Shelling hemp seeds produces the most nutritious and tender part of the seed — the heart. Hemp hearts have a slightly nutty taste, similar to sunflower seeds or pine nuts. Whether you mix them into your smoothie, sprinkle them on yogurt or cereal or integrate them into your baked goods, hemp hearts are a nutritional powerhouse with outstanding health benefits.
Health foods made from hemp, including hemp hearts, have become widely recognized for their wholesome content of protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber and, most important, their fatty acid profile.
What Are Hemp Hearts?
Hemp hearts are the soft edible seeds from the hemp plant, scientifically known as Cannabis sativa L. from the Cannabaceae family. Although marijuana belongs to the same family, hemp hearts contain less than 0.001 percent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound responsible for marijuana's psychoactive properties.
Protein and Macronutrient Benefits
Hemp hearts contain all of the essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein which your body needs but can't make on its own. As a complete protein, hemp hearts are useful for vegetarians by providing 19 percent of the daily value of plant-based protein in just 3 tablespoons.
In 3 tablespoons, hemp hearts provide:
- 166 calories
- 2.6 grams of carbohydrates
- 1.2 grams of fiber
- 0 grams cholesterol
Beneficial Vitamin Content
The little seed from hemp benefits your heart, nerves, brain, muscles and blood cells from its valuable source of many B vitamins. In a 3-tablespoon serving of hemp hearts, these include:
- Vitamin B1 - thiamine: 32 percent daily value
- Vitamin B2 - riboflavin: 7 percent daily value
- Vitamin B3 - niacin: 17 percent daily value
- Vitamin B6: 11 percent daily value
- Folate: 8 percent daily value
In addition, hemp hearts contain vitamin E and beta carotene, antioxidants that help strengthen your immune system.
Hemp Benefits From Minerals
Eating hemp hearts is an excellent way to benefit from its wealth of vitamins. For every 3 tablespoons you sprinkle on your soup, you'll benefit from:
- Manganese: 99 percent daily value
- Copper: 53 percent daily value
- Magnesium: 50 percent daily value
- Phosphorus: 40 percent daily value
- Zinc: 27 percent daily value
- Iron: 13 percent daily value
- Potassium: 8 percent daily value
- Calcium: 2 percent daily value
Maintain Bone Density
Hemp hearts contain many nutrients that are good for bone health. These include magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, copper, iron and zinc, according to American Bone Health.
Since 50 to 60 percent of magnesium resides in your bones, it's easily concluded that your body needs magnesium to build bone and increase bone density. Adequate magnesium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in women after menopause, says the National Institutes of Health.
With 85 percent of your phosphorus stores found in your bones as calcium phosphate, a dynamic equilibrium between calcium and phosphorus exists for the continual formation of bone. Potassium influences bone health with its alkalizing ability to neutralize bone-depleting metabolic acids. These acids can eat away at bone. Without potassium, an increase of bone resorption could result in loss of minerals in the urine, including calcium and phosphorus.
Healthy Fat Content
You need dietary fat to provide energy for your body to carry out many vital biological and physiological processes, including growth and development. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends aiming for a total fat intake of 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories.
The total fat content of 3 tablespoons of hemp hearts is 14.6 grams, which is composed primarily of healthy unsaturated fats — 1,620 milligrams of monounsaturated fats and 11,430 milligrams of polyunsaturated fats. Hemp hearts contain 1,400 milligrams of saturated fat, or 1.4 grams.
Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats may help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol, which is the waxy substance that can clog or block your arteries. Having low LDL cholesterol reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease, says MedlinePlus. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in your diet can lessen your risk of heart disease by about the same amount as cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Read more: Monounsaturated Fat vs. Polyunsaturated Fat
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 in hemp hearts are essential monounsaturated fatty acids that your body requires for many functions. Omega-3s are important for the health of your eyes, brain, blood vessels, lungs, immune system and reproductive system, says the National Institutes of Health. Omega-6 is important for skin and hair growth, maintaining good bone health and helping to regulate your metabolism.
In order for omega-3 and omega-6 to provide health benefits, they need to act in a balance. Too much omega-6 relative to the amount of omega-3 in your diet can cause increased chronic inflammation, diabetes and obesity, according to a study published in OpenHeart in 2015.
Hemp seeds are considered to have the ideal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids required for good health, says Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The ratio of 3:1 for omega-6 to omega-3 may have important implications for reducing inflammation that may lead to many chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Calming Effect of Hemp Hearts
A sprinkling of hemp hearts on your fruit for dessert may set you up for a good night's sleep. And it's not THC that's responsible for this. Hemp hearts contain a number of nutrients, each of which may play a role in helping you relax. These include magnesium, vitamin B6, calcium and two amino acids — tryptophan and glycine.
Tryptophan, with 40 percent RDI in just 3 tablespoons of hemp hearts, is the precursor to serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that regulates mood and sleep, and melatonin, a hormone that controls your body's internal clock to help manage your sleep cycle. Hemp hearts contain 483 milligrams of glycine per 3 tablespoons. Glycine acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in your central nervous system, which also may improve sleep.
Magnesium is a natural relaxant that assists in the deactivation of adrenaline and facilitates sleep. Calcium helps in the manufacture of melatonin from tryptophan in your body. Calcium-related pathways in your brain control how long you sleep. Vitamin B6 deficiency has been associated with low serotonin levels, which may cause symptoms of depression and mood disorders that can lead to insomnia, according to Alaska Sleep Clinic.
- MyFoodData: Nutrition Facts for Hemp Seeds
- American Bone Health: Minerals for Bone Health
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: Magnesium
- BetterBones: Potassium, The Hidden Bone Guardian
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 7. Daily Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations
- MedlinePlus: Facts About Polyunsaturated Fats
- NIH News in Health: The Skinny on Fat: The Good, the Bad and the Unknown
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Dr.Axe: Best Omega-6 Foods, Surprising Benefits & Proper Ratio With Omega-3s
- OpenHeart: The Importance of a Balanced ω-6 to ω-3 Ratio in the Prevention and Management of Obesity
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Ingredient Focus: Hemp in Packaged Food and Beverages
- PubChem: Tryptophan
- Neuropsychopharmacology: The Sleep-Promoting and Hypothermic Effects of Glycine Are Mediated by NMDA Receptors in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus
- Scientifica: The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare
- EurekAlert!: Brain Calcium Controls How Long We Sleep
- Alaska Sleep Clinic: Alaska Sleep Education Center: Foods for Sleep: A List of the Best and Worst Foods for Getting Sleep
- Manitoba Harvest: About Hemp: Hemp Makes It SUPER!