What Are the Benefits of Hemp Seeds?

You've heard the buzz about hemp seeds, but you're not sure you want to add it to your diet because of random drug tests at work. Well, you can put your worries to rest. While it may look like marijuana, the hemp plant is actually a different species of cannabis and contains very little of the active ingredient, THC -- or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol -- that gives marijuana its reputation. And the hemp seeds, loaded with healthy fats, protein and essential nutrients, offer a number of benefits and make a healthful addition to your diet.

A bowl filled with hemp seeds. (Image: bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images)

Good for Your Heart and Mind

If you're looking for a vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, hemp seeds make a good choice. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that help reduce inflammation, and getting more in your diet may reduce your risk of heart disease. They may also help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in concentrated amounts in the brain, and may play an important role in helping memory and cognition. So, start the day with a little heart and mind boost by adding hemp seeds to your hot cereal or yogurt.

Protein Power

Hemp seeds contain all of the essential amino acids, which makes it a complete source of protein just like chicken, fish or beef. Adding three tablespoons of hemp seeds to a salad or smoothie adds 10 grams of high-quality protein. While protein is not lacking in the American diet, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends including more non-meat sources of protein, and hemp seeds make a healthy choice.

Minerally Speaking

Hemp seeds are also a rich source of a number of essential minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. Three tablespoons meets 50 percent of the daily value for magnesium and phosphorus, 25 percent of the daily value for zinc and 15 percent for iron. Meeting your daily magnesium and phosphorus needs is important for bone health. Iron is necessary for delivering oxygen throughout your body, and zinc supports immune health.

Better Bowels

Fiber is a nutrient many Americans do not get enough of in their diet, according to the Dietary Guidelines. Women need 25 grams of fiber a day, and men 38 grams. Whole hemp seeds are comprised of 10 to 15 percent fiber, or about 1 gram per 3 tablespoons. Fiber in food like hemp seeds improves bowel function by helping prevent constipation. The fiber also increases feelings of fullness so you eat less.

A Word About Calories

While hemp seeds offer a number of nutritional benefits, they are a concentrated source of calories, with 170 calories per 3-tablespoon serving. To help control calories, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 suggests when including foods like hemp seeds in your diet to limit your portion and use them in place of other sources of protein such as meat or chicken.

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