Hemp Oil & Hemp Seeds — Are they safe?

A couple of weeks ago, Nutiva discovered this site. A few days later, an unexpected box of Nutiva’s food arrived in my mail.  I was most excited about the free coconut oil. The rest of the box contained a food I’d never eaten before — hemp. Hemp oil. Hemp seeds. Hemp protein powder. Hemp seed snack bars.

Naturally I wondered, is this food safe?

I began by scouring Nutiva’s own literature and website. I even went so far as to hunt down and read the sources they were citing in their research. Then I went to the web. Here’s what I discovered.

Hemp Oil

Hemp oil is not a traditional oil and relatively new to the human diet (that alone should tell you how I come down on this issue!).  It contains 70% polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), roughly 55% in the form of Omega-6 linoleic acid.  As I wrote earlier, PUFAs are highly unstable and unsuitable for heating or cooking. They also lead to excessive weight gain, a weakened immune system, and depressed thyroid functioning. Ideally, only about 4% of our intake of fats should be PUFAs.

And, unfortunately for us, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is just saturated with an excess of Omega-6 fats thanks to our over-abundant supply of subsidized corn & soy. As I pointed out in the video Good Fats Bad Fats, this Omega-6 overload hits us even in our animal product consumption because of the corn & soy based diets of most industrially raised animals. Here’s a screen from that video:

A good ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats is less than 4:1.  Anything over that, and our bodies protest with all sorts of health problems including obesity, depression, mood swings, inflammation, heart disease, weakened immune systems, etc.

While it’s true that the balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats in Hemp Oil rests right at 4:1, I still can’t recommend the oil.

Why? Because our diets are already unnaturally high in Omega-6 fatty acids thanks to the industrialized sources of our foods. Perhaps, perhaps, if you were very judicious with the sourcing of the rest of the Omega 3 and 6 fats in your diet and only ate pastured/wild/grass-fed animal products and only consumed good fats like coconut oil, butter, and lard in your cooking, perhaps cold-pressed hemp oil would be fine in small quantities so long as you didn’t heat it.

But even then, it’s still not a traditionally used cooking oil, so it doesn’t pass my Real Food test. It’s neither old, nor traditional, and your great grandmother would not have recognized it as food.

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds, though, seem to be a different matter altogether. They contain all the essential amino acids — those building blocks of protein which our body can not manufacture on its own. Flax seed also contains all the essential amino acids, but unlike flax seed, 65% of the protein found in hemp seeds is globulin edistin.

What is globulin edistin? It’s a simple protein that our bodies need to build the immunoglobulins necessary to repel infection. The best way to ensure your body has enough amino acid materials to build these globulins is to eat foods high in globulin proteins.

They’re most readily available in animal blood plasma (another reason not to avoid red meats!), but hemp seeds offer a surprising source for these proteins by offering them in a form similar to blood plasma. According to some, “eating hemp seeds could aid, if not heal, people suffering from immune deficiency diseases. This conclusion is supported by the fact that hemp seed was used to treat nutritional deficiencies brought on by tuberculosis, a severe nutrition blocking disease that causes the body to waste away [Czechoslovakia Tubercular Nutritional Study, 1955].” (source)

On top of that, they are a traditional food, eaten in China for thousands of years. Some have argued that because they were only eaten in times of famine or poverty, they’re not truly “traditional.” In times of abundance, the ancient Chinese mostly used hemp as a source of fiber to make clothing, canvas, and paper. Nevertheless, the fact that the food has been around for so long certainly counts in its favor. I have no problem consuming it.

A Note on Hemp & Drug Testing

If you choose to eat hemp seeds, it is very important that you consume them from well-sourced plants that don\’t contain high levels of THC (the psychoactive element in marijuana).  According to Nutiva, the hemp they buy comes from Canada, where hemp food farmers have pledged to limit THC concentrations in plants to where they can not result in positive drug tests.

In the mid 90s, a series of studies done in the U.S. showed that eating hemp foods may cause positive urine tests for THC. For this reason, the Weston A. Price foundation does not recommend eating hemp. But according to the Test Pledge Program (which did their own series of studies in the year 2000 on the interference of hemp foods with THC levels in drug testing), these studies involved the consumption of products from seeds with considerably higher THC levels—often more than 100 micrograms per gram (µg/g) or parts per million (ppm)—than are now commonly found in commercial hemp seeds in North America. Thus, they argue the earlier studies do not allow a realistic assessment of the potential impact of such foods on the outcome of employee drug tests.

Conclusions

While I wouldn’t eat hemp seeds to replace animal proteins — particularly because of the abundance of nourishing fat soluble vitamins only found in wild/pastured/grass-fed meats, I do think they’re safe to consume and arguably more nutritious than many other seeds we might turn to for snacks.


(photo by bartpogoda)

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Comments

  1. says

    I add hemp seeds to my salads, smoothies, home-made granola etc. Even in the morning with pineapple, cottage cheese, sliced almonds, etc. They’re wonderful. I’m bummed about the O6’s in the oil though. Oh well, another one bites the dust.

    Lindsay

    • Matt says

      Hemp see oil is not new to the human diet at all! We have used this plant for thousands of years. The biggest danger with any hemp or cannabis product is the fact that you could be arrested for having it. It is a very sustainable source of food, fuile, medicine, clothing and paper.

      • Garrett says

        You can’t be arrested for having hemp products.

        If you’re carrying Cannabis Oil (medicinal) or Cannabis itself (smokeable, or edible) in a state that does not allow for one to do so, then you can be arrested. Regular hemp products do not cause arrests.

  2. says

    Lindsay — ever since getting an 8oz bag of hemp seeds in the mail from Nutiva, I’ve found plenty of uses for them. I particularly like them in tuna salad and on green salads.

  3. says

    Local Nourishment — No! Hemp seeds don’t contain any phytic acid, so there’s no need to sprout or soak them. You can eat them raw out of the bag.

  4. says

    About Nutiva — always check the back of their bag for nutrient values — there have been some –er — controversies of them claiming raw status for certain products when they are not. So if on bags of things like their cacao, hemp seeds etc. there is a lack of Vitamin C, a vitamin naturally present in both examples, it’s a sure bet that it was heated or processed. Just an FYI.

  5. says

    Lindsay — That’s a great point, and I’m actually going to do a post about it soon. One of the reasons many of these natural foods companies are quick to point out that they’re *certified* raw is because of this very problem. There is a lot of wiggle room in the federal standards for “raw” on labels — wiggle room that isn’t very friendly towards those trying to eat really raw, enzyme-rich foods.

  6. Warren says

    I was exited when trader joes brought out a new hemp protien powder but then quickly dissapointed to see 5g added sugar per serving. its a good store for some things but man do they sell a LOT of sugary crap!

  7. says

    So do you recommend we go buy some?

    Thanks for this post by the way, I was just staring at a package of hemp seeds yesterday trying to decide whether to buy some.

    Kyle

  8. says

    Warren — I used to enjoy Trader Joe’s when I lived in Oregon. Sadly, they’re not in Austin. (I did sign a petition to get them here, though.) Our Whole Foods needs some competition!

    And yes, no matter where I shop, I’m a label Nazi!

    Kyle — That’s up to you. If you enjoy eating seeds and nuts, then they’re worth trying. (And if you buy them through any of the links/ads on my site, I’ll get a little kick back to make running this site more economically feasible for me.)

  9. says

    Thanks for all the info. I have always kind of written off Hemp products as excuses for stoners to work towards legalization of marijuana. It seems like they will try to make almost ANYTHING out of the stuff just to prove that it is “useful”. I personally react poorly to even the smell of hemp and it causes me slew of problems. Pass… pass and pass.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok

  10. says

    I feel very much like you in regard to hemp seed. Just a little note, my husband was tested for his omega balance and he actually had too much omega 3’s!!!! So it is possible to go the other direction too. At least hemp seeds taste really nice, even if our great grandmothers wouldn’t have recognized them. ;-)

    Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet

  11. says

    SoG — Perhaps so, but hemp really has been around for thousands of years and proven itself useful for many, many things — including a source of food for the impoverished. So, while I, too, am skeptical of hemp thanks to it’s recent history in the U.S., I’m also trying to realize it’s place historically.

    Kimi — I thought there was no such thing as having too many Omega 3s. As in, too many Omega 6s are harmful, but too many Omega 3s don’t seem to do anything negative to our systems.

    And, if we were Chinese or Russian, our great grandmothers would surely have recognized hemp seeds!

    Jenny — Recipe? ;)

  12. says

    Second that – Jenny, recipe? I just bought HUGE bag of Theo cocoa nibs and am looking for more ways to use them, other then munching straight out of the bag.

    Sustainable Eats

  13. says

    Sustainable Eats — Here’s a quick thing to do with cocoa nibs. In a food processor, blend equal parts cocoa nibs, dates, shaved coconut, and almonds. Add in just enough warm coconut oil for it to all stick together. Spoon onto wax paper and refrigerate. Serve cold. It’s a fantastic “candy” that’s got no added sugar and is so nutrient-dense!

  14. says

    Clearing up some hemp confusion here.

    As the founder and CEO of Nutiva I am glad to see folks hearing more about hemp foods. The post had many untrue statements which I wanted to point out.

    First off hemp has had a very long use as a food. It was comsumed in asia long before soy foods. In Europe hemp was the original gruel and ground up hempseed butter was a common food on peasants. To state it is a new food is just not the case, unless you count the last hundreds years as your bench mark.

    Also readers might want to understand hempseed and hemp protein is one of the best sources around of 3 master minerials…. magnesium, zinc and iron. 3 tbs of protein or seed contains almost 50% RDI of magnesium

    Hemp oil is the closest to fish oil of any oil that is harvested from the land. At a 3.5 1 to one ratio it is ideal for salad dressings and a dipping oil. Did you know hemp oil also contains up to 5% GLA and 2% SDA ? No other food in the world does this and at these levels they are vital in our health. Not everyone is going to eat grass fed meet or milk every day nor should they every day. Want to get your omegas for the day…enjoy hemp seed or oil.

    Do some research on these rare super omega’s of GLA and SDA and you will find it’s well documented.

    The average American Diet is 10-1 or 15-1 omega 6 to 3….when people cut out canola, soy, and corn- and switch to hemp oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and or grass fed butter they seem great results. And their Omega ratio comes down closer to 4-1 where is should be.

    Before making blanket statements about certain d foods- please research a bit more.

  15. says

    Hi John —

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, and thank you too for sending the sample package of your tasty and nourishing products. I do hope you read my post all the way through because I clearly argued that hemp seed *is* a traditional food, so I don’t know why you seem to think I didn’t.

    I also said that hemp OIL is not traditional, but that’s because it isn’t. History clearly shows that hemp oil, if/when it was made, was used for things like lamp oil, body cleansing, and creating varnish and/or paints. It was not used as food in traditional Chinese/Asian cuisine.

    Please note that I also said that if people had a very structured and restricted diet — if they ate only grass-fed meats, absolutely never consumed soy or corn oils or ate packaged foods, absolutely never ate fast foods or industrialized foods, avoided supermarket eggs, etc. — if they could eat this diet, then perhaps hemp oil would be safe to consume despite the fact that it is not a traditional food oil (so long as it was cold-pressed and not heated in cooking). But, sadly, most people are not there yet. They still eat out at restaurants, still have the occasional fast food, still buy supermarket eggs, meat, milk, butter, and cheese when they run out of their pastured counterparts, still eat at friend’s homes with abandon, still eat at social functions like church. In other words, the typical person in my audience, try as they might to eat well, doesn’t do it 100% of the time. In that case, the Omega 6 to 3 ratio in hemp oil is simply too high to counterbalance the 20:1 ratio of industrialized foods.

    And as to getting Omega 3s, if you spent any real time on my site, you’ll know that I don’t suggest everyone consume grass-fed meat or milk every day. I, do, however recommend people eat fish, as that is the traditional source for concentrated Omega-3 fats in the human diet.

    I said all this in my post, so I’m not sure why you’re attacking me or insinuating that I didn’t do any research.

    Once again, I want to affirm that I believe most of what you argued for in your comment were the very things I argued for:

    – I defended hemp seed as a traditional & nutritious food.
    – I said people could consume hemp seed oil (despite its not being a traditional food oil) if they avoided industrialized foods.
    – I even said hemp seed products (particularly yours) won’t result in positive drug tests.

    I think we have much more in common in our position than you thought!

    All the best,
    KristenM

    • Lisa says

      Question-will you have any drug related effects from eating the hemp seeds? I’m a little confused about the whole effect of the leave part vs. the seed aspect? Is it all the same?

      • Amaury says

        Lisa – the seeds contain negligible to no cannabinoids so consuming them does not give a drug effect. Also, it’s not the leaves but the resinous flowers and leaflets that surround them that contain the highest concentrations of psychoactive resins. Hope that helps.

  16. travin says

    Hi Kristen,

    Thanks for the great info, I really appreciate it. This brings up a question I’ve been meaning to ask and that is if you’d consider profiling other elements of foods like protein and amino acid profiles, inflammatory factors and such.

    Among other reasons, I ask as one of the more difficult info to find for foods is levels of salicylates, which is a somewhat common sensitivity/intolerance that, like gluten, most people aren’t aware. I happen to be one of those sensitive to it and would appreciate either a reference or a look into the subject.

    The relevance to this article is that salicylates tend to be high in seeds. And since I’m asking I thought I’d also mention/ask about the other factors that would be greatly beneficial. In all your spare time, of course. :)

    Thanks for all you do, it’s truly wonderful and well appreciated.

    travin

  17. Dana says

    Thanks for doing the homework though!

    Wow, I have all kinds of thoughts about this. To address something Son of Grok said, I don’t care if someone’s trying to legalize pot. I guess I will out myself to say I have tried it a few times (and yes, I did inhale). I didn’t feel much different than when I have gotten drunk (also not very often in my life), with the possible exception that I didn’t have that lovely chemically-poisoned feeling that I get with alcohol. Oh, and pot didn’t give me a hangover, either. So I don’t get why legal alcohol is OK but legal pot isn’t. My only real objection to it is that people are already inconsiderate-to-rude about smoking tobacco, and if they’re going to be that rude about pot-smoking, then we’d need to write the same kinds of laws for it as we do for public tobacco smoking here in Ohio–nobody deserves to be forced to use drugs against their will, not even by breathing the smoke. Sad part is you don’t even have to smoke it–you can eat it and drink it too.

    OK, end soapbox.

    To address the remark that our grandmothers wouldn’t have recognized hemp, why, that just isn’t true. It was recognized as a fiber crop, a source of patent medicine, and an excellent birdseed right up until the 1920s when Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act (spelling intentional, was standard back then). Hemp was then revived during WWII because Japan had captured the Philippines, our most important source of manila hemp, which was used to make our ropes and other important things. Wisconsin and Kentucky grew it for the war effort, if memory serves. And regular farmers grew it as windbreaks for the longest time even if they didn’t grow the cash crop.

    Funny story about the latter: I once heard about a little old lady who’d never clued in that her windbreak had been outlawed by the Feds. IIRC, her grandson noticed what it was and his uncles told him in emphatic tones to leave Grandma out of it!

    Anyway. I’ve been curious about using hemp as a protein source for a while. Then I learned about grass-fed meats and about the health benefits of animal foods in general and stopped worrying about it, thinking the phytic acid on top of the price had pretty much put hemp out of my reach for good. I have tried the oil and didn’t think much of it–thanks for giving me another excuse never to use it again. :) But the seeds don’t have phytic acid, you say? Hm. I might just have to try them again, then. I knew that about the protein but not what it meant. Thank you for enlightening me.

  18. Sam says

    I used to eat hemp seeds for breakfast every morning and I had so much more energy. My trick was to combine 2 parts hemp with 1 part dark chocolate, pour the mess into muffin cups, and press dried cranberries and almonds on top. I don’t know if it was the most nutritional of breakfasts, but I figured it couldn’t be any worse than a granola bar. (Also, dark chocolate was a great incentive to get up in the morning.)

  19. Arian J. says

    Eating hemp foods should no longer cause a positive drug test as they’ve long since come up with zero THC varieties of hemp in Canada.

    However, google “Drug Testing Industry” if you want to know what a huge scam that is. Another example of corporate greed ruining lives to make money.

  20. JenboyGo says

    Great info here … I’d like to underscore the question by travin that no one seemed to respond to. The question was regarding the level of salicylates in hemp seed. Anyone know? In appreciation …

  21. Milla says

    A correction about hemp not being traditional- yes in fact it is. In Russia, hemp oil and ‘milk’ from hemp seeds (as well as poppy seeds; almonds were usedtoo, but only by the rich), were used in lent to replace dairy mill and butter/animal fats. It was, however, always added to ready food, NEVER cooked!

  22. John says

    Hemp seeds are probably one of the oldest ingested seeds on the planet so saying this is new to human consumption is not well researched. If the seeds were ingested than so were the oils and the ratio is usually at 3:1 not 4:1 for hemp oil and can fall even lower, you also sound contradicting when you say grass fed beef is usually at 4:1 as well. Hemp seed and hemp seed oil is a viable source of all your amino’s and if you eat grass fed meat and eggs eliminate some of the other less healthy legumes replace them with hemp seed and hemp seed oil you are going to see excellent results. Also hemp seed oil is not for cooking its a supplementfor omega 6 and 3. Not to mention no GMO industrial hemp yet

  23. Fionna Tough says

    Thanks for this post! It was really helpful! However, I just came from reading a post by Sally Fallon “Hemp: Not for Human Consumption,” where she mostly points out the issues with Hemp Oil, as you did here. However, she also states “In China, where cultivation of hemp originated, hemp oil was used occasionally, but there are no references in the Chinese literature to the use of hemp seeds as food for human beings. (Simoons, Food in China, 1991)” This is all she really says about the seeds, which until now, I thought were pretty safe, and perhaps even a miracle food. What do you think? Where did the info about the Chinese eating them in history come from? I thought I’d never have to question Sally- haha! Thanks!!

  24. felix Silvester says

    A great testimony i must share to all cancer patient in the world i never believed that their could be any complete cure for lung cancer or any cancer,i saw people’s testimony on blog sites of how Doctor Raymond cannabis oil brought them back to life again i had to try it too and you cant believe that in just few weeks i started using it all my pains stop gradually and i had to leave without drugs the doctor gave to,right now i can tell you that few months now i have nit had any pain and i have just went for text last week and the doctor confirmed that there is no trace of any cancer again,glory be to Jesus for leading me to this genuine Doctor called Raymond Wallace i am so happy as i am sharing this testimony,my advice to you that is thinking that their is no cure for cancer,just contact and get the oil treatment from Doctor Raymond try it and you will not regret it because it truly works and here is his email(dr.raymondcannabisoil@hotmail.com)

  25. kate says

    I am so grateful to Rick for providing me with Hemp oil here in the United State of America. I was diagnose with breast cancer 3 years ago, and ever since i have done a lot of Chemo and Radiation that have not helped me, but only damaged my immune system and render it weak and helpless.

    I came across the Phoenix Tears and i have read about the Rick Simpson Hemp oil a lot and saw that he could provide me with Hemp Oil here in the State, i contact him on ricksimpsonfoundation@gmail.com for the procurement of this medication, to my surprise the medication was procured and delivered within 48 hours and i have been on treatment for the past 3 months.

    Am now here to testify that am no more a cancer patient, I have experience a total transformation in my health sector with Rick Simpson Hemp oil service. for all cancer patient that live in the America and Canada region, get your Hemp oil from ricksimpsonfoundation@gmail.com

  26. Kate Mill says

    My husband had stage four lung cancer and he has been through chemo 3 times, but this time his condition was getting worse that I was afraid it will kill him. When a friend of mine directed me to Rick Simpson on: ricksimpsonoilfoundation@gmail.com who helped me with my husband cancer and cure it completely, I want you to join hands in appreciation of the great work that is been done by Rick Simpson, he is the best that saved the life of my husband with hemp oil, thanks to him. You can contact him through his email: ricksimpsonoilfoundation@gmail.com

  27. Keyshia says

    My story has to do with the healing power of Rick Simpson cannabis oil.”My sister Khloe, age 65, was diagnosed with Bone Cancer on the inside of her backbone 2 years ago, which had metastasized from breast cancer she didn’t know she had. I prayed for a total healing with NO operation, no chemo and no radiation. not everyone has had the experience of knowing Rick Simpson as their Healer… but they can! Rick Simpson, father of all natural hemp.

    May the grace of God be upon Rick for his good work and courage; and with his Hemp we are healed”.
    Early this year i traveled to Europe( Slovak) to visit a good friend of mine when i heard Rick was around so i traveled to him and meet him one on one and purchase the healing oil from him, now am so happy and filled with joy that my sister is no longer a cancer patient and she’s completely healed with his miracle healing oil. The doctor himself confirmed to us on Tuesday last week that my sister Khloe is fully OK. No sign of cancer in her bone or breast again….Wow…Am so so happy that my family and I have been thanking Rick for his good work of saving this world with his cannabis oil. Please people i don’t know how to thank him enough so am dropping his contact here*** ricksimpsoncannabisoil_phoenixtears@outlook.com *** +447024078253 ***, am begging if you can spear 5 minutes of your time and please help me to thank him, he is truly a hero of this world and i pray for God’s strength and wisdom upon him.

  28. says

    No offense but you’re a nut job. As some others have stated before, hemp, such as oil and seeds, has been used as traditional medicine for thousands of years. The fats are nothing but good for our brain and body. Let’s also not forget about the fact that hemp seeds contain 10g of protein per serving at the very minimum. I strongly believe maybe it is time you reeducate yourself before posting this on the internet. False posts like these are what freak others out and gives marijuana, and ESPECIALLY HEMP a bad name.

  29. Jay says

    Yeah, this lady is batshit crazy!?

    raw organic hempseed/oil is one of the healthiest and most nutritious foods here on earth with vitamin/minerals/essential fatty acids ect. It is the only food in nature that has the exact ratio of 3,6,9 that the body needs and is the most unsaturated fat. You could live entirely off hemp as a food and not have any deficiencies.

    and yes, marijuana/hemp is some of the oldest medicines of mankind, This whole article is a pile of shit, supposively a health conscious person? More like clueless or part of some other agenda.
    Look at all the problems with non natural/synthetic man made foods with serious health consequences and you are asking if one of the longest used and healthiest foods in existence, backwards ?

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