Seeds are a big part of a healthy lifestyle. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds—they all make a great addition to morning oatmeal or an afternoon snack of Greek yogurt and berries. And if you like the taste, you’ll love the amazing health benefits—especially when it comes to hemp seeds.
Hemp seeds are a controversial food. It is actually illegal to grow hemp seeds in the U.S. because they come from the same plant that produces marijuana, and they contain very small traces of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). However, washed hemp seeds are likely to be free of THC. Having said that, hemp seed products are legal in the U.S., and they are becoming increasingly popular in supplement form, primarily for their essential fatty acid, fiber, and protein content.
There have been many studies that support the health benefits of hemp seeds, but there’s one in particular that caught my attention. I recall a groundbreaking study from Palacky University (Czechoslovakia) that took place just before World War II in the 1930s. It was later presented at a scientific conference in Olomouc, Czechoslovakia in 1955. At the time, hemp seeds were thought to be the only cure for tuberculosis, which is considered among the 15 most prominent causes of death in the U.S. The study’s authors were clearly ahead of their time. Despite the advances in chemotherapy and antibiotics at the time, they observed that the nutrition of the patients with tuberculosis had to improve to increase overall resistance to the disease; they believed in functional foods that naturally supported better health.
The study was an accumulation of 30 years of research. One case from the study observed 16 children with tuberculosis (eight boys, eight girls) between the ages of six and 16, which began the study with “depressed nutrition.” The children were given a soup-spoon, or 50–80 grams, of ground hemp seed mixture (colloidal hemp seed extract) with lightly heated milk, three times daily, 15 minutes before a meal. They also received two tablets of vitamins B1 and C, along with a nutrient-rich diet. The treatment duration varied among the children; however, the lung or gland disease was healed in all cases.
What made the hemp seeds such an important contributor toward the treatment of tuberculosis? Its main protein, edestin. This protein contains 19% of the amino acid arginine, which helps form and grow new tissue in the body. A high protein diet overall was reported to be important in the treatment of tuberculosis. Other important sources of protein in the diet included egg yolk, cottage cheese, cereals, fruits, and nuts.
But there are other reasons to consume hemp seeds besides lung health. Hemp seeds are also known to reduce food cravings and blood pressure, prevent blood sugar spikes, improve mental function and digestion, and lower the overall risk of cardiovascular disease. According to a review published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism in 2010, dietary hemp seeds have the potential to positively affect heart disease. A survey of 13,401 participants within the review found that a diet high in arginine-rich foods might lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Future research is needed to back up these findings.
So aside from supplements, how can you add hemp seeds to your diet? Hemp protein powder is a perfect addition to smoothies or you can add whole hemp seeds to any salad, yogurt, steel cut oats, or kefir for flavor and added nutrition.