Vegan, gluten free, dairy free, organic, plant-based, GMO-free—consumers are looking for and demanding these product categories. They’re choosing to eat more consciously and avoiding ingredients they think will negatively affect their health and the environment.
Hemp seeds, hemp protein and hemp seed oil are one family of ingredients that fit this extensive consumer wish list. Hemp seeds are plant-based, vegan, naturally free of gluten, dairy and soy, non-GMO and can be organic. In fact, it’s all these special characteristics that set hemp apart from the rest of the plant industry.
The hemp plant has more than 2,500 purposes and is inherently sustainable.1 The plants can be used for water and soil purification; it makes an effective biofuel; and the fibers can be used to make rope, clothing, paper and even jewelry. And, yes, hemp is edible.
Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds
Although hemp seeds come from the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp is a harvest crop that doesn’t produce concentrated levels of THC, so it doesn’t have psychoactive effects. These small, brown seeds contain almost 10 g of protein per 30 g serving (about three tablespoons), which is double that of flax or chia seeds, and only 3 g of carbohydrates (0 g of sugar).2 They provide all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete plant-protein source for anyone, especially those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Hemp seeds contain significant amounts of the amino acids methionine and cystine, as well as very high levels of glutamic acid and arginine.2
Hemp seeds are approximately 70% fat, with the most abundant fatty acids being 57% linoleic (18:3 omega-3), 20% alpha-linolenic (18:2 omega-6) and 11% oleic (18:1 omega-9). In addition, gamma-linolenic acid (18:3 omega-6) and stearidonic acid (18:4 omega-3) are also present in hemp seeds.2 The fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid are considered essential for long-term health, meaning they must be obtained from the diet. The ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s in the body is very important for heart health and overall heath.3 The fatty acid profile in hemp seeds promotes a healthy ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s.4
The outer hull, or shell, of hemp seeds contains plenty of natural fiber, with three tablespoons containing approximately 1.2 g of fiber.2 Typically, animal proteins are more easily digested than plant proteins, but research shows between 91 and 98% of the protein in ground hemp seed is digestible when the hull is removed.5,6
To top it all off, hemp seeds contain an impressive array of vitamins and minerals and are rich in vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. They are a good source of the five different B-vitamins: niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, folate and vitamin B-6.2 Hemp seeds also contain polyphenol compounds called lignanamides, which exhibit antioxidant properties.7 These antioxidants help eliminate free radicals associated with the aging process and support overall cellular health.
Uses for Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds can be used to make flour, food, cooking oil, omega 3/6 supplements and protein powder. The shelled seeds of the hemp plant, also known as hemp hearts, are nutritional powerhouses that can be used in much the same way you’d use flax, chia or sesame seeds.
Hemp protein is the industrial byproduct of hemp hearts. One ounce of hemp powder offers nearly 14 g of protein (a protein amount equivalent to two eggs) and is easily digested.4 Research has found heat processing can reduce the digestibility of hemp protein by about 10%; therefore, hemp protein powders made from cold-pressed seeds are the ideal choice.5 Fortifying with protein powder, including plant-based protein, has gained broad consumer acceptance.8 Brands are increasingly incorporating hemp protein in products such as nutrition bars, tortilla chips, pretzels and even beer.
Hemp seeds are used as a source of dietary hemp seed oil, which has a nutty flavor and contains approximately 12 g of fat. It’s commonly used in dressings, sauces and dips.
Hemp is a unique, versatile plant with a diverse nutrition profile. As the mainstream wellness consumer demands better-for-you foods, it makes sense to fully exploit the innumerous advantages of this crop without sacrificing taste, texture or flavor.
Kelly Harrington is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) for Healthy Goods and has a master’s in human nutrition. She is a holistically-minded RDN with over 20 years of experience in a variety of nutrition fields. She follows an intuitive eating and functional nutrition approach for addressing individual health and nutrition needs.
- Lopez J. Understanding Hemp Sustainability and its Impact on the Environment. Citizen Truth. July 6, 2019.
- USDA FoodData Central. Hemp Seeds.
- Simopoulos AP. The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.Exp Biol Med. 2008;233:674-88.
- National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
- House JD, Neufeld J, Leson G.Evaluating the quality of protein from hemp seed (Cannabis sativa L.) products through the use of the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score method.J Agric FoodChem. 2010 Nov 24;58(22):11801-7.
- Hoffman J, Falvo M.Protein – Which is Best?J Sports Sci Med. 2004 Sep; 3(3): 118–130.
- Yan X et al. Characterization of Lignanamides from hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) Seed and Their Antioxidant and acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activities.J Agric Food Chem. 205 Dec 16;63(49):10611-9.
- O’Sullivan A. Performance Nutrition Moves to Mainstream. Kerry. June 11, 2018. https://www.kerry.com/insights/kerrydigest/2018/performance-nutrition-moves-to-mainstream