Vegan, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Organic, Plant-Based, GMO-free – consumers are looking for and demanding these product categories. They’re choosing to eat more consciously and avoiding ingredients they think will negatively affect their health and even the environment. Hemp seeds, hemp protein and hemp seed oil are one family of ingredients that fit this extensive consumer wish list. Hemp seeds are plant-based, vegan, naturally free of gluten, dairy and soy, non-GMO and can be organic. In fact, it’s all these special characteristics that set it apart from the rest of the plant industry.
The hemp plant has more than 2,500 purposes and it’s inherently sustainable (1). The plants can be used for water and soil purification, it makes an effective biofuel, and the fibers can be used to make rope, clothing, paper, and even jewelry. And yes, hemp is edible.
Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds
Although hemp seeds come from the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp is a harvest crop that doesn’t produce concentrated levels of THC, so it doesn’t have psychoactive effects.
These small, brown seeds contain almost 10 grams of protein per 30 g serving (about 3 tablespoons), which is double that of flax or chia seeds, and only 3 grams of carbohydrates (0 grams of sugar) (2). They provide all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete plant-protein source for anyone, especially those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. Hemp seeds contain significant amounts of the amino acids methionine and cystine, as well as very high levels of glutamic acid and arginine (2).
Hemp seeds are approximately 70% fat, with the most abundant fatty acids being 57% linoleic (18:3 omega-3), 20% alpha-linolenic (18:2 omega-6) and 11% oleic (18:1 omega-9). Gamma-linolenic acid (18:3 omega-6) and stearidonic acid (18:4 omega-3) are also present in hemp seeds (2). The two fats in highest concentration (linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid) are considered essential for long-term health, meaning they must be obtained from the diet.
The ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s in the body is very important for heart health and overall heath (3). The fatty acid profile in hemp seeds promotes a healthy ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s (4).
The outer hull, or shell, of hemp seeds contains plenty of natural fiber, with 3 tablespoons containing approximately 1.2 g of fiber (2).
Typically, animal proteins are more easily digested than plant proteins, but research shows 91-98% of the protein in ground hemp seed is digestible when the hull is removed (5, 6).
VITAMINS AND MINERALS
To top it all off, hemp seeds contain an impressive array of vitamins and minerals. They're rich in vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. One serving of hemp seeds provides almost 50% of your daily magnesium needs! Magnesium is important for many bodily processes, and is the most important mineral for helping us cope with stress. They are a good source of the five different B-vitamins: niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, folate, and vitamin B-6 (2).
Hemp seeds contain polyphenol compounds called lignanamides, which exhibit good antioxidant properties (7). These antioxidants help eliminate free radicals associated with the aging process and overall cellular health.
Uses For Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds can be used to make flour, food, cooking oil, omega 3/6 supplements and protein powder. They have a mild, almost nutty flavor and can be added to raw and cooked dishes, sprinkled on top of salads, and blended into protein drinks and smoothies. Hemp seeds can be also be sprinkled on top of yogurts, cereals, granola, or added to raw energy bars.
Baking suggestion: Swap out 1/4 of the flour called for in baking for hemp: cookies, muffins or pancakes can get a nice nutrition boost.
The shelled seeds of the hemp plant, also known as hemp hearts, are nutritional powerhouses that can be used in much the same way you’d use flax chia, or sesame seeds. I love them to make hemp milk, which in my opinion, is one of the best non-dairy milk alternatives around! Here's how to make hemp milk with a superfood chai twist.
HEMP PROTEIN POWDER
Hemp protein is the industrial by-product of hemp hearts. One ounce of hemp powder offers nearly 14 g of protein (a protein amount equivalent to 2 eggs) and is easily digested (4). Research has found heat processing can reduce the digestibility of hemp protein by about 10%; therefore, hemp protein powders made from cold-pressed seeds are the ideal choice (5).
Fortifying with protein powder, including plant-based protein, has gained broad consumer acceptance (8). Companies are increasingly incorporating hemp protein in their products like nutrition bars, tortilla chips, pretzels and even beer.
HEMP SEED OIL
Hemp seeds are used as a source of dietary hemp seed oil, which has a nutty flavor and contains approximately 12 g of fat. It’s commonly used in dressings, sauces, and dips.
Hemp is a unique versatile plant with a diverse nutrition profile. As the mainstream wellness consumer demands better-for-you foods, it makes sense to fully exploit the innumerous advantages of this crop, but fortunately without sacrificing taste, texture or flavor.
Kelly Harrington is the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) for Healthy Goods, and has a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition. She is a holistically-minded RDN with over 20 years of experience in a variety of nutrition fields. She follows an intuitive eating and functional nutrition approach for addressing individual health and nutrition needs. In addition to her professional life as a RDN, Kelly loves spending time with her husband and two sons and enjoys the outdoors, traveling, cooking healthy meals for her family and friends and is an enthusiastic yogi.