeds. They’re also loaded with vitamins and minerals. Hemp seeds fall into the super food category with ease, and they stand their ground!
Hemp seed sustainability
Before we dig into the nutrition of hemp, I want to address an equally as important point when choosing the foods we eat. Each choice we make in our diet should consider both our health and the planet, and I want to give hemp some credit where credit is due.
Hemp is a particularly easy plant to grow. It grows in varying climates with ease, and it can grow in pretty tight spaces so it doesn’t demand a ton of room. Unlike some plant harvesting, we don’t need to create more space to grow hemp, making it a very sustainable corp.
Moreover, hemp is resilient. It grows like a weed (no pun intended). It’s resistant to harmful pesticides so less are used on the crops. This means that less nitrogen ends up in our oceans which causes hypoxic conditions where fish can’t live and algae blooms in abundance, robbing all the oxygen. Oh, and hemp can even absorb toxins from the soil through a thing called phytoremediation. It’s carbon-negative and can even be turned into biofuel! You can feel darn good about contributing to the hemp industry.
Hemp seed nutrition
Let’s get to know exactly what each tiny hemp seed is comprised of first. These are the notable macronutrient and micronutrient measures per 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds.
Calories: 174 calories, Fat: 13.5 grams, Protein: 11 grams, Carbohydrates: 2 grams, Fibre: 2 grams, Iron: 16% DV, Vitamin E: 21% DV, Phosphorous: 48% DV, Magnesium: 48% DV, Zinc: 23% DV. Not too bad for a little seed, hey? They are both satiating and nutrient-dense.
The benefits of hemp seeds
Now, let’s get into why hemp seeds are so darn good for you! This plant-based food is a fabulous source of protein, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Gram for gram, it fits the ‘super food’ bill with a strong case.
They’re a great seed for anyone on the paleo diet, the keto diet, or eating plant-based vegan or vegetarian diets.
They contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids. 30% of hemp seed nutrition comes from quality, good-for-you fats. They contain both omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, promoting a good balance of the two in our bodies.
This is essential to overall health for numerous reasons. An imbalance can cause inflammation and degrade immune response. Fatty acid balance is especially important for those with autoimmune disease and leaky gut.
Those fatty acids are essential to good skin health, and a healthy brain!
Hemp is a fabulous source of plant-based protein. 25% of hemp seed nutrition comes from plant-based protein. It’s definitely my top pick for plant-based protein supplements. 2-3 tablespoons add a whopping 11 grams of protein to a meal easily. You can get the protein from the whole seed or hemp protein powder.
With protein, it’s not always quantity that matters – it’s quality. You’ll be pleased to find out that hemp protein contains all essential amino acids, making it just as beneficial as any source of animal protein. And, unlike many other nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, this plant protein is very easy to digest.
They’re great for heart health. Amino acid arginine dilates blood vessels and decreases hypertension. It’s also important for protein synthesis, leading to decreased levels of C-reactive protein which can help you manage systemic inflammation that can later lead to heart disease.
It contains plenty of GLA. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) – present in hemp seeds – helps to flow the production of prostaglandin which in turn aids in the management of the emotional and physical effects of prolactin (which can cause PMS symptoms). Thus, GLA helps to balance hormones.
Due to its ability to keep your hormones regulated and working properly, it can also reduce the pervasive and unwanted symptoms of menopause. GLA can also positively impact obesity, diabetes, heart disease risk, ADHD, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. This is likely due to their anti-inflammatory nature.
Hemp promotes healthy digestion. Whole, shelled hemp seeds are an abundant source of soluble fibre which can aid digestion, keep gut flora variable and healthy, and manage blood sugar levels (which are, in essence, controlled by digestion).
Hemp seeds are a great weight loss food. I love foods that are high in protein, healthy fats, and fibre for weight loss. These foods are essential to the diet because they promote satiety, keep you full, and keep you healthy. Starting the day off with hemp protein or seeds mixed into a smoothie, 3-4 tablespoons atop a bowl of yoghurt, or in an energy ball is a great habit that can promote fat loss because it keeps appetite at bay.
How to eat hemp seeds
Like I mentioned above, you can easily add hemp seeds to salads, smoothies, and yoghurt for a deliciously nutty nutrition boost. Like with most nuts and seeds, you can even make your own dairy-free milk from the seeds. You can even swap out your protein powder for a hemp protein powder which comes unflavoured or flavoured.
- Protein powder. Blend it into smoothies or use a flavoured blend in a blender bottle for a quick pre-gym or post-gym boost. Hemp protein is nearly as bioavailable as whey protein (the most bioavailable) and is both plant-based and paleo-friendly. There are lots of brands of hemp seed protein powder out there, I quite like this one or this one. In Australian, you can find hemp seed protein online on iHerb.com or at health food stores.
- Have them plain. It’s the least exciting option, but it definitely works. Hemp seeds are naturally quite palatable with a rich flavour and texture that resembles a creamy nut like cashew or macadamia. Have 2-4 tablespoons to boost fat, protein, and fibre. This is the brand of hemp seeds I really like (here is a link to iHerb in Australia).
- Add them as a topping. Smoothie bowls and yoghurt bowls plus salads and other savoury dishes can stand a little hemp action. The nutty flavour pairs well with lots of foods.
- Use them in baked goods. Many baked goods can be tweaked to your liking. That’s where I love to see super foods hiding out! Use them in place of or in conjunction with other seeds or blend them into energy bars for seamless nutrition. Try my hemp seed Anzac biscuits here.
Try these hemp seed recipes
You can also use hemp seeds for a wide variety of recipes both sweet and savoury. They’re a good ingredient for grain-free crusts and baked goods. No matter your craving, you can include them in your diet with these paleo hemp seed recipe ideas.
Homemade hemp milk from Minimalist Baker
Hemp heart porridge from The Healthful Pursuit
Paleo coconut & hemp bars from Running on Real Food
Keto oatmeal from Keto Connect
Raw hemp chocolates from Unconventional Baker
Do you include hemp hearts or hemp seeds/oil in your diet? I hope you understand the benefits of this amazing super food better now, and you are inspired to add a spoonful or two to your daily routine.
Learn more about super food hemp seeds and the benefits of eating hemp, plus how to use it in your diet featuring paleo hemp seed recipes.
CBD Oil and Paleo/Keto Diets: Research and What You Should Know
CBD (cannabidiol) is a cannabinoid found in marijuana, but it doesn’t have any psychoactive effects (in other words, it doesn’t cause a high). The cannabinoid in marijuana that causes a high is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), not CBD.
Recently, there’s been a huge surge of interest in the health benefits of CBD and a predictable increase in the number of products with CBD added to them: on top of the basic CBD oil, there’s a whole range of eatable and drinkable CBD products from fizzy soft drinks to lattes to brownies. CBD is more acceptable than THC-containing products to people who can’t or don’t want to get high, and there’s some interesting evidence that it may help with pain, anxiety/depression, and possibly insomnia.
If you believe all the marketing hype, CBD is the new elixir of life, but as usual, the marketing is way overhyped. Here’s a look at the actual research, but first…
Is this stuff even legal?
As this post explains, it’s complicated. In the US, CBD isn’t considered a dietary supplement and it isn’t regulated like normal supplements. The legal status of CBD depends on whether your particular state has legalized recreational and/or medical marijuana use, and possibly on whether the CBD in question is extracted from marijuana or industrial hemp. 17 states also have laws specific to CBD. Here’s a map showing which states have what kinds of laws, with details available for each state.
The federal government still considers marijuana-derived CBD to be illegal (although some CBD sellers have argued that this doesn’t technically apply to hemp-derived CBD), but in practice, enforcement is patchy at best and CBD is pretty widely available, especially online. Here is a research paper breaking it down in extreme detail, for the curious. In short, it’s very hard to say and trying to figure out the relevant laws is a recipe for a headache: here’s to hoping that we get some clarity on this soon.
Is it safe?
This review looked at precisely that question and concluded that it probably is. The researchers found that CBD is mostly safe and definitely safer than a lot of common psychiatric medications. When people had side effects, the most common reported problems were fatigue, diarrhea, and changes in weight and appetite – none of those are fun, but none of them are really deadly. But the authors also noted that:
“some important toxicological parameters are yet to be studied, for example, if CBD has an effect on hormones. Additionally, more clinical trials with a greater number of participants and longer chronic CBD administration are still lacking.”
A bigger problem for a lot of interested consumers is that the CBD market is barely regulated, so it can be really hard to find products that actually contain the advertised amounts of CBD. A 2018 study found that many commercially available CBD products didn’t contain the amount of CBD advertised on the label. One study found that only 30% of CBD products were accurately labeled to reflect the amount of CBD they actually contained (26% contained less CBD than they claimed; 43% contained more than they claimed). Even more concerningly, the study found that nearly 20% of products sold as pure CBD actually contain at least some THC (that’s the chemical in marijuana that does get you high).
This is all important for anyone thinking of trying CBD to consider: when you buy a supplement, you ought to feel confident you’re getting the label ingredients and nothing else, but that’s just not the case with a lot of CBD products.
Does it work? Evidence in humans
Based on evidence that it’s helpful, the FDA has approved an oral formulation of CBD as a treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy in children. CBD is also approved in Canada to treat pain from multiple sclerosis. But most people who walk into a CBD store aren’t children with epilepsy or MS patients: what about the rest of us?
A couple of studies have examined CBD oil for pain in humans, particularly chronic pain. For example, This review of reviews concluded that some reviews found evidence of benefits for multiple sclerosis (MS) pain and spasticity.
Other studies (here and here) have found benefits of CBD for cancer pain specifically. And in this study of 303 patients with allodynia (that’s a problem where you weirdly feel pain from things that shouldn’t hurt), a combined THC/CBD spray was safe and effective, even in patients who didn’t respond to other painkillers.
This study found that CBD definitely doesn’t mess with normal sleep patterns and suggested that it might be helpful for restoring altered sleep patterns.
Brain health/mental health
On top of being FDA-approved for treating epilepsy, this review of human studies explains how CBD may have some antipsychotic properties, but the conclusion highlights the need for way more big, high-quality studies before anyone starts claiming anything about it for sure.
This review of CBD for mental health and psychiatric issues also stresses the call for more research – the authors found a little bit of evidence for treating symptoms of social anxiety and schizophrenia, but noted that “most of the studies published presented several drawbacks and did not reach statistical significance.”
This review, specifically on anxiety, also noted that the human studies so far are all on acute administration (you give someone CBD once and see how they feel), not chronic administration (you give someone CBD every day for three weeks and see how they feel), which is another huge gap in the research.
This aspect of CBD just doesn’t enough research to draw clear conclusions in humans, although it would be really great to find out that there’s actually a benefit.
Two more miscellaneous items to round off the list:
- This review found five human studies suggesting that CBD may be helpful for people trying to quit smoking cigarettes.
- This study is also fascinating: unlike THC, CBD (16 mg, delivered via inhaler) actually improved subjects’ ability to recognize facial expressions and match them to emotions.
What do actual CBD users say?
Finally, there’s this survey. The researchers in this study didn’t actually give CBD to anyone. Instead, they asked current CBD users why they use it. Of course, this is only surveying people who liked CBD enough to stick with it, so it’s biased towards people who had a good experience with CBD.
About two-thirds of those people said they used CBD for medical reasons, with the most common reasons being chronic pain, arthritis/joint pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Just over a third of respondents claimed that CBD worked “very well” to address their problem. About one third also reported some kind of minor side effect. The most common side effects were dry mouth (11% of people), euphoria (6.43%), hunger (6.35%), and red eyes (2.74%).
Again, this isn’t a super rigorous test of efficacy, but it’s interesting in the absence of big clinical trials on some of these things.
Does it work? Evidence in animals
Predictably, there’s more of it and it looks pretty neat.
For example, animal studies have found that CBD relieves pain and inflammation in a variety of contexts. Here’s a study on eye pain in mice; here’s one on arthritis pain and inflammation in rats that improved after rubbing CBD oil directly on the affected areas. This study also found that CBD reduced the inflammation and immune dysfunction involved in fatty liver disease in rats
Animal research on the mental health/brain health benefits of CBD also looks promising. For example, this study found that oral CBD helped alleviate depressive symptoms in rats genetically prone to depression and this one found some interesting fast-acting antidepressive benefits. A review of cannabis and cannabinoids in sleep disorders found that CBD alleviated insomnia in animal models, but studies in humans are still really limited.
This type of animal research is where a lot of claims about the benefits of CBD come from, but animal research doesn’t necessarily translate into human benefits.
CBD and Paleo or Keto
None of these studies examined the combination of CBD oil and diet, although the potential anti-inflammatory effects definitely seem to complement a Paleo-style approach to health.
One major worry, especially for the low-carbers, might be “will CBD give me the munchies?” – but fortunately, this study found that low doses of CBD didn’t cause sweet cravings or increase liking of sweet foods.
From a Paleo perspective, CBD oil also comes under scrutiny for fat quality – and that goes double for any kind of CBD candy, CBD cookies, CBD drinks, and other edibles. But other than that, the studies above suggest that it’s compatible with a Paleo diet and lifestyle habits – like any other supplement, the question is really whether it’s right for you and whether you have a clear reason to be taking it. The Paleo approach isn’t about out-supplementing a bad diet, but there’s definitely a role for a few carefully-chosen supplements to complement a base diet of nutrient-dense whole foods.
So what does it all mean?
Ultimately, these studies suggest that the biggest risk of taking CBD might not be the CBD itself but rather the chance of getting a contaminated supplement or one that’s inaccurately labeled (causing you to take more or less than you think you’re taking). There’s also the question of legal status, which is incredibly unclear and confusing in most places.
It’s also true that the evidence doesn’t support the really extreme claims about CBD, like the idea that it prevents/cures cancer or that it’s some magical therapy for chronic pain in all patients. But it’s definitely an interesting one to watch and it’ll be cool to see what happens as more and more human studies start coming out.
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CBD oil: what is it, why is it suddenly everywhere, and is it compatible with a keto or Paleo diet? Here's a look at some of the research.