Hemp Hearts for A Heart Healthy Diet

Written by Laura Iu, Nutrition Student and Assistant to Laura Cipullo

Flax seed and chia seed may have found its competitor. It seems like everywhere you look, there is a new seed-based product hitting the market shelves. So what’s the latest seed craze? Hemp seeds. (No, it’s not what you’re probably thinking!) Although hemp seed belongs to the same family as it illegal cousin, Marijuana, hemp seed is the “food” part of the plant and not the “drug” part that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). There is a big difference in the level of THC found in marijuana (3-15%) and in hemp seed (0-0.3%).  Hemp producers are certified to have less than 0.3% THC levels and many guarantee there is 0%. As a food very similar to flax seed, hemp seed is one of the most healthful and nutritious foods one can eat. Yet despite hemp seed gaining popularity and making its way in bars, cereals, milks and even ice creams, many skeptics still raise an eyebrow to this superfood. Read on to find out what these seeds are, their nutritional value and how they can contribute to a heart healthy meal structure!

Hulled Hemp Seeds Vs. Whole Hemp Seeds

Hulled hemp seed, hemp seed, hemp hearts, and hemp nuts—one can surely go nuts keeping track of this food’s many nicknames!  Although sometimes called a “hemp nut,” hemp seed is not actually a nut.  To better explain the anatomy of a hemp seed, it is very similar to that of a sunflower seed. “Hulled hemp seed” refers to the whole seed removed from its hard outer shell, while “hemp seed” simply refers to the seed and its shell. Although the hard exterior is edible and contains a lot of fiber but can be difficult to eat, when you purchase “hemp seeds” typically the seed is already removed from the outer husk.

What are the nutritional benefits?

For thousands of years, hemp fibers have been used to create clothing, paper, rope and canvas. But aside from manufacturing textiles, there are far more uses for these hemp seeds than just growing more hemp plants! They also provide a wide range of heart healthy benefits.

There are very few complete protein sources that are plant-based. Like chia seeds though, hemp seed is one of the very few plant based complete dietary proteins.  It contains all of the essential fatty acids in the form of Linoleic and Alpha-Linoleic Acid, and a complete source of essential amino acids. A few weeks ago, we discussed how important it is to maintain a healthy, balanced ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids. Recall, maintaining a balanced ratio of fatty acids can have a positive effect on the body. While our bodies need more Omega-6’s than Omega-3’s, a good balance means keeping an overall 1:3, Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio. Hemp seed, having a favorable ratio, can provide cardiovascular health benefits, help control inflammation and lower blood pressure. For those whose ratios are a bit off, hemp seed isn’t the immediate answer to flipping your ratio around, but it is a good start to balancing it out again.

For those who follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, this seed is an ideal source of protein. High in fiber and a gluten-free protein, this seed is easily digestible.

How to Eat Them?

Just like any other seed, hemp seeds can be eaten raw, added to baked goods, strewn in tea, grounded or made into hemp milk.  Toss them on salads, sprinkle them on yogurts and smoothies or enjoy them straight from the bag.

Perhaps the most popular hemp-based product on the market is hemp milk. But for those whose palates just don’t align with its nutty flavor and still want to reap the health benefits of hemp seed, these sources are worth trying:

  • Flour
  • Cereals
  • Tofu
  • Nut butters
  • Protein powder
  • Ice creams 
  • Oil