Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, but before you get too concerned or excited, you should know that it’s not the same as marijuana. The hemp plant and its seeds contain only tiny amounts of THC, which is the compound in marijuana that produces a high. Consequently, eating hemp seeds will not mellow you out or give you the munchies. Hemp seeds are also unlikely to cause many gastrointestinal problems because they don’t contain any phytic acid.
The hemp plant has been used by various cultures around the globe for thousands of years. It can be made into paper, clothes, soap, fuel and food. Hemp plants produce seeds, which are very high in nutrition. They are an excellent source of complete protein, which means they contain all the essential amino acids your body cannot produce. Hemp seed is also a very good source of fiber and essential fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, and it contains many vitamins and minerals in trace amounts. Possession and consumption of hemp seeds is legal in the United States and Canada, but using them to grow plants is a gray area due to their association with marijuana. That's why many hemp seeds are sterilized by radiation before they are sold or imported into the U.S.
Unlike many seeds, nuts, beans and legumes, your body can easily digest and absorb hemp seeds and derive nutrients from them. Most seeds, grains and legumes need to be soaked, dried, cooked and/or sprouted to deactivate toxins and compounds usually referred to as anti-nutrients. Toxins and anti-nutrients, such as phytic acid, often cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhea. They can also interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
Phytic acid is called an anti-nutrient because it’s indigestible and prevents your body from absorbing nutrients, especially minerals needed in small amounts such as zinc and iron but also macro-minerals such as calcium and magnesium and the B vitamin niacin. Phytic acid makes minerals and niacin unavailable to your body because it chelates or attaches to them and drags them out of the body. Phytic acid plays important roles for the seeds and grains that it’s in, but it can wreak havoc in human bodies and contribute to mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Hemp seeds are unusual in that they contain no phytic acid, so you can eat them raw without any special preparations.
Rich Sources of Phytic Acid
Foods that contain high levels of phytic acid include sesame seeds, linseed, Brazil nuts, peanuts, wheat, soybeans and pinto beans. Consequently, these foods are typically prepared in same fashion before consumption. For example, sesame seeds and peanuts are usually roasted to destroy phytic acid and render it harmless.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism; James L. Groff et al.
- Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice; Mark Lawrence and Tony Worsley
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.