They're a plant-based source of complete protein.

If you're a fan of crunchy textures and nutty flavors, hemp seeds might have place on your plate. The tiny seeds are easy to use and eat, making them ideal for snacks and entrées alike. What's more, hemp seeds are packed with essential nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals, just to name a few. Read on to learn about the health benefits of hemp seeds, plus how to use them at home.

What Are Hemp Seeds?

Hemp seeds are the edible oval-shaped seeds of the hemp plant. The plant is related to marijuana, but it has no psychoactive effects. That's because hemp—unlike marijuana—doesn't contain noteworthy amounts of THC, the chemical that produces a "high" feeling. Whole hemp seeds also boast a hard light brown shell and extra crunchy texture. However, hemp seeds are often hulled (i.e., de-shelled) to expose greenish-beige kernels. These hulled hemp seeds, also called hemp hearts or hemp nuts, are softer but still slightly crunchy. In the supermarket, hemp hearts are usually in the nuts and seeds section. You can also find hemp seeds in powder form, commonly in plant-based protein powders.

Hemp seeds in wooden spoon on brown
Credit: Svetlana-Cherruty / Getty Images

The Health Benefits Associated with Eating Hemp Seeds

Despite their small size, hemp seeds are teeming with essential nutrients. They're rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, also known as "good" fats. "These fats may help manage cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure levels," explains registered dietitian Victoria Whittington, R.D. Your body can't produce these fats, so it's important to get them via foods like hemp seeds, salmon, and walnuts. "Hemp seeds are [also] an excellent source of vitamin E and minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc," notes Whittington. "Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress, promotes healthy skin, manages diabetes, and [potentially] eases osteoarthritis." Meanwhile, the minerals in hemp seeds support a range of basic functions, from immunity to brain health.

In terms of protein, hemp seeds are exceptionally impressive. According to Susan Greeley, R.D.N., registered dietitian nutritionist and chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, they're one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein, meaning they offer all nine essential amino acids. A quick nutrition lesson: "Amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins in the body," says Greeley. However, the body can't make all nine essential amino acids, notes Whittington, so it's crucial to get them through the diet. Most sources of complete protein are animal products (think: meat, eggs, and dairy), but hemp seeds are a wonderful plant-based option for getting your fill.

How to Enjoy Hemp Seeds at Home

Hemp seeds have a mildly nutty taste, making them ideal for myriad dishes. One of the easiest ways to use hemp seeds is to sprinkle them on top of a meal, like salad, chili, or pasta, says Greeley. Their crunchy texture works especially well with richer foods, like Roasted Pumpkin Soup or pan-seared scallops, as recommended by Whittington. "[Hemp seeds] can also be mixed into a grain bowl for lunch or a breakfast yogurt parfait along with your favorite granola," she adds. Another option is to toss a spoonful of hemp seeds into a smoothie, like this Cinnamon Smoothie, or baked goods like brownies.

But hemp hearts are more than just a topper or add-in. They can also serve as a main ingredient, as seen in our Banana Energy Bites. Simply spread nut butter onto a banana, then roll it in hemp seeds for a nutritious and easy snack. In the entrée department, hemp seeds can be used to coat a protein, just like you would with nuts or breadcrumbs. Try using them in place of nuts in our Walnut-Crusted Chicken Breasts. "Another way to [enjoy] hemp seeds is to use hemp milk in place of cow's milk or other plant-based milks," shares Greeley. You can find hemp seed milk at the supermarket or make our recipe for Oat, Nut, and Seed Milk. Hemp seed milk is both gluten- and nut-free, so it's ideal for multiple dietary restrictions.


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