You might be curious about hemp seed or hemp seed oil. More and more food products contain these ingredients. But what are they? And are they safe to consume?
What is hemp?
“Hemp” can conjure up certain images for some people. Hemp is sometimes used to make rope or twine. Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis family, which can lead some people to think that it’s a type of marijuana.
Hemp, like marijuana, is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant. But unlike marijuana, hemp contains very little tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the psychoactive substance in marijuana that produces a “high.” Hemp plants were illegal until the 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp and declassified hemp as a controlled substance.
The use of hemp dates to 8000 BC in what is now known as China and Taiwan. Throughout history, hemp has been used to make rope, paper, and clothes. Hemp seeds and oil have been used for food. Even George Washington jumped on the hemp bandwagon and grew hemp at Mount Vernon for industrial purposes.
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What are the benefits of hemp seed?
Hemp seeds are small seeds that contain several important nutrients:
- Protein (two tablespoons contains almost 7 grams of protein)
- Fatty acids (both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids)
- Fiber (both soluble and insoluble)
- Vitamins (B vitamins and vitamin E)
- Minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc)
Hemp seeds contain all nine essential amino acids, making them especially helpful for people following vegetarian or vegan eating plans. One of the amino acids, arginine, is used to produce nitric oxide in the body which helps to relax blood vessels, leading to lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease.
In addition, hemp seeds contain healthy unsaturated fat and soluble fiber that promote heart health. Hemp seed’s insoluble fiber can aid digestion and prevent constipation.
Of note, the hemp seeds that you purchase are actually the inner kernel of the seed, called hemp hearts.
What are the benefits of hemp seed oil?
As the name implies, hemp seed oil (also called hemp oil) is made by pressing hemp seeds, similar to how olive oil is made. Hemp seed oil is not the same as CBD oil: they are very different products. Hemp seed oil contains no psychoactive ingredients.
As with hemp seeds, hemp seed oil contains healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as gamma-linoleic acid, along with a bunch of antioxidants. Benefits of hemp seed oil include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
- Improved heart health
- Reduced inflammation (e.g., for rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis)
- Possible improved skin conditions (e.g., atopic dermatitis, eczema, acne)
Food manufacturers may use either hemp seeds or hemp seed oil in various food products. Examples include hemp seed milk, hemp “cheese,” hemp protein powder, and granola bars.
Hemp seed and hemp seed oil nutrition
Two tablespoons of hemp seeds contain:
- 113 calories
- 2 grams of carbohydrate
- 7 grams of protein
- 1 gram of saturated fat
- 2 grams of fiber
- 0 milligrams of sodium
One tablespoon of hemp seed oil contains:
- 125 calories
- 0 grams of carbohydrate
- 0 grams of protein
- 1 gram of saturated fat
- 0 grams of fiber
- 0 milligrams of sodium
How to use hemp seed and hemp seed oil
There are various ways to use hemp seeds, including:
- Sprinkling on cereals, yogurt, cottage cheese, or salads
- Adding them to smoothies
- Coating chicken or fish (instead of using breadcrumbs)
- Using them in baking in place of nuts or other types of seeds
- Making your own hemp milk
And here are suggestions for using hemp seed oil:
- As a salad dressing (you can use it “straight” or mixed into a vinaigrette)
- Drizzling it on vegetables after roasting
- Added to cold soups
- Used for dipping
According to the website The Spruce Eats, hemp seed oil has a low smoke point — this means that the oil can burn at high temperatures, so it’s not a good choice for frying or sautéing. Go easy with the amount of hemp seed oil that you use — as with any type of fat or oil, the calories can add up.
Hemp seed oil can be applied directly to the hair or skin, as well, for moisturizing purposes.
Both hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are highly nutritious, but because they are high in fat, don’t go overboard, as too much can cause diarrhea. Also, if you take anticoagulant medication, know that hemp seeds may interact with the medication, increasing the risk of bleeding. Talk with your health care provider before using any products that contain hemp. Before using hemp seed oil on your skin, test it out on a small area and look for signs of irritation.
It’s possible that hemp seed oil can lower blood pressure too much; it may be best to avoid using it if you are taking medication to lower blood pressure or if you are scheduled to have surgery soon.
Talk with your provider about hemp seed oil supplements. And if you are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid hemp seed oil, since there isn’t enough evidence as to its safety (the use of hemp seeds is considered to be safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women, however, according to the FDA).