The Health Benefits of Hemp Hearts

Just like chia seeds and flaxseed, hemp hearts pack a punch of nutrition in just a few tablespoons. Here's the low-down on your new favorite seed. 

Hemp hearts in a green bowl that is sitting on a wooden lazy susan
Photo: heinstirred/Getty

Over the last decade, chia seeds and flaxseed 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.

What Are Hemp Hearts?

Derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp hearts are actually just hulled or unshelled hemp seeds. 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 (FDA).

Hemp Hearts Nutrition Facts

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 flaxseeds, 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 registered dietitian. 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.

The standout star of hemp hearts' nutritional profile? The protein content. 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 (USDA). In case you forgot everything from high school health class, protein helps support your immune cells, hair, skin, and 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.

Admittedly, a three-tablespoon serving of hemp hearts 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.

Here's the nutrition facts for 3 tablespoons (or 30 grams) of hemp hearts, per the USDA:

  • 166 calories
  • 9.5 grams protein
  • 3 grams carbohydrate
  • 14.5 grams fat
  • 1 gram fiber
  • < 1 gram sugar

Health Benefits of Hemp Hearts

The health benefits of hemp hearts run aplenty, offering everything from nutrients that support bone and heart health to essential minerals for plant-based eaters.

Loaded with 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 it needs to be obtained from your diet, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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 (NLM).

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," she adds. 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.

Supplement Essential Nutrients for Plant-Based Eaters

Listen up, vegetarians, vegans, flexitarians, and any other all- or mostly-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 people and young children, plant-based eaters are at a greater risk than most humans for iron deficiency, says Gans. That's because 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.

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.

Potential Risks of Hemp Hearts

As for hemp heart–associated health risks, there's not much to worry about. However, don't go overboard with your ingestion of the seeds. As you already know, hemp hearts are high in fat (though mostly the good-for-you unsaturated kind!), and a high fat intake can cause GI distress — namely diarrhea. To avoid this unfortunate side effect, stick to the recommended serving size as your maximum.

How to Buy and Eat Hemp Hearts

Hemp hearts are sold in packages and can be purchased at specialty health food stores, but you'll also find them in most grocery stores. That said, some stores stock them in different places than others. Look for them among the nuts and seeds aisles, the organic or natural foods aisle, or the baking aisle. If you look in all those places and still come up empty, you can also grab a bag from online vendors such as Amazon.

Once you secure a package of hemp hearts, store them in your pantry until you open them. Once they're opened, they're best stored in a cool, dry area such as your fridge, where they'll last a year.

As for how to eat hemp seeds? Luckily, they're incredibly versatile, and there's an abundance of creative ways to add them to your diet. "Any way you'd use chia seeds or flaxseeds, you can use hemp hearts," suggests Gans. Here are just a few ways you can sprinkle hemp hearts into your diet:

In your smoothies. Just as you would with chia seeds, add hemp hearts to your smoothies for a kick of healthy nutrients. (And if you're not sure how to use hemp hearts in a smoothie, try these vegan smoothie recipes, some of which use the seeds as an ingredient.)

In a high-protein snack. Need to fuel up post-workout? Mix hemp hearts and hummus for a burst of protein-powered energy. The little seeds also make great additions to energy balls, if you love an on-the-go snack.

In baked goods. Hemp hearts are a perfect superfood to add to your homemade granola bars, as well as your sweeter treats. You can incorporate them into homemade cookies, muffins, bread, and granola for a punch of nutrients.

In homemade pesto. The slight nuttiness of hemp hearts is perfect for adding a new depth of flavor to your pesto recipe, and can even replace the traditionally used pine nuts.

As a salad topper. Love the crunch of seeds and nuts in your salad? Same. Hemp hearts are a super nutritious garnish for your go-to salad.

As a dessert topper. If you usually sprinkle your yogurt or oatmeal with chia seeds and/or granola, why not add hemp hearts to the mix? They're also a great açaí bowl topping if that's more your speed.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles