The Benefits and Side Effects of Poppy Seeds

The fiber in poppy seeds may help support digestion.
Image Credit: Elena Shchipkova/iStock/Getty Images

Poppy seeds make a delicious and nourishing topping on bagels, pretzels and other snacks due to their high levels of fiber, calcium and other nutrients. However, some poppy seed products may not be as good for you. Here's what to know about poppy seeds' benefits and side effects.

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Poppy seeds may support digestion and heart, bone and skin health. However, eating too many poppy seeds may result in a false positive on a drug test. And eating unwashed seeds or drinking poppy seed tea can have a potentially dangerous, intoxicating effect.

Poppy Seed Nutrition

Poppy seeds have been around since ancient times, and have been used for cooking, baking and medicinal purposes across various cultures, per the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They come from the poppy flower (Papaver somniferum) and are also referred to as khus khus, posta dana, khashkhash and adormider​.

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A single serving of poppy seeds is rich in nutrients like fat, fiber and calcium. According to My Food Data, the nutritional value of 1 tablespoon of seeds is:

  • Calories:​ 46
  • Protein:​ 1.6 g
  • Fat:​ 3.7 g
  • Carbs:​ 2.5 g
  • Fiber:​ 1.7 g
  • Sugar:​ 0.3 g
  • Sodium:​ 2.3 mg
  • Calcium:​ 127 mg
  • Iron:​ 0.9 mg
  • Magnesium:​ 30.5 mg
  • Zinc:​ 0.7 mg
  • Manganese:​ 0.6 mg

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Poppy seeds also contain polyphenols, antioxidants that can help prevent cell damage, per October 2013 research in ​Antioxidants​. And poppy seed oil is rich in unsaturated fatty acids, particularly linoleic acid, according to May 2020 research in ​Animals​.

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How to Eat Poppy Seeds

Try these recipes to snack on the seeds:

Poppy Seed Benefits

Poppy seeds boast a variety of health benefits, including the following:

1. They May Support Digestion

Poppy seeds may be good for your digestion due to their high fiber content. Per the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of fiber — when it comes to digestion and beyond — may include:

2. They May Reduce Risk for Heart Disease

The polyphenols in poppy seeds may lower your risk for heart disease, according to May 2013 research in ​Current Atherosclerosis Reports​.

And poppy seed oil has some heart health benefits of its own. For instance, the linoleic fatty acid in the oil may help reduce cholesterol levels and prevent atherosclerosis, a disease where fatty materials build up in your arteries, per a May 2017 review in Healthcare.

What's more, an August 2014 review in ​Circulation​ found that swapping sources of saturated fat for foods with linoleic acid is associated with a decreased risk for coronary heart disease.

If you're looking to make the switch, sources of saturated fat to be aware of are:

  • Red meat like beef or venison
  • Poultry with the skin on, like chicken
  • Butter
  • Cheese

Besides poppy seed oil, other sources of the fatty acid include:

  • Tofu
  • Nuts like walnuts and Brazil nuts
  • Seeds like sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • Oils like safflower and walnut oil

3. They May Support Bone Health

Manganese is another nutrient in poppy seeds, and it can benefit bone development, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.

These seeds are also rich in magnesium and calcium, which your body needs to build strong bones and function optimally, per the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

4. They May Support Skin Health

The linoleic acid in poppy seed oil can also promote skin health. It may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the skin, and could also help support wound healing and good skin barrier function, according to January 2018 research in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

On the flip side, a linoleic acid deficiency can result in scaly skin, per May 2013 research in Advances in Nutrition. Supplementing with sources of the nutrient — such as poppy seed oil — can help.

Tip

Test poppy seed oil on a small patch of skin before using it more liberally to make sure you don't have a reaction. You can also talk to your dermatologist about how to use poppy seed oil for your skin health.

Poppy Seed Side Effects

Poppy seed tea may contain potentially harmful doses of opium alkaloids.
Image Credit: Jendela Manusia _ / 500px/500px/GettyImages

But can poppy seeds make you sick? While snacking on a seedy bagel is unlikely to cause you illness, eating poppy seeds can have some side effects, including:

1. They May Cause Allergic Reactions

Though rare, it is possible to have a poppy seed allergy, according to an older July 2006 review in ​Allergy and Asthma Proceedings​.

Per the Mayo Clinic, food (including poppy seed) allergy symptoms may include:

  • Tingly or itchy mouth
  • Skin rashes like hives or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat
  • Congestion
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Digestive symptoms like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting

Warning

Some people can have an extreme allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, where your throat closes up and makes it difficult to breathe, per the Mayo Clinic. Seek medical care immediately if this happens to you.

2. They May Have Opioid Effects

The poppy plant contains opium alkaloids like morphine, codeine and thebaine, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). These opium contents are found in the milky white fluid that's released from the pod when it's cut, not in the seed itself.

As a result, the surface of unwashed poppy seeds contain more of these alkaloids than the washed seeds that are typically used in manufactured food products like baked goods, according to the DEA.

And unwashed seeds are often brewed into poppy seed tea, which can have an intoxicating effect and may even produce a dependency and withdrawal symptoms, according to a June 2019 review in ​Pain and Therapy​. Eating or drinking too many unwashed poppy seeds has also — in rare cases — resulted in death.

However, most cases cited in the review involved large doses of poppy seed tea, such as 2 liters a day.

Nonetheless, it's best to steer clear of unwashed poppy seeds and poppy seed tea without the supervision of a medical professional. Washing and heating any unwashed poppy seeds can also help reduce the opium alkaloids content, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

3. They May Cause Positive Drug Test Results

Although moderate doses of poppy seeds (like a tablespoon) are generally safe to use when cooking or baking, they can cause false positives on some drug tests, according to the ​Pain and Therapy​ review.

For instance, certain drug tests may be able to detect morphine and codeine in urine up to 48 hours after you've eaten a small amount of poppy seeds on, say, a bagel or pastry, per the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

Though this isn't always the case, it may be best to hold off on eating poppy seed products if you have an upcoming drug test to avoid a potential false positive.

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