Wellness Tips: Eat Your (Hemp) Heart Out

What are hemp hearts — and are they good for you?

If you hear the word “hemp” and think of brown ropelike jewelry your hippie cousin used to wear, you’re not too far off.  Hemp hearts, also known as shelled or hulled hemp seeds, come from the same hemp plant as the stuff that is used to make clothing, jewelry, and many other products. And yes, they also have a botanical relationship to cannabis, but they contain only an insignificant amount of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana).

What these little white seeds do have is a powerful nutritional punch that has recently gained them fans in wellness communities around the world.

Hemp hearts, as the hulled soft inner kernels are called, are probably best known for being a good source of polyunsaturated fat — providing a mix of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids — and as a source of plant-based protein. Two tablespoons provide more than 6 grams of protein and about 2,000 milligrams of omega-6 fatty acids, all for about 120 calories.  Even though our bodies are only able to convert about 10 percent of the omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources into a usable form, a daily 2 tablespoon serving still gets you to about 200mg of usable omega-3’s. That hits the lower end of the World Health Organization’s recommendation for daily consumption (200 to 500mg). Hemp hearts are also a good source of magnesium, potassium, and other health-promoting plant nutrients known as phytonutrients. If you’re wondering how they stack up to other super seeds like chia and flax, they offer slightly more protein, but about half the omega-3s and a small fraction of the fiber.

Hemp hearts are a great way to boost the protein content of plant-forward meals and can add nice texture to dishes with a fairly neutral, albeit slightly nutty flavor. Extremely versatile, these seeds are tasty sprinkled on salads, mixed in yogurt, incorporated into a breadcrumb mix, blended in smoothies, baked into granola bars, or on your favorite #avotoast. In fact, hemp hearts are not only the ideal size for sneaking into snacks, but also the best way to get the most out of consuming hemp, as the removal of the hull (outer part of the seed) improves the protein digestibility and in turn has been found to have a protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score equal to or greater than certain grains, nuts, and some pulses.

Hemp hearts, while sometimes overlooked in the grocery aisles, offer an easy way to up your nutritional intake, are a good option for those with tree-nut allergies, and can play a key role in supporting a healthy shift towards plant-forward meals. Plus, they offer endless ways to get creative in the kitchen — like this super seed (and super sweet!) recipe.

At Bon Appétit, we know there’s a lot on your plate that you worry about. That’s why we have a team of registered dietitian nutritionists ready to answer your nutrition questions about which food choices will help you avoid unwanted pounds, work or study (and sleep!) better, and form long-lasting healthy eating habits. Email your questions and feedback to nutrition@cafebonappetit.com.