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Hemp seeds - a delicious, affordable source of omega-3 and omega-6 compared to salmon and Parmesan

Try a spoonful of shelled organic hemp seeds and you might think you're eating a mix of grated Parmesan and coarsely ground walnuts, all without a trace of bitterness.  You may feel a little naughty eating hemp seeds, but  they are a superfood from industrial hemp, not a way to grow the happy weed. (In this case, industrial just means grown for fiber and seeds, not for smoking.) And you might wince as spending nearly ten dollars for a bag, but see the table below for a comparsion with more familar sources of essential omega-3 and omega-6 oils: Parmesan and salmon.

I've been sprinkling Nutiva organic shelled hemp seeds on pasta, like the One-Pot Barely Cooked Tomato Sauce with Pasta shown below. They are another way, along with nutritional yeast, to amp up the protein in plant-strong meals. 

organic hemp seeds on pasta with tomato sauce for a vegan option to Parmesan

Wildly Affordable Sprinkles

In smaller quantities, shelled hemp seeds cost about the same as Parmesan cheese: $9.99 or $20 a pound if you buy the eight-ounce bag and about $17 a pound if you buy the 13-ounce bag. Shredded organic Parmesan is $4.49 for a 5-ounce container or $14.37 a pound and classic block Parmesan from Europe (which wisely bans Bovine Growth Hormone), is about $19 a pound. That's just 88 cents for 2 tablespoons of organic hemp seeds, my usual serving size.

Right now, Nutivia is selling a three-pound bag of shelled hemp seeds for $39.99 ($13 a pound) with free shipping. I'm not sure how "raw" the hemp seeds will be after baking in the delivery truck, but that's a great price. Consider ordering a bag to split up with friends. The bag says that "upon opening, refrigerate and use within eight to twelve weeks."

Comparing the cost and nutrition of hemp seeds, salmon, and Parmesan cheese

The table below compares a 3-tablespoon serving of organic hemp seed (the size listed on the Nutiva bag) with a four-ounce serving of organic salmon and with three tablespoons of Parmesan. (An ounce is 28.3 grams.)

 comparison organic shelled hemp seeds wild salmon shredded organic Parmesan cheese
serving size 3 tablespoons (30 grams) 4 ounces (151 grams) 3 tablespoons (30 grams)
cost per pound $19.98 $13.99 $14.37
cost per serving $1.32 $4.66 $0.95
protein per serving 11 grams 22 grams 12 grams
cost per gram of protein 12 cents 21 cents 8 cents

omega-3 oil per serving

3 grams 2.1 grams 0.06 grams
cost per gram of omega-3 44 cents $2.22 $16.66

omega-6 oil per serving

7.5 grams 0.5 grams 0.3 grams
cost per gram of omega-6 2 cents 24 cents 42 cents


Notice that the hemp seeds have a 2.5 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. This is an excellent ratio, according to a paper by a National Institutes of Health scientist Dr. AP Simopoulos on the importance of the ratio of mega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. This balance is at or below the threshold that reduced deaths from heart disease, lowered the risk of cancers, slowed their growth, and suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthris. 

Other Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds come from hemp plants, so like all plant-based food, they are cholesterol free. They're high in protein and an excellent source of omega-3 oils, which may help ward off inflammation which can result in asthma, cancer, coronary heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and neurodegenerative disease. Nutiva cold-processes its seeds, never raising the temperature over 104°F, which keeps the healthy oils fresh. 

Nutiva says three tablespoons (30 grams) of organic shelled hemp seeds contain:

  • 170 calories
  • 11 grams protein
  • 14 grams fat
    • 1 gram saturated fat
    • 7.5 grams omega-6 LA and 0.6 grams super omega-6 GLA
    • 3.0 grams omega-3 ALA and 0.3 grams super omega-3 SDA
  • 2 grams carbohydrates
  • 1 gram fiber
  • 15% of your daily iron
  • 25% of your daily zinc
  • 50% of your daily phosphorus
  • 50% of your daily magnesium
  • The cost, even at $20 a pound, is just $1.32 for 3 tablespoons

Side Effects of Hemp Seeds, Medical and Legal

  • Hemp seeds won't make you high. Dr. Weil says that even if you ate nothing but food with hemp, you wouldn't get high or test positive for drugs. Edible hemp products have only "minuscule amounts of THC." THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana. He says the Drug Enforcement Agency's law defining hemp-based foods as drugs was struck down in 2004.
  • Growing hemp might get you arrested. While it's not strictly illegal in the U.S. to grow industrial hemp, the type used for seeds and for fiber to make rope and cloth, farmers do need a DEA permits and probably a state permit. But those permits are very difficult, perhaps impossible, to get, even after the farmers "comply with a rigorous set of security procedures, including prison-quality fencing, closed-circuit cameras, and (possibly) armed patrols." That may be why Nutiva grows its hemp in Canada. What a shame to prevent U.S. farmers from growing such a useful crop.

Start slowly, as you would with any new food. I couldn't find any reports of allergic reaction. The most cautionary report comes from Blue Cross of California, which says most people don't experience side effects, but some might, ranging from slight euphoria to loose stools. It also say that "anyone taking hemp seed oil with anticoagulant drugs should be aware that there is a theoretical possibility that bleeding could occur."

Other references: National Nutrient Database, Self Nutrition Data, Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Have you tried hemp seeds? Share your comments and any favorite recipes below.

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