The Health Benefits of Hemp
Nutritional Advantages of Eating Hemp Seeds and Hempseed Oil
Lana Butner, ND, LAc, is a board-certified naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist in New York City.
Verywell / Anastasiia Tretiak
Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is cultivated for making a wide range of products including foods, health products, fabric, rope, natural remedies, and much more. The various parts of the hemp plant are used to make different products.
The seeds of hemp are edible and are considered highly nutritious with a high concentration of soluble and insoluble fiber, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for heart health and skin health.
Hemp is grown for non-drug use because it contains only trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant that is responsible for getting a person high).
Also Known As
- Narrow-leaf hemp
- Bitter root
- Wild cotton
There are three different species of plants that come from the Cannabis genus (in the Cannabaceae family). These include Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.
Hemp classifies as varieties of Cannabis that contain 0.3% or less THC content. Marijuana, on the other hand, describes Cannabis plant species that have more than 0.3% THC, which can induce euphoric effects.
The hemp seeds are the primary part of the hemp plant that is edible. The leaves can be used to make a tea, but it’s the seeds that contain most of the plant’s nutrients. In fact, hemp seeds have over 30% fat, including essential fatty acids. The health benefits of hemp, therefore, primarily come from its seeds.
Hemp seeds are, pretty much, as the name implies—the seeds of the hemp plant. Sometimes, the seeds are also referred to as hemp hearts.
They are high in insoluble and soluble fiber, rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which has been linked in studies to many health benefits, offers a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Note that hemp hearts have had the fibrous shell removed and, thus, are lower in fiber and other nutrients than whole hemp seeds.
A 2016 study discovered that GLA has very strong anti-inflammatory properties and has a “great potential to dampen [the] inflammatory processes and improve signs and symptoms of several inflammatory diseases.”
Hemp seeds contain the perfect 3-to-1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which is considered the optimal ratio for heart and brain health. This ratio is difficult to attain in the Western diet, as most foods contain far too many omega-6 fatty acids (like vegetable oil) and not nearly enough omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon and other wild-caught, cold-water fish).
Hemp seeds contain many nutrients, including minerals (such as magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc) as well as vitamins.
The high content of 20% soluble and 80% insoluble fiber, in whole hemp seeds, may aid in digestion while helping to lower bad cholesterol and improve heart health. The insoluble fiber in hemp seeds has also been linked with a lower risk of diabetes.
Hemp Oil Versus CBD Oil
Hemp oil (also called hempseed oil) comes from the seeds of the hemp plant; it is made by cold-pressing hemp seeds. Hempseed oil differs from CBD oil in that CBD oil is extracted from the cannabis plant and then combined with a base oil (such as coconut, MCT, or olive oil).
Hempseed oil, which comes from the seeds only—and not from a hemp variety of the Cannabis plant itself—does not contain any psychoactive properties (such as those from THC which cause a person to get high). Hemp oil has its own unique properties and health benefits.
Hemp oil is used in foods for its high level of healthy nutrients such as:
- Essential fatty acids (EFAs)
- Minerals (such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron, and more)
- Antioxidants (such as Vitamin E)
Hemp oil can be used as a cooking oil and, just like any other type of healthy oil, can be added to foods such as salads, dips, and spreads.
Animal studies have shown that hempseed oil may lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Hemp oil is often used as a hair conditioner, a skin moisturizer. Some studies found that hempseed oil may improve dry, itchy skin and help symptoms of eczema, reducing the need for prescription medication.
Hemp protein is a powder made from the seeds of the hemp plant; it contains over 25% high-quality protein with nearly 20 amino acids and nine essential amino acids.
Hemp protein is an excellent choice in a protein powder for vegetarians or vegans because it also contains essential fatty acids that are vital to health. The protein content in hemp seeds is considerably higher than that of flax or chia seeds, which contain only around 15% to 18% protein.
Other Health Benefits
Hemp has been used to treat a variety of health conditions, but there is not enough clinical research data to back up the claims that hemp is safe or effective to treat many illnesses. These include:
- Heart problems
- Urinary conditions (increasing urine flow)
- Warts (when applied topically to the skin)
How it Works
It is thought that hemp contains chemicals (like the drug Lanoxin) that lower the blood pressure, slow heart rate, and increase the strength of the heartbeat, and increase urine output.
Hemp is also known to have terpenes, which are molecules produced by plants that are responsible for the plant’s distinctive smell (such as lavender). Studies are beginning to show that terpenes are thought to have many health benefits including neuroprotective (brain-protective), anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties.
Possible Side Effects
According to RX List, taking whole hemp by mouth can cause many side effects including:
- Throat irritation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
There is not enough clinical research data to prove that hemp is safe for use in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or to use topically (on the skin).
Eating hemp seeds is not considered as unsafe as is ingesting the hemp leaves or other parts of the plant. But the seeds can cause mild diarrhea because of the high-fat content.
Interaction with Medications
Do not ingest hemp when taking cardiac glycosides or diuretics.
Cardiac glycosides, such as Lanoxin (digoxin) help the heart beat strongly and can slow down the heart rate. Hemp is also known to slow the heart rate; this could result in bradycardia. Do not take hemp when taking Lanoxin without consulting with the prescribing physician or another healthcare provider.
Diuretics such as Diuril (chlorothiazide), Thalitone (chlorthalidone), Lasix (furosemide), Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide) and others may lower potassium in the body as they work to flush fluids. Hemp has a similar action.
When there is an increase in urine/fluid output, it’s common that potassium is also lost. Taking diuretics and hemp together may result in dangerously low potassium levels which could adversely impact the heart.
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak
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Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak
Selection, Preparation, and Storage
Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, or cooked with other foods. Hempseed oil has been used as food or made into medicine for thousands of years in China.
There are many ways to eat hemp protein, oil, and seeds, including:
- In a smoothie
- On oatmeal or cereal
- Sprinkled over salads
- As a nut butter
- As a form of milk (hemp milk)
- On yogurt
- In meal bars or granola bars
- As a salad dressing (hemp oil)
- Sprinkle (hemp seeds) on casserole dishes
- Add hemp seeds to baked goods
- In recipes
- As a cooking oil
Exposing hemp seeds to air for long periods of time or storing hemp at high temperatures can cause the degradation of its healthy fat content; this could result in trans-fatty acids (which are the very worst type of fats a person could eat).
It is recommended to store hemp seeds and hemp oil at cool temperatures, away from exposure to bright light, in an airtight container. It is best to refrigerate hemp products after opening.
Many hemp products, including hemp oil, hemp milk, and hemp protein powder can be purchased at a health food store, or online.
Cooking hemp seeds or heating the oil to temperatures above 350 degrees Fahrenheit can denature the fats, destroying the healthy fatty acids. Hemp seeds and oil are best eaten raw; if cooking with hemp oil, use low heat.
The dosage of any herbal or natural supplement depends on several factors, including a person’s age, health condition, and more.
Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking hemp (or any other herb) regarding the recommended dosage. When taking herbal preparations, never exceed the dosage or other recommendations on the package insert.
When eating hemp seeds, some experts suggest starting out slow (such as 1 teaspoon) then gradually working up to more as tolerated, particularly for those with digestive problems.
Hemp seeds are grown in many different countries, but the hemp that is grown in Canada is said to produce a great tasting, high-quality seed. Look for products that have been tested in the lab for purity and potency.
Keep in mind that the regulations on hemp grown in the U.S., Europe, and Canada are stricter than those in other countries, such as China. Also, Canada’s products are non-GMO. Be sure to select an organic product for the ultimate in nutritional value, taste, potency, and overall quality.
Are hemp seed hearts that same as hemp seed?
No. Hemp hearts have had the fibrous shell removed and, thus, are lower in fiber and other nutrients than whole hemp seeds. Hemp hearts not as nutritionally beneficial as the whole hemp seed. However, hemp hearts are very high in healthy polyunsaturated fats.
Are hemp seeds legal to ingest in the U.S.?
Yes, hemp seeds are legal in the United States, but the seeds must contain a minimal amount of THC (the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant that gets a person high).
According to the FDA, some hemp products, including hemp seeds, hemp seed protein powder, and hempseed oil are safe for food, and therefore there is no need for special legislation regarding legalization.
Can eating hemp cause a person to fail a drug test?
No, not when eating moderate amounts of hempseed oil, protein powder made of hemp, or hemp seeds. There are only trace amounts of THC in hemp; unless a person is using other variations of the hemp plant, such as marijuana, (or ingesting abnormally large amounts of hemp) failing a drug test from eating hemp seeds is unlikely.
Although hemp hearts do not contain any THC at all, the shells do have trace amounts (below 0.3% THC).
Therefore, although a person is very unlikely to test positive on a drug test from eating hemp seeds, those who are recovering from cannabis addiction—with a goal of avoiding all exposure to THC— may want to avoid eating the whole hemp seeds, and opt for hemp hearts instead.
What does hemp taste like?
Hemp seeds have a very pleasant, mild, nutty flavor, like unsalted sunflower seeds, but the texture is not as hard.
Learn what medical research says about the nutritional benefits of eating hemp seeds, hempseed oil, and hempseed protein powder.
7 Benefits of Hemp Seeds + Nutrition & Side Effects
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Hemp seeds come from a controversial cannabis plant. Instead of getting you high, they deliver a blast of essential nutrients and potential benefits for your heart, brain, and skin. Whether you want to improve your health or enrich your diet, hemp seeds have got you covered. Read on to learn how to get the most out of them and prevent unpleasant side effects.
What Are Hemp Seeds?
Hemp seeds are the seeds of a cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). Unlike marijuana, hemp is a cannabis strain low in psychoactive THC, and people mostly grow it for industrial and nutritional purposes and CBD extraction .
“Miracle plant” sounds like a cliche, but here’s why hemp deserves this label [2, 3, 4, 5]:
- Hemp seeds are packed with essential nutrients
- Cannabinoids from hemp have a range of potential benefits
- Hemp fiber is perfect for making ropes, clothes, and paper
- It can replace plastics and even build solid constructions
- Hemp is a potential source of biofuel
Each potential use of hemp deserves a separate article (a book, actually); this one will be about hemp seeds nutrition, potential health benefits, and precautions.
Hemp seeds deliver an array of essential nutrients and have a mild nutty flavor that blends well in smoothies and spreads. Get ready to meet one of the most nutritious foods on our planet!
- Loaded with protein, healthy fats, and minerals
- Optimal omega-6/omega-3 ratio
- High protein quality with all essential amino acids
- May protect the heart and the brain
- May help with diabetes and constipation
- Softens the skin and relieves eczema
- Therapeutic value lacks stronger clinical evidence
- Shelled seeds (hearts) are low in fiber
- May be contaminated with psychoactive THC
Hemp Seeds Nutrition
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, and minerals. One serving packs an array of essential nutrients in their optimal ratio, along with modest 166 kcal (Table 1).
|Nutrient||Unit||Per 100 g||Per serving (30 g)|
|Fatty acids, polyunsaturated||g||38.1||11.43|
|18:2 n-6 (linoleic acid)||g||27.36||8.2|
|18:3 n-3 (alpha-linolenic acid)||g||8.684||2.605|
|18:3 n-6 (gamma-linolenic acid)||g||1.34||0.4|
Hemp seeds contain impressive 11.5 g of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and zero trans fats per serving. PUFAs are super-important for your health as they [6, 7, 8, 9, 10]:
- Combat inflammation
- Protect the heart and blood vessels
- Enable brain development
- Improve skin health and complexion
Hemp seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, which is an essential omega-3 fatty acid. One serving delivers 160% (men) and 230% (women) of the daily value .
The second essential fatty acid is linoleic acid (omega-6), and hemp seeds will supply you with 68% (w) or 48% (m) of the daily value per serving.
The omega-6/omega-3 ratio of hemp fatty acids is 2-3/1, which most experts consider optimal for keeping inflammation in check. Western diets have a ratio of 15-17/1 and crave good omega-3 sources such as hemp seeds [1, 12, 13].
But healthy fats are just one part of their superb nutritional profile…
With 32% protein, hemp seeds are among the best protein sources you can get.
You will often hear claims about the poor quality of plant protein, but that’s not the case with hemp seeds. Protein quality score considers the content of essential amino acids and protein digestibility. With a value of 83.5-92, hemp seeds beat even some types of meat .
Hemp seeds are high in arginine, an amino acid that boosts cardiovascular health and relieves inflammation [15, 16, 17].
Vitamins and Minerals
Having a hard time achieving the optimal intake of different minerals and vitamins?
One serving (30g, 3 tbsp) of hemp seeds will provide you with [18, 19, 15, 20]:
- Magnesium: 53% (m), 68% (w) DV
- Iron: 30% (m), 13 % (w) DV
- Zinc: 27% (m), 37% (w) DV
- Phosphorus: 70% DV
- Copper: 53% DV
- Manganese: 100% (m), 128% (w) DV
- Thiamin (vitamin B1): 33% DV
*m=men; w=women; DV=daily value for adults
Hemp Seeds vs. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are another amazing source of healthy fats and other nutrients. Hemp seeds are more nutritious in general, but chia seeds have the following advantages (Table 2):
- Fewer calories
- Much more fiber
- More vitamin A
- Much more calcium
- More omega-3 fatty acids
Hemp seeds are higher in all other nutrients, especially protein, unsaturated fats, and minerals.
Table 2 — Hemp Seeds vs. Chia Seeds Nutritional Profiles [15, 21]
|Nutrients per 100 g||Unit||Hemp Seeds||Chia Seeds|
|Fatty acids, polyunsaturated||g||38.1||23.67|
|18:3 n-3 (alpha-linolenic acid)||g||8.684||17.83|
But you don’t have to choose between hemp and chia seeds, right? Combine these two for optimal nutrition and a range of health benefits.
Hemp Seeds Health Benefits
How It Works
As mentioned above, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in their optimal ratio reduce inflammation, soothe the skin, and lower the risk of various chronic diseases [6, 7, 8, 9, 22].
Hemp seeds contain unique polyphenols – cannabisinins – with potent antioxidant activity. Hemp protein and flavonoids such as quercetin also combat free radicals [23, 24, 25].
Arginine and other active compounds in hemp protein shield the heart and blood vessels [17, 26].
1) Heart Health
According to different reviews and clinical trials, optimal intake of alpha-linolenic acid and other omega-3s found in hemp seeds can [27, 28, 29, 30]:
- Reduce cholesterol and blood lipids
- Enhance heart function and protect blood vessels
- Decrease blood pressure
- Prevent blood clotting
Arginine from hemp protein stimulates the production of nitric oxide (relaxing blood vessels) and cuts the levels of inflammatory CRP, according to a study of over 13,000 participants. Both effects can prevent heart disease [17, 31, 32].
Cholesterol and Blood Lipids
Omega-3 fatty acids help to keep blood lipids in check, but the specific effects of hemp seeds and their oil are not well studied in humans.
In 14 healthy volunteers, hemp seed oil (30 ml daily for 4 weeks) had only minor effects on blood lipids and cholesterol .
Low doses of hemp seed oil (3 g daily) enriched red blood cells of 36 children with omega-3 fatty acids but didn’t affect their blood lipid profile .
In animal trials, hemp seeds lowered cholesterol levels and provided antioxidant support [35, 36].
In test tubes, hemp protein acted similar to statins (lipid-lowering drugs) by blocking an enzyme vital for the production of LDL cholesterol. According to another cell-based experiment, hemp seed extract may prevent LDL oxidation, a major cause of atherosclerosis [37, 38, 39].
Still, this doesn’t mean hemp seeds would do the same in the human body.
2) Brain and Nerve Protection
Dietary fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, are essential for mental health and brain development. Thanks to their high omega-3 content and other anti-inflammatory components, hemp seeds may protect the brain and nerves .
In 100 patients with multiple sclerosis, a combination of hemp seed and evening primrose oils helped repair nerve damage and improved the symptoms .
Researchers observed the ability of hemp seed oil to combat autoimmune nerve impairment (as seen in MS) in a study on mice .
In a clinical trial of 120 patients, hemp seed pills (15 g daily for 8 weeks) improved the symptoms of constipation by 43% vs. 8% placebo .
Hemp seeds stimulated the colon and relieved constipation in one study on rats .
Note: The majority of fiber, which supports bowel movements, is in the outer shell of hemp seeds. Whole seeds would thus be more beneficial for constipation, but their consumption comes with certain risks (see “Hemp Seeds FAQ” for more details).
4) Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a complex condition that involves obesity, insulin resistance, and increased blood lipids .
According to a large observational trial (1.2K patients), high intake of arginine from plant sources can lower the risk of metabolic syndrome by 42%. With 4.6 g of arginine per 100 g, hemp seeds are among the best plant sources of this amino acid [46, 47].
Consumption of both soluble and insoluble fiber from hemp seeds may reduce the risk of diabetes [48, 49].
In cell studies, hemp protein cut the levels of glucose using the same mechanism as diabetes drugs called gliptins. Scientists speculate if hemp protein may enhance their potency while reducing side effects, but the available evidence is far from conclusive [50, 51].
5) PMS and Menopause
Supplementation with essential fatty acids found in hemp seeds (1-2 g daily for 6 months) reduced the symptoms of PMS in 120 women .
The beneficial effects mostly come from gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which may reduce inflammation and maintain hormonal balance [53, 54].
When women enter menopause, they lose the beneficial effects of estrogen and often face unpleasant mood swings. Hemp seeds reduced anxiety in postmenopausal rats [55, 56].
Bone loss and osteoporosis are one of the hallmarks of menopause. A supplement with GLA increased bone mineral density (BMD) in 65 older women .
Hemp Seed Oil Benefits for the Skin
Hemp seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that nurture the skin and prevent disorders such as [58, 6, 7]:
- Skin UV damage
Although people tend to focus on omega-3s, GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid from hemp seeds that delivers powerful skin benefits.
6) Eczema and Dry Skin
In 20 patients with eczema, hemp seed oil (30 ml daily) supplied the skin with PUFAs and reduced symptoms such as skin irritation. It showed better results than olive oil .
According to clinical trials, foods and oils rich in gamma-linolenic acid can soften the skin and relieve eczema [60, 61, 62].
Propionibacterium acnes is, you guessed it, a leading cause of acne. Hemp seed extract inhibited the growth and reduced inflammation caused by this germ in test tubes .
A review of herbs used for skin conditions underlined hemp seed oil as a potential remedy for dry skin, eczema, acne, psoriasis, and more .
Hemp seeds are rich in oil, but it’s not sure if they would deliver the same health benefits.
Limitations and Caveats
Despite the fantastic nutritional profile of hemp seeds and their potential health benefits, we lack solid clinical data to shed more light on this peculiar food. Most findings stem from low-quality clinical, animal, and cell-based research.
Also, the majority of trials have examined hemp seed oil, isolated nutrients, and active components but not the seeds themselves. Researchers emphasize the need to better understand the metabolism of hemp seeds and their nutrients .
Now let’s see if there’s anything about hemp seeds that should concern you.
Hemp Seeds Side Effects
Clinical trials with hemp seeds and their oil haven’t reported major side effects in children and adults [33, 43, 41, 34].
Hemp seeds are natural plant food, and there’s no apparent reason to avoid them unless you’re allergic to hemp (Cannabis sativa).
But… There’s public concern about psychoactive THC in hemp seeds, and it may be more than just “anti-cannabis propaganda.”
Although the seeds contain only trace amounts of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids (even in marijuana strains), contamination with THC from the plant is possible .
As a matter of fact, doctors reported a case of one child with mildly altered behavior due to 3-week hemp seed oil consumption .
Some lab analyses confirmed there’s a possibility of hemp seed THC contamination. If you are concerned about this, consult with your doctor before consuming hemp seeds. To learn more about this issue and how to overcome it, read “Hemp Seeds FAQ” below .
How to Eat Hemp Seeds
In terms of quantity, you can start with 1 tablespoon daily and increase to a standard serving for seeds: 28-30g or 3 tbsp. Hemp seed oil showed beneficial effects in doses of 20-30 ml daily.
If you’re aiming to boost your nutrition, stick with the seeds because they contain healthy fats + loads of other essential nutrients.
Hemp seeds have a rich nutty flavor, and they blend well in salads, smoothies, spreads, oatmeal, etc. They’re also a good option for people with nut allergies. Delicious hemp seeds recipes are easy to come across – go find your favorites.
Besides the oil, other products made from hemp seeds include:
- Hemp butter: blended hemp seeds +/- added oil
- Hemp flour: a byproduct of oil extraction (no oil)
- Hemp protein: hemp flour with a higher protein content
- Hemp milk: blended hemp seeds with water +/- other ingredients
Hemp Seeds FAQ
What Is in Hemp Hearts?
Hemp hearts are seeds without the shell, also known as hulled/shelled hemp seeds or hemp kernels. They are more common, tastier, and easier to digest than the whole seeds.
On the other hand, whole seeds contain much more fiber and may help relieve constipation. The shell is quite hard so you may want to go for ground seeds or pills. Also, you can sprout whole seeds only.
Do Hemp Seeds Contain THC? Can They Get You High?
First of all, hemp is an ‘industrial’ strain of Cannabis sativa with negligible THC content. Secondly, the seeds themselves contain only trace amounts of cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, even in marijuana strains.
However, THC from the plant may end up on the outer surface of the seeds during the harvest or storage. In most countries, the official limit for THC content in hemp seeds is 10 mcg/1g (10 ppm), but some products may have up to 12 times more THC .
But how’s that if hemp doesn’t contain THC? Well, due to weak regulations, some producers actually cultivate THC-rich strains instead of industrial hemp .
Still, it’s highly unlikely that eating the seeds will get you high. To be 100% sure your product has no THC:
- Buy from trusted brands that test their products for THC content
- Choose hemp hearts (shelled hemp seeds) instead of the whole seeds
- If you consume whole seeds, though, make sure to wash them thoroughly first
Hemp Seeds and Drug Tests
If hemp seeds can be contaminated with THC, can they also cause you to fail a routine drug test? Well, they might just do so! Some people did have detectable urine THC levels after consuming hemp seed oil, butter, and other products [69, 70].
On the other hand, some studies didn’t detect THC after regular hemp seed consumption [71, 72].
If you follow the above steps, you won’t have issues with THC contamination and drug test results. To stay on the safe side, however, you may want to skip hemp seeds a few days before the scheduled testing.
Hemp seeds are made from industrial cannabis (Cannabis sativa), also known as hemp. They are loaded with high-quality protein, healthy fats, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, and more. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in hemp seeds have an ideal omega-6/omega-3 ratio.
Overall, this superfood may combat inflammation, protect the heart, brain, and blood vessels, and soothe the skin. But despite their promising health effects, clinical research on hemp seeds and their therapeutic potential remains limited.
You can use hemp seeds in salads, smoothies, spreads, oatmeal, and other delicious recipes. Butter, oil, milk, flour, and protein powder from hemp seeds are also available.
To avoid contamination with psychoactive THC, make sure to buy from verified suppliers who test their products. If you consume whole seeds (with the shell), wash them thoroughly first.
In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve got to do everything we can to keep our bodies as healthy as possible. SelfDecode’s personalized DNA reports can tell you which vitamins and mineral deficiencies you’re susceptible to, and which foods to consume to prevent these deficiencies. Start your journey to optimal health with SelfDecode today.
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Hemp seeds deliver a blast of essential nutrients and benefits for your heart, brain, and skin. Here’s how to use them.