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Hemp Seed: The Misaligned, Misunderstood Food That is Possibly One of the Healthiest on the Planet

Try a little hemp seed in your morning smoothie and you're in for a pleasant surprise ... but not one of the mind-altering variety.

Hemp seed, long an overlooked superfood for its misunderstood association with marijuana, is now starting to make a big impact on the health food scene with both consumers and scientists alike.

hemp seeds food

Hemp seeds contain less than three-tenths of 1 percent of THC, the compound that produces the "high" associated with marijuana (which contains anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent THC).

Hemp seed has grown in popularity in the United States since the early '90s, but it may surprise many to know that this ancient food can be traced back thousands of years to Chinese, Egyptian, Persian and other cultures, where it was a highly revered food source.

Although it's still illegal to grow hemp in the United States, and has been since the 1950s (though North Dakota and hemp proponents are working to change this), hemp can be imported legally from Canada and other nations, where the growth of industrial hemp is allowed.

Hemp Seed: The World's Forgotten Superfood?

It is clear from its discussions in ancient texts (like China's agricultural treatise, the Xia Xiao Zheng, from the 16th century BC) that hemp was once highly valued. Today, however, the nutritional makeup of hemp, described by some experts as a "superfood," is often overlooked in favor of other plant foods. But hemp seeds are in fact ripe with an impressive nutritional profile, including:

Essential Amino Acids and Fatty Acids: Hemp seed is different from other plants in that it contains all the essential amino acids and the essential fatty acids that humans need. Further, the amino acids are in a highly digestible form, and the fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3) are present in an ideal ratio of 3:1, which is very close to the ratio recommended by the World Health Organization.

Adding to the benefit, hemp seed is one of only a few sources of beneficial gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA).

hemp seeds food

Ground hemp seeds add a nutty flavor and extra protein to baked goods like cookies, breads and muffins.

Protein: Hemp is about 33 percent protein, in an easily digestible form that contains 10 essential amino acids. This high protein content is comparable to that in soy, and higher than is found in nuts, other seeds, dairy products, meat, fish or poultry.

Fiber: Hemp seed flour has a fiber content of 40 percent, which is the highest of all flour grains.

Trace Minerals and Antioxidants: Along with the protein, essential fatty acids and fiber, hemp seed is also rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin E, and minerals, including magnesium, iron and zinc.

Potential Health Benefits

The beneficial components in hemp seed, namely the high content of fatty acids and phytosterols, are known to play a positive role in a host of diseases, and, according to a report by Darrell L. Tanelian, M.D., Ph.D., may help:

  • Promote heart health

  • Reduce the risk of cardiac arrest

  • Maintain normal cholesterol levels

  • Treat certain cancers, including colon, breast and prostate

  • Delay the neurologic effects of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases

  • Treat rheumatoid arthritis

  • Prevent and treat osteoporosis

  • Reduce inflammation

  • Treat atopic eczema and psoriasis

Hemp Seeds Will NOT Get You High

Hemp Cooking Made Easy
... and Delicious

"The Hemp Nut Cookbook: Ancient Food for a New Millennium" contains over 200 hemp seed recipes that make it easy to incorporate this delicious and beneficial food into your diet.

Learn how to make hemp classics like French toast, apple pie and enchiladas, or try tasty new dishes like Hemp 'N' Rice Croquettes or "Goo Balls."

Find out more about "The Hemp Nut Cookbook: Ancient Food for a New Millennium" Now!

One of the major hurdles that hemp seed has had to overcome is its association with marijuana, the hallucinogenic drug. Though they both belong to the cannabis plant species, hemp and marijuana vary in an important way: their level of THC, the compound that's responsible for the "high" associated with marijuana.

Whereas marijuana contains about 5 percent to 20 percent THC, hemp has a maximum limit of three-tenths of 1 percent, which is not nearly enough to produce any psychotropic effects.

Demand for Hemp Seed Products Skyrocketing

In Canada, where hemp cultivation has been legal since 1998, the hemp industry is experiencing unprecedented growth. In 2006, Canada has 50,000 acres licensed for hemp production, up over 50 percent from the 24,000 licensed in 2005, and an even bigger jump from the 8,750 acres in 2004.

"It's the human health food market which is driving things along at the moment," said Arthur Hanks, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance. "We're now making things like hemp burgers, hemp bars and hemp waffles, hemp granola. One thing that's really hot right now is hemp protein powders [popular for smoothies and shakes]."

And according to one Canadian health food store employee, hemp products are flying off the shelves like "gangbusters." "The seeds are incredibly popular. People eat them by the handful," he said.

Another plus pushing hemp products forward in the market, both for producers and health-conscious consumers, is that hemp takes little, if any, pesticides to grow (good for growers' profits and consumers' peace of mind).

Hemp Seed in Cooking, and Two Great Recipes

Hemp is used for much more than food (the plant is used to make paper, rope, fabrics and clothing, hair and skin products, bio-fuels, lubricants, paint and building materials) but it does have an incredible versatility when it comes to cooking that's worth noting.

Hemp seeds (you will typically want to look for the shelled variety) taste similar to sunflower seeds and can be added to smoothies, yogurt, breakfast cereal, cottage cheese, soups, salads and more, or it can be substituted for flour in just about any recipe (if you can't find hemp seed flour, you can substitute about 15 percent of the flour in your recipe for hemp seeds). You can also simply roast the seeds and eat them on their own as a snack.

If you want to get really creative with hemp seeds, we highly recommend "The Hemp Nut Cookbook: Ancient Food for a New Millennium." It's packed with over 200 easy-to-prepare recipes including gazpacho, Lemony Hempseed Pound Cake, HempNutty Burgers and apple pie.

In the meantime, you can try your hand at hemp seed cooking using the two delicious recipes below.

Hemp Guacamole


  • Several avocados
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/8 cup onion
  • 1/2 cup shelled hempseed
  • Tamari
  • Sea salt
  • Herbs to taste
  • Lemon or lime juice


  1. Peel several ripe avocados, remove the seeds, and mash the pulp in a serving bowl.
  2. Add a chopped tomato, 1/8 cup of chopped onions, and 1/2 cup of shelled hempseed.
  3. Mix well, then add tamari, sea salt, and dried herbs to taste.
  4. Lemon or lime juice is optional, to add flavor and help extend the freshness.
  5. Sprinkle some hempseed on top of the guacamole for a neat visual effect, and serve with chips or sliced veggies.

Recipe Source:

Hemp Pancakes


  • 1 cup Red Mill 10-Grain Stone-ground or Arrowhead Pancake and Waffle Mix
  • 1/2 cup toasted shelled hempseeds
  • 1 egg (or 1/2 cup yogurt)
  • 1 tablespoon hemp oil
  • 1 cup water (or soy milk)


  1. Grind seeds and blend with the mix
  2. Add egg or yogurt and oil and mix
  3. Add water or milk for desired consistency and cook
  4. Top with your favorite topping or fill with your favorite filling

Recipe Source:

Recommended Reading

The Healthiest Grasses You Could Possibly Eat (Hint: Not Your Lawn)

Resisting Our Dangerous Obesogenic Environment: The 5 Key Steps

Hemp: Nature's Forgotten Nutraceutical November 17, 2006 November 16, 2006

North American Industrial Hemp Council

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