Hemp seeds come from a type of cannabis plant that contains negligible amounts of the psychoactive THC compounds found in marijuana, but they are packed with beneficial nutrients.
For culinary purposes they come in two forms; hemp seeds include the crunchy outer coating they naturally have, while hemp hearts are seeds that have been shelled, leaving the tender, chewy inside behind. Either can be added to smoothies, snacks, salads, hummus, baked goods and many other dishes.
The nutritional profiles of hemp seeds and hearts are virtually identical aside from the higher fiber content in the outer shell of hemp seeds, which helps with digestion, blood sugar and cholesterol regulation. But, the whole seeds can be difficult to digest and their texture doesn’t work with all recipes.
The hearts alone have more than enough to recommend them as part of a healthy diet. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, three tablespoons of hemp hearts include:
- 166 calories — Most of these come from healthy fats or protein, with the rest coming from the 2.6 grams of carbohydrates, mostly from fiber.
- 9.57 grams protein — This is 3.5 more grams than you’ll get from one egg and will build and repair muscle and bone, reduce hunger, boost metabolism, burn fat and provide a backup energy source. Hemp seeds and hearts are a fantastic source of plant-based protein.
- 14.6 grams fat — This may not sound ideal at first — and the fat content is a reason to not overdo your intake — but most of these are healthier fats, including 11.4 grams of polyunsaturated fats in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s fight arterial plaque buildup, reduce cholesterol and may lower blood pressure.
- 210 mg magnesium and 495 mg phosphorous — Both of these minerals are core building blocks of bones and teeth and are present in more than half their daily recommended quantities. Magnesium also reduces blood pressure and supports overall heart health.
- 2.38 mg iron — Hemp seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of this essential mineral, particularly important for those who consume few or no animal products.