Shelling hemp seeds reveals 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 add them to your baked goods, hemp hearts are a nutritional powerhouse with outstanding health benefits.
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Does Hemp Contain THC?
Hemp hearts come from the hemp plant, scientifically known as Cannabis sativa L. from the Cannabaceae family. Although marijuana belongs to the same family, there is no measurable tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD) present in hemp seeds, per the Colorado State University Extension.
For context, THC is primarily responsible for the effects of marijuana on a person's mental state, while CBD is another substance found in the cannabis plant and both are cannabinoids, per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Drugs containing cannabinoids may be helpful in treating rare forms of epilepsy, nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy and loss of appetite or weight loss linked to HIV/AIDS.
Although hemp hearts aren't known for containing CBD, which has become a trendy ingredient used in many products recently, they still offer a wide variety of health benefits. What's more, eating nuts and seeds like hemp hearts can help you live longer: Consuming too few nuts and seeds was linked to 8.5 percent of adult deaths due to stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes in a March 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Hemp Heart Nutrition Facts
Three tablespoons of hemp hearts is equal to a single serving. Three tablespoons of hemp hearts contain:
- Calories: 166
- Total fat: 14.6 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 1.5 mg
- Total carbs: 2.6 g
- Dietary fiber: 1.2 g
- Sugar: 0.5 g
- Added sugar: 0 g
- Protein: 9.5 g
Hemp Heart Macros
- Total fat: Three tablespoons of hemp hearts contain 14.6 grams of total fat, which includes 11.4 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1.6 grams of monounsaturated fat, 1.4 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
- Carbohydrates: Three tablespoons of hemp hearts have 2.6 grams of carbs, which includes 1.2 grams of fiber and 0.5 grams of naturally occurring sugars.
- Protein: Three tablespoons of hemp hearts have 9.5 grams of protein.
Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients
- Manganese: 99% of your Daily Value (DV)
- Copper: 53% DV
- Magnesium: 50% DV
- Phosphorus: 40% DV
- Thiamin (B1): 32% DV
- Zinc: 27% DV
- Niacin (B3): 17% DV
- Iron: 13% DV
- Vitamin B6: 11% DV
- Potassium: 8% DV
- Folate (B9): 8% DV
- Riboflavin (B2): 7% DV
Health Benefits of Hemp Hearts
Not only do hemp hearts put a delicious twist on many favorite recipes, but they can also boost the health of your bones and heart. They're also one of few plant-based foods that offer a complete protein.
1. Hemp Hearts Can Benefit Your Bone Health
Hemp hearts are a fantastic source of various vitamins and minerals that support your skeleton. For instance, just one serving of hemp hearts contains nearly your entire daily value of manganese, an essential mineral.
"Manganese is important for bone development, wound healing and the immune response," says Mia Syn, RDN.
In fact, this micronutrient plays a crucial role in the formation of bone cartilage and collagen, and it's been reported that people with osteoporosis have low blood levels of manganese, per a February 2017 review in Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism.
Hemp hearts also provide high levels of copper, magnesium and zinc, all of which are also important for bone health, per an April 2012 review in The Open Orthopaedics Journal. The researchers note that most people can get enough zinc and copper through their diet (say, through foods like hemp hearts), so a supplement should not be needed unless your doctor recommends it.
2. Hemp Hearts Support Heart Health
Boasting an impressive amount of heart-healthy fats, hemp hearts can give your ticker a boost. Just one serving of hemp hearts contains 11.4 grams of polyunsaturated fats and 1.6 grams of monounsaturated fats, both of which are considered beneficial for your heart.
Polyunsaturated fats are typically found in plant-based foods and oils, and eating foods rich in them in place of saturated fats can improve your blood cholesterol levels, lowering your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes in turn, per the Mayo Clinic. Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats has been found to have similar effects.
In fact, replacing 5 percent of calories from saturated fats with the same amount from polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats was associated with a reduction in total mortality of 27 percent and 13 percent, respectively, in an August 2016 cohort study of 126,000 participants who were followed up with for up to 32 years in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Hemp hearts also contain some fiber, which is a carbohydrate the body can't digest and is important for regulating the body's use of sugars (which helps to control your hunger), per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Fiber can also help to lower your cholesterol and promote regularity.
With each 3-tablespoon serving of hemp hearts, you'll get 50 percent of your daily value of magnesium, which plays an important role in processes like blood pressure regulation, regular heart rhythm and blood glucose control, per the National Institutes of Health.
An additional 100 milligrams of dietary magnesium intake was associated with a 22 percent decrease in heart failure risk and a 7 percent reduction in stroke risk in a December 2016 meta-analysis in the journal BMC Medicine. For reference, 1.5 tablespoons of hemp hearts contain 105 milligrams of magnesium.
3. They're a Plant-Based Source of Complete Protein
When a food contains the nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own, it's called a complete protein.
Animal foods like fish, poultry, eggs and dairy tend to be sources of complete protein, while plant-based foods like seeds, legumes, nuts, whole grains and vegetables tend to be incomplete sources of protein, meaning they contain some but not all of the essential amino acids (but you can typically eat a variety of plant foods to get the complete protein you need), per the Cleveland Clinic.
However, a few plant-based foods like hemp hearts and quinoa are complete sources of protein. "Hemp hearts are set apart by most seeds because of their higher protein content, and by the fact that they are considered a complete protein source," Syn says.
In particular, hemp hearts contain 1,365 milligrams of the amino acid arginine. Some evidence suggests that this amino acid may help to reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension (though research has largely looked at arginine supplementation), according to the Mayo Clinic.
Overall, getting enough protein is important because it makes up the enzymes that power several chemical reactions throughout your body and the hemoglobin that transports oxygen in your blood, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. You should aim to get 10 to 35 percent of your calories from protein per day.
Hemp Heart Health Risks
Allergy to the Cannabis Sativa (hemp) plant has been reported in a variety of forms, including through hemp seed ingestion, and can include symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itching or even life-threatening anaphylaxis, per the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
If you suspect you have a hemp seed allergy — or any other type of food allergy — speak to your doctor or allergist, who may use skin testing to predict allergic sensitization.
Like most nuts and seeds, hemp hearts can pile on calories when eaten in excess. While 3 tablespoons contain a modest 166 calories, be aware of how much you're eating when pouring hemp seeds into your smoothie or onto yogurt.
Hemp seeds are high in fat, which contains 9 calories per gram compared to the 4 calories per gram found in protein and carbohydrates, per the USDA.
There are currently no known drug interactions with hemp. That said, eating high-fat meals — say, if you overeat hemp hearts or eat them along with other foods high in fat — can affect medications such as theophylline (used to treat the symptoms of bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema), esomeprazole (a proton pump inhibitor that decreases stomach acid) and cycloserine (used to treat tuberculosis), per a March 2011 review in the Oman Medical Journal. (Note: This is an older study. More research needs to be done to support this claim.)
Be sure to discuss any medication and food interactions with your health professional.
Hemp Heart Preparation and Helpful Tips
Hemp hearts are available at many supermarkets and natural food stores. Here's how to store and incorporate them into a healthy diet that's packed with nutrients.
Store hemp hearts in the refrigerator. Although they'll stay fresh at room temperature, it's generally a good idea to store seeds in the refrigerator or freezer to preserve the healthy polyunsaturated oils and other nutrients and to extend shelf life, per the Colorado State University Extension.
Hydrate with your hemp hearts. Generally, you should drink plenty of water with fiber-containing foods like seeds to avoid potential bloating or gastrointestinal discomfort, per the Colorado State University Extension. As a bonus, drinking plenty of water will ensure you stay healthy and avoid issues like urinary and kidney problems.
Enjoy hemp hearts with a variety of foods. The nutty flavor of hemp hearts can be complementary to both savory and sweet snacks. "Hemp hearts have a chewy texture and make a great topping for yogurt, smoothies, salads, oatmeal and toast," Syn says. "They can even be incorporated into breading and granola recipes."
Alternatives to Hemp Hearts
It's best to fit a wide variety of nuts and seeds like hemp hearts into your diet. You can swap hemp hearts for other seeds, such as:
- flax seeds
- chia seeds
- sunflower seeds
- pine nuts
- pumpkin seeds
You can even swap them for nuts like almonds, pecans and chestnuts.
- Colorado State University Extension: "Industrial Hemp"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need To Know"
- The Journal of the American Medical Association: "Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States"
- My Food Data: "Hemp Seeds"
- Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism: "Microelements for bone boost: the last but not the least"
- The Open Orthopaedics Journal: "Essential Nutrients for Bone Health and a Review of their Availability in the Average North American Diet"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fats: Know which types to choose"
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Association of Specific Dietary Fats With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Fiber"
- National Institutes of Health: "Magnesium"
- BMC Medicine: "Dietary magnesium intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality: a dose–response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Do I Need to Worry About Eating ‘Complete’ Proteins?"
- Journal of Chiropractic Medicine: "Therapeutic Benefits of l-Arginine: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Protein"
- America Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Marijuana Cannabis Allergy"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "How many calories are in one gram of fat, carbohydrate, or protein?"
- Oman Medical Journal: "Food-Drug Interactions"
- Colorado State University Extension: "Add Seeds to Your Healthy Diet"
- Mayo Clinic: "L-arginine: Does It Lower Blood Pressure?"