Nutritional Benefits of Hemp Seeds

Hemp has been an important source of food, fiber, and medicine for thousands of years in the Old World. The oldest extant documents describing the use of hemp seeds as food and medicine are from China.

There is good evidence that hemp began to be used as a source of fiber and as a medicine throughout the Mediterranean Basin, from the east (Egypt) to the west (Morocco), several centuries before Christ (BC).

In the mid-twentieth century, Hemp (including hemp) came under a strict international control system, as it was included among the narcotic substances covered by the 1961 United Nations Single Convention, the cornerstone of the prohibitionist regime still in force today.

As a result, the cultivation of Hemp became virtually prohibited, with the exception of cultivation for scientific purposes and the cultivation of certain varieties with a low concentration of a narcotic active ingredient, whose use may be permitted for strictly industrial purposes, such as the production of fibers and seeds. Industrial hemp varieties in Europe have levels of less than 0.2% THC (Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol).

Hemp seeds as a highly nutritious food source

Hemp seeds and their derivatives (such as oil, flour, etc.) due to their nutritional properties, and their content of fatty acids, vitamins, proteins, and minerals, are recommended to be considered fundamental for the human diet (see Tables 1 and 2).

Hemp seeds have a characteristic nutty flavor and are, in fact, currently incorporated in many food preparations such as bread, cakes, cookies, vegetable milk, ice cream, etc.

About 50% of the global hemp oil market is concentrated in the food and nutritional supplement industry. The other half of the world trade is focused on cosmetic applications (soaps, shampoos, creams…) and other industrial uses (biodiesel, varnishes…).

Chemical composition

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are well represented in hemp seed oil. Linoleic acid “omega-6” (18:2n-6, LA) is present at approximately 55% and omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3, ALA) is present at 20%. In addition, significant amounts of their respective metabolic products have been found such as the presence of gamma-linolenic acid (18:3n-6, GLA) ranging from 1-4%, and stearidonic acid (18:4n-3, SDA) occurring at about 0.5 to 2%.

Although most vegetable oils have at least one of the EFAs, it is unusual for them to contain such high amounts of both, and it is also unusual for them to be in a ratio of about 3:1 omega-6/omega-3, this ratio being the recommended ratio for human intake (Figure 1).

The composition of the oil obtained from hemp seed makes it very interesting due to its beneficial effects on health.

In addition, this oil also contains tocopherols, which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and age-related macular degeneration, as well as having antioxidant activity, with a higher total phenol content than in other vegetable oils, such as sunflower or soybean oil. To find more useful information about CBD for Pain Relief, check out their page to know more.

These tocopherols are known to be important antioxidants that have a positive effect on the oxidative stability of oils. The dominant tocopherol in hemp seeds is γ-tocopherol, followed by α-, β- and δ-tocopherol, the same composition in tocopherols can be found in the oil.

On the other hand, this oil is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and contains low concentrations of saturated fatty acids. The latter is what makes it really interesting from a nutritional point of view since nowadays the diet is increasingly richer in saturated fatty acids and attempts are being made to reduce their intake, due to their relationship with the increase of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and, therefore, with the risk of suffering coronary diseases.

It is worth mentioning that both hemp seeds and hemp oils are gluten-free.

Hemp seed flour is an excellent source of easily digestible protein. Figure 2 compares the amino acid profile of total protein in hemp seed, soybean, and egg. Protein concentrations vary between whole hemp seed (25%), hulled hemp seed (45%), soybean (32%), and egg (11%). Figure 1 illustrates the individual amino acid values per 100 g of protein to provide a direct comparison between these products.

Recent interest in hemp protein has increased due to its exceptional content of sulfur-containing amino acids, i.e. methionine and cysteine, and its surprisingly high amount of arginine. This makes it an ideal nutritional supplement for protein diets to increase muscle mass.