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The Health Benefits of Hemp Hearts

Just like chia and flax seeds, hemp hearts pack a punch of nutrition in just a few tablespoons. Here’s the low-down.

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. (Related: Vegetarian Foods That Offer a Healthy Dose of Omega-3 Fatty Acids)

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.

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. (Related: Why B Vitamins Are the Secret to More Energy)

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.

Wondering exactly what hemp hearts are? Here, the answer to what are hemp hearts, plus all the hemp hearts benefits and hemp heart nutrition facts.

Hemp Hearts Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

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Hemp hearts, annotated

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Hemp hearts are the soft inner part of hemp seeds after the outer shell has been removed. The tiny cream and green-colored seeds are sometimes referred to as shelled or hulled hemp seeds.

Hemp hearts come from the from Cannabis sativa L. plant. But unlike some other species of the cannabis plant, hemp hearts have nonmedicinal levels (less than 0.3%) of the psychoactive compound THC.

The plant originates from Central Asia and the hemp fibers and seeds have been used and enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. Today, hemp hearts can be found worldwide. They’re loved for their versatility, nutty flavor, and nutritious benefits.

Hemp Heart Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 3 tablespoons (30g) of hulled, hemp seed.  

  • Calories: 166
  • Fat: 14.6g
  • Sodium: 1.5mg
  • Carbohydrates: 2.6g
  • Fiber: 1.2g
  • Sugars: 0.5g
  • Protein: 9.5g

Carbs

A single serving of hemp hearts is relatively high in calories but low in carbohydrates. A serving of hemp heart (3 tablespoons) has 166 calories but just 2.6 grams of carbohydrates. Nearly half of the carbs (about 1.2 grams) come from fiber. Only a half gram of carbs come from sugar and the rest comes from starch.  

Hemp hearts are a low glycemic food with the glycemic load of a single 3-tablespoon serving estimated to be 0.

Hemp hearts are filled with healthy fats. A serving of 3 tablespoons has almost 15 grams of fat, of which 1.4 grams are saturated, 1.6 grams are monounsaturated, and 11.4 grams are polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids). That’s more of the good fats than you’ll find in a similar serving of chia or flax seeds. Since hemp hearts are plant-based, they are also cholesterol-free.

Protein

These little seeds pack a huge plant-based protein punch. A serving of 3 tablespoons has nearly 10 grams of protein, about double what you’ll find in a similar serving of flax seeds or chia seeds (about 5 grams each).

Hemp seeds also contain all nine essential amino acids,   and they are well digested, especially for a plant-based protein.

In general, animal sources such as eggs, milk, and whey have a protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAA) of 1.00, which means they’re well digested. Plant protein sources typically fall below this. Soy leads the plant category with a score close to 1.00, followed by beans, pulses, and legumes (score of 0.6 to 0.7), and grains and nuts (0.4 to 0.5). Hemp hearts have a PDCAA score of 0.63 to 0.66.  

Vitamins and Minerals

Not only are hemp hearts loaded with healthy fats and proteins, but they’re also packed with nutrients.

Hemp is an excellent source of magnesium, providing about 210mg or about 50% of your daily needs. A serving of seeds also has 13% of the daily iron requirements for adults (2.4mg). Hemp hearts are also a good source of zinc, providing about 3mg per serving or about 20% of your daily needs.  

Health Benefits

By including hemp seeds in your diet, you may take advantage of certain health benefits. Many research studies investigating hemp benefits have been performed on animals. More research in humans is needed.

Improved Heart Health

Like other seeds (and nuts), hemp seeds are heart-healthy. Studies have shown that they are high in both omega-3 fatty and omega-6 fatty acids.   A healthy omega-3 to omega-6 intake is crucial for the prevention or reduction of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

Authors of one research review concluded that there is enough evidence to support the hypothesis that hemp seeds have the potential to beneficially influence heart disease, but they added that more research is needed.  

Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

You’ll get a healthy dose of magnesium when consuming hemp seeds. Magnesium is needed by the body for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. According to the National Institutes of Health, magnesium helps the body break down sugars and might help reduce the risk of insulin resistance—a condition that can lead to diabetes.  

Stronger Bones

Magnesium also helps your body to build stronger bones. The NIH reports that people with higher intakes of magnesium have a higher bone mineral density, which is important in reducing the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis.   And studies have shown that a proper level of magnesium in the body is important for maintaining healthy bones.  

Constipation Relief

Hemp seeds may provide some relief to those with constipation due to the fiber they provide. Researchers have found that increasing your fiber intake helps to increase stool frequency in patients with constipation.  

Preliminary research has also found that hemp seeds may help with constipation. One animal study found that consuming hemp seed soft capsules helped relieve constipation compared to the control group.   However, more research needs to be conducted to understand the full benefit in humans.

Improved Cognitive Function

Another recent, preliminary animal study was conducted on the potential benefit hemp seeds might have on issues with memory and neuroinflammation. Researchers found that the hemp seed extract prevented the learning and spatial memory damage from inflammation and improved damage from the induced inflammation in the hippocampus.  

More studies need to be conducted to see if this benefit extends to humans.

Allergies

Allergic reactions to Cannabis sativa have been reported, although many studies investigate the part of the plant used for marijuana use (not hemp seeds). There have been reports of sore throat, nasal congestion, rhinitis, pharyngitis, wheezing, and other problems including anaphylactic responses. There have also been reports of hemp workers involved in processing hemp fibers at a textile mill showing a significantly higher prevalence of chronic respiratory symptoms.  

Recent reports of allergy to hemp seed are lacking. But at least one older study was published indicating that the condition is possible.  

Adverse Effects

When consumed as a food, hemp seed is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Many people wonder if they will get high from consuming hemp seeds. But that is not likely to happen. While marijuana and hemp seeds are related (they come from the same cannabis plant family), they are very different.

Hemp seeds don’t naturally contain significant levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component. In fact, food-grade strains of hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC by weight. But studies have noted that they may not be free of this compound entirely.

A study conducted in Canada found variations in THC levels in hemp seed products, with some evaluated brands containing higher amounts than the legal threshold. Researchers suggested that the higher levels may be due to contamination during processing.  

If you are taking certain medications, including estrogen, ACE inhibitors, or antihypertensive drugs, speak to your healthcare providers before consuming hemp seeds.

Hemp seeds are naturally gluten-free but can be subject to cross-contamination if they are processed in a facility that also processes gluten-containing grains. So if you adhere to a gluten-free diet, look for brands that are certified gluten free.

Varieties

The common varieties of hemp hearts are organic and non-organic, but you’ll often find other derivatives of the hemp seed including, protein powder, soft gel capsules, oil, and hemp meal.

Many people wonder how hemp seeds compare to other common seeds like flax and chia. All of these seeds—chia, flax, and hemp—are great sources of plant protein and fiber. They do vary when it comes to their nutritional offerings. Hemp hearts have 10 grams of protein per serving, while chia and flax have only 5 grams per serving.

Additionally, hemp hearts have more omega fatty acids—with 12 grams per serving—than flax and chia seeds with 9 and 7 grams respectively. Hemp seeds are also unique in that they contain something called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is an anti-inflammatory omega fatty acid; flax and chia seeds do not.

When It’s Best

Hemp seeds are available year-round in many natural food stores. But hemp is often harvested in the fall.

Storage and Food Safety

Hemp seeds can spoil fairly easily. But when stored properly, a package of hemp hearts can last for a year. Packages of shelled hemp seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place or at cooler temperatures. The best way to prevent spoilage is to store hemp seeds in a sealed container in the refrigerator. When stored in a pantry, they will only last 3 to 4 months.

You can also store seeds in freezer-safe bags and store them in the freezer. You’ll know that hemp hearts have gone bad when they have a rancid smell.

How to Prepare

You can use hemp hearts to make many kitchen staples. For example, you can make hemp milk by blending hemp hearts with water, then straining them. Ground seeds can be used to make flour. Or you can use the ground seeds to make vegan protein powder. Some people extract hemp oil from the seeds and used for dressings and sauces.

Hemp hearts are versatile, so they can be used in a range of dishes, from sweet to savory. They help provide texture, a little crunch, and a subtle, nutty flavor. They’re a great protein-packed addition that can be sprinkled atop many dishes or included in a recipe as an ingredient.

Consider these simple ways to use hemp seeds, hemp milk, or hemp oil:

Hemp hearts—also called hulled hemp seeds—are a good source of protein and healthy fat. A 3-tablespoon serving provides 166 calories, 15 grams of healthy fat, and over 9 grams of protein.