Whether enjoyed in a lemon muffin or used as a topping on your latest batch of bread, poppy seeds are a popular ingredient in many of our favourite recipes. With a mild, nutty flavour and a satisfying crunchiness, it’s easy to see why we often include these tiny seeds into our cooking and baking.
But are there any health benefits of poppy seeds, and is it worth adding them to your shopping list? We’ve got everything you need to know below.
What are poppy seeds?
It’s probably not very surprising that poppy seeds come from the poppy plant (the clue is in the name, after all). We typically use opium poppy seeds (papaver somniferum) in our cooking and baking. However, the plant is grown for its ornamental beauty too.
Opium poppies are native to Greece and Asia. They are an ancient spice that was used for both culinary and medicinal purposes1 .
The nutritional profile of poppy seeds
There are plenty of reported poppy seed health benefits. One tablespoon of poppy seeds typically includes:
- Calories: 46
- Protein: 6g
- Fat: 7g
- Carbohydrates: 5g
- Fibre: 7g
You’ll also find a variety of nutrients, like manganese, copper, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, and iron2.
The health benefits of poppy seeds
Whether you sprinkle yours on a salad or add a bit of crunch to your morning bagel, poppy seeds could be a healthy addition to your diet.
Some health benefits might include:
- Supports normal bone health
- Better digestion
- Supports heart health
- Skin hydration3
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that research is still limited. If you notice any unwanted side effects, stop eating or using poppy seeds straight away.
Who should avoid poppy seeds
Poppies are quite a notorious plant. The sap of the opium poppy plant is where opiates, like heroin, codeine, and morphine, come from4. While poppy seeds themselves don’t have the same psychotropic effect, they may absorb or get coated in the opium extract. The majority of commercially produced poppy seeds are washed and processed to remove this coating, so they are generally safe to eat.
However, even washed poppy seeds might produce a positive result on a drug test (even though you are unlikely to experience any symptoms). It’s worth avoiding anything with poppy seeds if you do have a drug test coming up5.
It’s also essential to avoid unwashed or unprocessed poppy seeds or poppy seed tea. These are not regulated, and it is challenging to know how much opium extract is included in the product. There have been fatalities and overdoses associated with using unwashed poppy seeds6.
If you are concerned but still want to enjoy the reported health benefits, you could try incorporating different seeds in your diet. Sesame seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, or flax seeds are all great alternatives7.
How to prepare poppy seeds
Poppy seeds are a versatile ingredient, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy these crunchy little seeds. Some people simply eat a spoonful of poppy seeds, while others add them to their favourite recipes or meals.
Some ways you could use poppy seeds include:
- In smoothies
- In soups and stews
- Sprinkled on salads
- Topped on bagels or other breakfasts
- In baking
Whichever way you use poppy seeds, their delicious flavour and reported health benefits mean they are a great addition to your meal planning.
Last Updated: 22nd January 2021
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.