Over the last decade, chia and flax seeds have gone from hipster products hidden in the back of a Whole Foods to beloved pantry staples, all thanks to their portable size, versatility in flavor combos, and nutritional values. And it’s about time hemp hearts got the same kudos.
Derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp hearts are actually just hulled or unshelled hemp seeds, and no, they don’t naturally contain CBD — the compound that can potentially ease anxiety and treat other health concerns — or THC — the chemical responsible for cannabis’ mind-altering effects, per the Food and Drug Administration. While hemp hearts do have an ever-so-slightly nutty taste and creamy texture, that’s not their main draw. “Just like chia seeds or flax seeds, you don’t recommend hemp hearts for the taste — you recommend them for the added nutrition,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N, a dietitian and Shape Brain Trust member. That’s not to say hemp hearts taste bad (some people may enjoy that added bit of nuttiness!), it’s just that their nutritional qualities are probably the primary reason you’ll want to add them to your diet.
In fact, the health benefits of hemp hearts run aplenty. They offer everything from nutrients that support bone and heart health and essential minerals for plant-based eaters, to muscle-building macronutrients. And luckily, there’s an abundance of creative ways to add them to your diet too. “Any way you’d use chia seeds or flax seeds, you can use hemp hearts,” says Gans. “Add them to your smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, or salads.” You can even incorporate them into homemade cookies, muffins, bread, granola, and energy balls for a punch of nutrients.
If this quick rundown didn’t quite convince you to swap your chia seeds for hemp hearts, read up on all the benefits of these little seeds below.
They’re loaded with protein.
Hemp hearts may be small, but they sure are mighty. Three tablespoons of the hearts contain a whopping 9.5 grams of protein — three grams more than a single egg and nearly double that of chia seeds, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In case you forgot everything from high school health class, protein helps support your immune cells, hair, skin, and importantly, muscles. Following a round of exercise, your body uses protein to repair damaged muscle fibers, which helps them become even stronger. Unsurprisingly, if you don’t get enough of it through your diet, you could suffer from muscle loss, weak hair and nails, or immune issues.
For the average woman following a 2,000 calorie diet, the USDA recommends scoring 46 grams of protein a day. Do a little math wizardry, and that means one serving of hemp hearts offers nearly 20 percent of your daily need. Admittedly, a three-tablespoon serving is a lot, so you might eat only half a serving — and thus get half the protein — in one sitting. But every little bit adds up, so add as many as you’d like to your post-workout smoothie, and you’ll be on your way to achieving those #gains.
They boast omega-3 fatty acids.
While fresh fish and seafood are typically the go-to sources for omega-3 fatty acids, hemp hearts deserve to be on the favorites list, as well. In just three tablespoons of hemp hearts, you’ll get more than double the daily recommended amount of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 that your body can’t produce on its own — meaning they need to be obtained from your diet, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce levels of triglycerides (a type of fat linked with increased risk of heart disease), curb the buildup of plaque in your arteries (which can ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke), and slightly lower blood pressure, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
They support good bone health.
Though it’s not the most glamorous benefit of hemp hearts, it is one of the biggest. Just three tablespoons of hemp hearts provide 210 milligrams of magnesium and 495 milligrams of phosphorus, which breaks down to a whopping 68 percent and 70 percent of your recommended daily allowances, respectively, for each of those nutrients.
ICYDK, “magnesium can help in the whole bone equation,” says Gans. “We always talk about calcium and vitamin D, but magnesium also plays a role in keeping our bones strong.” In fact, research has found that people who consume more magnesium have higher bone mineral density, which is essential in reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis (a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle.)
Likewise, the primary function of phosphorus in the body is to help build and maintain your bones and teeth, according to the NLM. Along with calcium, this essential nutrient forms the tiny crystals that give bones their rigidity, and when dietary intakes of phosphorous are lacking for a prolonged period, bones can actually weaken, per the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
They supplement nutrients for plant-based eaters.
Listen up, vegetarians, vegans, flexitarians, and any other all or mostly all plant-based eaters. Three tablespoons of hemp hearts contain 13 percent of the recommended daily allowance for iron, a mineral that’s used to make proteins in red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the body and to muscles. Without enough of it, less oxygen is moved throughout the body, which can cause gastrointestinal upset, weakness, tiredness, lack of energy, and difficulty concentrating, per the NIH. Not exactly a pleasant situation to be in.
Along with pregnant women and young children, plant-based eaters are at a greater risk than most humans for iron deficiency, says Gans. That’s because the iron in food comes in two forms, heme iron (found only in meats and seafood) and non-heme iron (found in plant foods, iron-fortified products, meats, and seafood). Since the body doesn’t absorb non-heme iron as well as heme iron, plant-based eaters need to consume nearly twice as much iron to get their fill, per the NIH. And luckily, these crunchy hemp hearts can help herbivores easily amp up their iron intake, says Gans.
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They help your body convert food to energy.
You can thank the tiny seed’s thiamine and manganese content for this hemp heart benefit. Also known as vitamin B1, thiamine helps your body break down carbohydrates so they can be used as energy, explains Gans. It’s also essential for the growth, development, and function of the cells in your body, according to the NIH. Without enough of the nutrient, you can start to experience weight loss, reduced appetite, confusion, memory problems, muscle weakness, and heart problems, reports the NIH. But not to worry, you can snag 35 percent of your recommended daily allowance in just three tablespoons of hemp hearts.
What’s more, a three-tablespoon serving of hemp hearts boasts nearly 130 percent (!)) of the recommended daily allowance of manganese, a mineral that helps break down the starches and sugar you eat and process cholesterol, carbohydrates, and protein, per the NLM. The nutrient also helps support strong bones, blood clotting, and a healthy immune system. It’s the bundle of nutrients you never knew you needed.