Legal hemp just celebrated its first birthday in the U.S.A. Its new status has opened a world of opportunities for everyone, no matter whether you’re a farmer, producer, or consumer.
Hemp’s utility is hugely versatile and multi-purposed. In this article, we’ll be looking at the wondrous benefits of ingesting hemp foods in the form of hemp seeds and hemp seed oil.
But let’s start with a couple of important distinctions real quick…
1. Hemp vs. Marijuana
2. Hemp Oil Is Not the Same as CBD Oil
3. Nutritional Benefits of Hemp
3.1 One of the Best Sources of Essential Fatty Acids
3.2 An Essential Source of Amino Acids
3.3 A High-Fiber Food
3.4 Minerals and Vitamins
4. Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds
4.1 Protect Your Brain
4.2 Promote Cardiac Health
4.3 Beat Inflammation
4.4 Promote Healthy Skin
4.5 Whole Hemp Seeds May Aid Digestion
5. Tips for Adding Hemp to Your Food
Hemp vs. Marijuana
These two are not the same, yet misconceptions abound regarding the differences between them. 
First, the terms “hemp” and “marijuana” are legal nomenclature. They are not taxonomic terms, meaning this:
- Both plants are from the same plant family (Cannabaceae) and genus (Cannabis).
- Both are from the same cannabis plant species—Cannabis sativa L.
- The difference between hemp and marijuana is based on only one specific characteristic, and this cannot be observed by looking at the actual plant. (All Cannabis sativa L. plants look the same.)
- Two other cannabis species are also called “marijuana” (Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis). The three species differ in plant size and leaf shape, and marijuana can contain 30–40% THC in dry weight.
- The only legal difference between hemp and marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. For a crop to be defined as hemp, it must contain less than 0.3 percent THC in dry weight.
- Hemp is harvested for a great variety of products. Marijuana is harvested only for medicine and recreational drug use.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides the citations: 
Marijuana and industrial hemp are different varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L. Marijuana typically contains 3 to 15 percent THC on a dry-weight basis, while industrial hemp contains less than 1 percent (Blade, 1998; Vantreese, 1998).
Most developed countries that permit hemp cultivation require use of varieties with less than 0.3 percent THC.
However, the two varieties are indistinguishable by appearance. DeMeijer et al. (1992), in a study of 97 Cannabis strains, concluded that short of chemical analysis of the THC content, there was no way to distinguish between marijuana and hemp varieties.
Naturally, hemp production is highly regulated in the U.S. Hemp products abound, and the most popular hemp foods are oil and seeds. No, you cannot get high from eating hemp foods, nor will you test positive for marijuana on any drug test.
Hemp Seed Oil Is Not the Same as CBD Oil
These two oils are easily confused, but they’re not the same.
Nutritional Benefits of Hemp
Hemp foods deliver some fantastic nutritional benefits to your body. These can be had via the seeds or the fresh leaves (in juices or salads).
Hemp seeds, as described by Healthline, are technically a nut and have a mild, nutty flavor. They are often referred to as “hemp hearts.”
Hemp seeds have a rich nutritional profile and provide a range of health benefits.
Hemp seed oil is a complete source of all the essential fatty acids. The body cannot produce essential fatty acids and must obtain them from food.
Hemp seeds contain over 30% fat. They are exceptionally rich in linoleic acid (omega-6 or LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, an omega-3) in the ideal ratio. They also contain gamma-linolenic acid, which has proven health benefits. 
Hemp seed oil is the superhero of the omegas for other reasons too, as explained in a Journal of Nutraceuticals Functional & Medical Foods article: 
One reason for the lack of negative side effects from excessive ingestion of hemp oil is specifically related to the ratio of LA:LNA. Because most oils do not contain the optimum ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 PUFA, they tend to promote the accumulation of metabolic intermediates that, in turn, hinder fatty acid metabolism. The properly balanced hemp seed oil does not promote an over-accumulation of certain metabolic products and all of the fatty acid metabolic pathways have the necessary intermediates to work efficiently, regardless of the quantities consumed.
Amino acids are the building blocks for all proteins. The body cannot produce all nine of these acids, so they must be ingested.
Hemp seeds are a complete source of plant-based amino acids, meaning that they provide all nine essential amino acids the body needs.
Relatively few plant-based foods are complete sources of protein, making hemp seeds a valuable addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Medical News Today explains that the seeds contain almost as much protein as soybeans. In every 30 grams (g) of seeds, or about three tablespoons, there are 9.46 g of protein. 
They are furthermore rich in an amino acid called arginine, which has benefits for heart health.
The digestibility of hemp protein is also very good—better than protein from many grains, nuts, and legumes.
Much of the fiber in a hemp seed lies in its outer hull or shell. However, even without the shells, hemp seeds are a good source of fiber, with three tablespoons containing approximately 1.2 g.
Consuming enough fiber every day can:
- Reduce appetite and therefore help with weight management
- Work to stabilize blood sugar levels
- Promote gut health
As highlighted by Medical News Today, hemp seeds contain an impressive array of vitamins and minerals and are especially rich in vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. 
They are also a good source of iron, zinc, and B vitamins, including niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folate.
However, the fatty acids are the most desirable nutritious contents of the oil, especially due to the ratios in which they occur.
Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds have many positive health effects.
Fatty acids are essential for brain health and good functioning. We already know that hemp oil and seeds are rich in this nutrient.
A recent animal study found that phenylpropionamides (TPA) extracted from hemp seeds helped protect the brain against induced inflammation. 
In addition, essential fatty acids, which are neuroprotective, are known to have antioxidant properties.
Since it’s a rich source of omega-3 (the known brain fatty acid), it could help with cognitive functioning, too. One study has shown that older adults who ingested fish (also rich in omega-3) once a week performed better in a cognitive skills test than their fish-avoiding counterparts. This suggests that eating fatty-acid-rich foods such as hemp seeds and oil could help you think better. 
In this, hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are simply rock stars.
Because hemp oil is so rich in essential fatty acids, specifically omega-3s and omega-6s, it is important for cardiac health.
One clinical study showed that its addition to a fatty diet actually normalized platelet aggregation. 
The results of this study demonstrate that when hempseed is added to a cholesterol-enriched diet, cholesterol-induced platelet aggregation returns to control levels. This normalization is not due to a reduction in plasma cholesterol levels, but may be partly due to increased levels of plasma GLA.
Platelets are cells that occur normally in the blood, and they help clot the blood to heal an injury like a cut.
However, a high-saturated-fat diet, smoking, and other lifestyle habits can cause high cholesterol, which, in turn, increases platelet activation. This can cause dangerous blood clots to form in the arteries, which could give rise to serious health problems such as strokes, cardiac arrest, and more. So, it’s good news that hemp oil returned abnormal platelet aggregation back to normal.
The gamma-linolenic acid found in hemp seeds has also been linked to reduced inflammation, which may decrease the risk of heart disease.
Due to legal restrictions, very few studies with hemp seeds for cardiac health have been conducted.
However, there’s strong evidence supporting the theory that essential fatty acids are good, if not crucial for cardiac and circulatory health. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) seem to affect the following positively:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- coronary heart disease
So, while more clinical research is necessary, we can conclude with some confidence that hemp seeds may confer the same benefits. 
The anti-inflammatory effects of essential fatty acids are well documented.
Apart from its brain- and heart-protecting properties, ingesting hemp seeds may reduce inflammation and manage the symptoms of chronic diseases, such as:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease
Ingesting hemp seed oil is good for the skin, too.
It is chock full of natural oils that mimic your skin’s lipids. Lipids are vital to the skin’s protective barrier and essential for cell-to-cell communication. With its similarities to these lipids, hemp oil helps to rejuvenate aging skin and assists with water absorption and elasticity.
One 20-week crossover study has demonstrated hemp oil’s efficacy to improve atopic dermatitis. And no, not topically applied, but ingested as a supplement. 
Healthline elaborates: 
Whole hemp seeds are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, containing 20% and 80%, respectively.
Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in your gut. It’s a valuable source of nutrients for beneficial digestive bacteria and may also reduce spikes in blood sugar and regulate cholesterol levels.
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool and may help food and waste pass through your gut. It has also been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes.
Whole hemp seeds are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Tips for Adding Hemp to Your Food
Crush ‘Em and Eat ‘Em: You can buy crushed or hulled seeds, or you can remove their hard outer shells at home. Use a mortar and pestle or a food processor for this purpose.
Turn your morning fruit smoothie into a protein fest with ground hemp seeds. Or add some hulled seeds to veggie soup or stews. Also, consider giving extra health power to your home-baked goodies with a spoonful of crushed seeds.
Truly, the hulled seeds (also called hemp hearts) can be added to just about anything for bulk.
The flavor is delicious, and you’ll be consuming a whole lot of good stuff to boot.
Oil it and Eat it: As a supplement, take a dessert spoon of oil with a bit of fresh lemon juice. It’s an acquired taste.
Since it’s not usually a palate-pleaser, you may need to mask the taste a bit in food, too. Consider pairing it with strong curries, garlic, or herbs like cilantro, oregano, and basil.
Alternatively, buy infused oil, or make your own with a mix of herbs (rosemary, bay leaf, lemon leaves, thyme, sage, lavender, etc.) and/or vegetables like garlic, onion, peppers, or spices like peppercorns, cinnamon, cumin, etc.
Keep in mind that the oil has a very low smoking point, so frying with hemp seed oil isn’t recommended. Instead, use it for low-heat cooking or in delicious salad dressings.
Tasty Toasts: Health guru Dr. Weil recommends eating roasted whole hemp seeds as a snack. They’re delicious and very easy to prepare. 
Here’s how to turn hemp seeds into a more-ish bite:
- Pour half a cup of seeds into a dry skillet placed over medium-high heat.
- Stir them around until they begin to toast and pop.
- At that point, turn off the heat, stir in a teaspoon of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper or a little soy sauce, red pepper, garlic powder, or herbs.
- Prepare only as much as you can eat since the cooked seeds don’t keep well.
Other hemp foods to look for in health shops include hemp milk, granola bars, candy, beer, and such. Turn on your creativity and work with all of these to add this versatile, nutrient-rich plant to your diet.
Enjoy the health benefits of hemp by eating its seeds or oil. Not much concrete clinical research has been conducted into hemp’s health benefits so far, but the changed legislation is expected to pave the way for that, too.