Poppy seeds are derived from the opium popp (Papaver somniferum), sometimes just called “poppies.” Other name is oliseeds. Oliseeds are several species of seeds that are cultivated to yield oil that is isolated and extracted for various uses.
Nutrition in Poopy seeds
According to fdc.nal.usda.gov, one tablespoon of poppy seeds (about nine grams) contains approximately
- 45.9 calories
- 2.5 grams carbohydrates
- 1.6 grams protein
- 3.6 grams fat
- 1.7 grams fiber
- 0.6 milligram manganese (29 percent (Daily Value)
- 126 milligrams calcium (13 percent DV)
- 30.4 milligrams magnesium (8 percent DV)
- 76.1 milligrams phosphorus (8 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram copper (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram thiamine (5 percent DV)
- 0.9 milligram iron (5 percent DV)
- 0.7 milligram zinc (5 percent DV)
Other ingredients are vitamin E, folate, choline, potassium and selenium. Though, poppy seeds can be poisonous in large amount, Studies agree that eating even high amounts of poppy seeds, between 35–250 grams at one time (the equivalent of three to eight tablespoons), is safe for most adults. However, larger quantities of poppy seed may cause digestive issues due to blocking the bowels.
Scientific Studies on Poppy Seed Health Benefits
Webmed, 2020, is of the view that, Poppy seeds help manage a variety of health conditions, including:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Vesicoenteric fistula (a condition in which the bowel and bladder are abnormally connected). Poppy seeds are used to diagnose vesicoenteric fistula when about 35–250 grams of poppy seed is mixed with a drink or yogurt, taken by mouth. Then urine is monitored for 48 hours thereafter.
- Certain types of cancer
- Contains Manganese
Manganese helps to prevent conditions like weak bones, osteoporosis, inflammation, painful joints (osteoarthritis), anemia and PMS (premenstrual syndrome). One study by Higdon et al.,2001, one tablespoon of poppy seed amounts to 30 percent of daily manganese needs. Manganese is pivotal to activate multiple enzymes. Besides, it has antioxidant effects and may protect mitochondria and fights oxidative stress.
- Good source of Fiber though low in carb
Fiber is essential for digestion and preventing constipation. For those on low-carb diet, such as the ketogenic diet, eating high-fiber foods is essential for “staying regular” and supporting gut health.
- Contains Healthy Fats (Omega-6s)
Poppy seeds are comparatively high in linoleic acid, a type of omega-6 fatty acid. omega-6 fats are generally deemed as “pro-inflammatory”, hence, not significant as omega-3s, however, both types are essential fatty acids. Linoleic acid is an unsaturated fatty acid and is abundant in many types of plant glycosides, particularly those with high oil content, such as poppy seed.
linoleic acid must be eaten in moderate amounts (studies do not support high consumption of linoleic acid) and may have positive effects on heart health. One study by Jandacek, 2017, affirms that, linoleic acid reduce blood cholesterol levels and prevent atherosclerosis. This notwithstanding, it is not recommended to eat high amounts of refined vegetable oils, as they contain high amount of omega-6s. whole foods with many fats such as (like seeds, nuts, meat, eggs, olive oil, etc.) are to taken into consideration.
- Loaded with Calcium, Phosphorus and Magnesium
Poppy seeds are loaded with calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, hence, good for bones health. They also provide a good dose of copper needed to maintain nerve, bone and metabolic health. They also contain zinc and iron, significant for adrenal health, prevention of anemia, skin health and more.
- Promotes Skin
According to one study by Ando, 1998, Poppy seed milk and oil are known for hydrating and healing skin. These products may be helpful for managing eczema and inflammation of the skin, itchiness, dryness, peeling and dandruff. The best way to use poppy seeds on your skin is to apply poppy oil or paste to the affected area, ideally with other helpful ingredients like almond oil, essential oils or honey.
- Pain Reliever
According to EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM), 2018, the poppy plant contains morphine, codeine, thebaine, and other opium alkaloids known for their pain-relieving, calming, and sleep-inducing properties. These compounds are often found in pharmaceutical drugs intended for these uses. These alkaloids are typically present in the poppy pod’s milky white liquid, also known as poppy latex.
The same scientific report agrees that, Poppy seeds don’t naturally contain opium compounds but may become contaminated with them during harvesting or as a result of pest damage. Thus, before reaching supermarket shelves, poppy seeds are usually cleaned to get rid of any opium alkaloids with which they may have come into contact.
Haber et al., 2019, asserts that, it’s possible to find and purchase unwashed poppy seeds that contain higher levels of these opioids. Unwashed poppy seeds are often proposed as a natural alternative to certain pharmaceutical drugs.
Powers et al., 2017, study confirmed that, unwashed poppy seeds pose several health risks, the most severe of which is accidental death. As such, they should only be consumed under medical supervision. The case involves two cases of a 21-year-old male and 24-year-old male with high amounts of morphine in their blood at autopsy. It was suspected that the decedents ingested lethal amounts of morphine from home-brewed poppy seed tea. A recent study by Eisenreich et al.,2020, also agrees that, thebaine exhibits a higher acute toxic potential than morphine in Poopy seeds hence could pose health risk.
- May enhance fertility
A research by Dreyer et al., 2017, indicates that women who’ve had products derived from poppyseed oil flushed through their fallopian tubes may experience improved fertility. This is also supported by a study by Wang et al.,2019.
- Sleep Aid
EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM),2018, report that, Poppy latex boasts opioid compounds known for their sleep-inducing properties.
Hence, some people claim that poppy tea or warm milk infused with poppy seeds provides a natural insomnia remedy. As stated by Haber et al., 2019, most commercially available poppy seeds are cleaned before being sold, any products purchased in the health shops likely don’t have any insomnia-fighting effects.
Though, it’s possible to purchase unwashed poppy seeds that contain higher opioid levels, their use is considered risky. Teas and infusions made from them may contain lethal doses of morphine, and several accidental deaths have been linked to their use.
Unwashed poppy seeds may also cause a dependency that’s similar to other chemical addictions. Therefore, their use to treat insomnia is strongly discouraged.
Poppy Seeds vs. Hemp Seeds vs. Mustard Seeds
According to Levy, 2018:
- Hemp seeds, which don’t cause any psychotropic reactions but do provide significant health benefits, are loved for their high protein content and ability to improve digestion, balance hormones and support a healthy metabolism.
- Hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, are the seeds of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). They are rich in gamma-Linolenic acid (GLA), a necessary building block for some prostaglandins — hormone-like chemicals in the body that help smooth muscle functions, control inflammation and regulate body temperature. Hemp has an excellent 3:1 balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and is considered a complete protein because it contains all 20 amino acids.
- Studies show hemp seeds and hemp seed oil can be helpful in relieving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, work as a natural appetite suppressant due to their fiber and protein, nourish skin and hair, and support gut health by feeding probiotics in the digestive system.
- Hemp and poppy seeds offer similar nutrients. However, gram for gram, hemp is a bit higher in protein, manganese, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and iron. Like poppy seeds or chia seeds, hemp seeds can be added to recipes like granola, smoothies, oatmeal, muffins, etc.
- Mustard seeds, which are used to grow mustard greens and make mustard oil, contain chemicals that act as natural antifungal and antibacterial agents. They help protect against infections. Mustard oil is extracted by cold compression of mustard seeds, while mustard essential oil is extracted by steam distillation of mustard seeds soaked in water. Mustard seeds have a distinctive and rather pungent taste, similar to “spicy” foods like radish, horseradish or wasabi.
- Mustard seeds contain high levels of vitamin E, which helps improve skin health and can protect skin against free radical damage from ultraviolet light. Mustard seed oil is also high in omega-3 fatty acids and helps fight inflammation. This provides some relief for those with rheumatism, arthritis, sprains and aches.
- Mustard seeds are unique compared to other seeds because they contain two compounds that form allyl isothiocyanate or normal isothiocyanate, which are considered toxic compounds when ingested in high amounts. Because of this, bottles of pure mustard oil sold in the U.S. must include the warning “for external use only,” although average quantities of mustard seeds/mustard greens are still safe and healthy to consume.
Poppy Seeds vs. Chia Seeds vs. Sesame Seeds
- Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) are another type of tiny black or white seed that is highly nutritious and associated with many benefits, such as decreasing appetite, reducing constipation, balancing blood sugar levels and supporting heart health. In fact, although they have been consumed for centuries in South America, chia seeds have recently become one of the most popular and trendy superfoods in the health community.
- Like poppy seeds, chia seeds provide many nutrients, including fiber, protein, manganese, phosphorus and calcium, along with plenty of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, boasting even more omega-3s per gram than salmon.
- Compared to poppy seeds, chia seeds are more widely consumed for their high fiber content, although the two seeds provide similar amounts per tablespoon serving (chia seeds have slightly more). The high amount of dietary fiber found in chia seeds, and their ability to absorb water and form a gel, aids in digestion, preventing constipation and reducing other digestive problems.
- Sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum) and poppy seeds are often used in the same types of recipes, such as breads, granolas, etc. Sesame has one of the highest oil contents of any seed and boasts a rich, nutty flavor. The seeds contain about 50 percent to 60 percent of a fatty oil that is characterized by two beneficial members of the lignan family: sesamin and sesamolin.
- Sesame seeds are rich in linoleic and oleic acids, copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, and iron, plus small amounts of amino acids like lysine, tryptophan and methionine. Sesame is a bit lower in fiber than poppies, providing just over a gram per tablespoon.
Relationship with Opium and Drug test
Heroin is a derivative of morphine, the active ingredient in opium which is obtained from the opium poppy. Heroin also contains acetylcodeine, which your body converts to codeine. Traces of both morphine and codeine can also be found in the poppy seeds which are commonly used as ingredients in a variety of baked goods.
According to studies, eating poppy seeds can accumulates opiates (such as heroin, morphine and codeine) into the body. Eating these seeds may result in a positive drug test. For instance, a study by Thevis et al., 2002, opined that, small amounts of codeine and morphine may remain detectable in urine for up to 48 hours after poppy seeds are consumed.
One high-profile demonstration of the validity of poppy seed drug test claims was conducted by the Discovery Channel television program called “Mythbusters.” One participant ate a poppy seed cake and tested positive for opiates a ½-hour later. The other participant ate three poppy seed bagels and tested positive two hours later. Both parties continued to test positive for 16 hours.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) conducted a study that examined the results of 317,500 urine specimens that were tested for opiates and reviewed by three Medical Review Officer (MRO) groups, as well as 1.1 million specimens from five certified laboratories. The MRO’s reportedly reversed 87% of all the positive urinalysis test results due to false positives attributed to poppy seed ingestion, prescription medication, or other reasons.
The laboratory results showed that approximately 81% of the specimens that tested positive for codeine and morphine had concentration levels under 2,000 ng/ml. As a result, NIDA guidelines have been amended and cut-off levels for opiates have been increased to 2,000 ng/ml. The US military has set the cut-off level at 3,000 ng/ml to avoid false positive results
Lachenmeier et al., 2009, study agrees that, the exact amount needed to result in a positive drug test depends on the thresholds used by the testing lab, as well as the concentration of opium remaining after the seeds have been washed.
Generally speaking, the more poppy seeds you eat, the higher your likelihood of testing positive for opium compounds. In view of this, federal prisons do not allow prisoners to eat poppy seeds and require prisoners to sign a form agreeing to abstain from eating poppy seed products while taking authorized leaves of absence.
Opium is considered a highly addictive narcotic. It has sedative, tranquilizing, depressant, soporific, anesthetic and analgesic effects. While eating poppy seeds can potentially cause you to consume trace amounts of opiates, they don’t actually make you feel high.
According to Levy, 2018, the outer pod/surface of poppy seeds (papaver somniferum) has been found to produce sap that contains opiates. The plant that produces poppy seeds is the same one that is used to make heroin and morphine. Poppy seeds themselves only have trace amounts of opiates, but the sap can be concentrated so that it has stronger effects.
“When poppy seed is soaked in water to make “poppy seed tea,” some opiates can seep into the water and cause a number of side effects when consumed. However, a very high quantity of seeds would need to be used to make a poppy tea that is strong enough to have psychological effects — somewhere around 300–400 grams depending on the levels of opiates in different types of seeds”.
How much poppy seeds would you need to consume to fail a drug test?
Levy, 2018, answered this question and agrees that, having poppy seeds does not automatically mean you will fail a drug test. “On average, poppy seeds contain between 0.5 to 10 micrograms of morphine per gram. Compare this to a standard dose of medically prescribed morphine, which contains between 5,000 to 30,000 micrograms. You would need to consume a very large amount of poppy seeds to consume considerable amounts of opiates”.
According to Levy, most drug tests today pick up on levels of opiates in urine that are greater than 2,000 to 3,000 ng/ml, so it’s possible they could detect opiates from normal amounts of poppy seeds found in foods. Still, it’s not likely or a guarantee. How long do poppy seeds stay in your system? The answer by Levy, 2018, is that, Opiates can be found in urine samples for as long as two days after eating poppy seeds. If you were to eat a large quantity of poppy seeds, opiates may be traceable up to 60 hours later. Recently, hair analysis tests have been used more to test for heroin. These are considered more accurate and less likely to lead to “false positives,” such as due to opiates from poppy seed.
The bottom line
- Poppy seeds (papaver somniferum) are small black/white/blue seeds that provide manganese, calcium, copper, zinc, iron, linoleic acid (and omega-6 fatty acid) and fiber.
- They are believed to have natural sedative effects and may help support restful sleep. While eating poppy seeds won’t get you high, the poppy seed plant is also used to make opiates (including heroin and morphine). The seeds themselves have very trace amounts of opiates, although sometimes they can cause false positives on drug tests.
- Poppy seeds can be added to granola, dressing, yogurt, chicken salads and baked goods. They may help relieve constipation, support bone health, and reduce coughs.
- These seeds and their oil may boost fertility and aid digestion, though further research is needed on many of their supposed benefits.
- Unwashed poppy seeds can also contain become contaminated with varying amounts of opium compounds known for their pain-relieving, calming, and sleep-inducing properties.
- Yet, you should never eat unwashed poppy seeds due to the health risks involved.
- Poppy seeds found in supermarkets or on baked goods are widely considered safe and have few, if any, opium compounds.
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DISCLAIMER This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnosis and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
The writer is an honorary Professor of Holistic Medicine & Naturopathic Physician-Vinnytsia State Pedagogical University, Ukraine. President, Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine and currently, Level 300 LLB law student. Contact: 0241083423/0541234556
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