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If you’re a fan of crunchy textures and nutty flavours, hemp seeds might have a place on your plate. The tiny seeds are easy to use and eat, making them ideal for snacks and entrées alike. What’s more, these are packed with essential nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals, just to name a few.

Read on to learn about the health benefits of hemp seeds, plus how to use them at home.

What Are Hemp Seeds?

Hemp seeds are the edible oval-shaped seeds of the hemp plant. The plant is related to marijuana, but it has no psychoactive effects. That’s because hemp — unlike marijuana — doesn’t contain noteworthy amounts of THC, the chemical that produces a “high” feeling. Whole hemp seeds also boast a hard light brown shell and extra crunchy texture.

However, these are often hulled (ie, de-shelled) to expose greenish-beige kernels. These hulled ones, also called hemp hearts or hemp nuts, are softer but still slightly crunchy. In the supermarket, hemp hearts are usually in the nuts and seeds section. You can also find them in powder form, commonly in plant-based protein powders.

The Health Benefits

Hemp seeds
Image: Courtesy Goh Rhy Yan/Unsplash

Despite their small size, hemp seeds are teeming with essential nutrients. They’re rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, also known as “good” fats. “These fats may help manage cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure levels,” explains registered dietitian Victoria Whittington, RD. Your body can’t produce these fats, so it’s important to get them via foods like hemp seeds, salmon, and walnuts.

“Hemp seeds are [also] an excellent source of vitamin E and minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc,” notes Whittington. “Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress, promotes healthy skin, manages diabetes, and [potentially] eases osteoarthritis.” Meanwhile, the minerals found in these seeds support a range of basic functions, from immunity to brain health.

In terms of protein, these are exceptionally impressive. According to Susan Greeley, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, they’re one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein, meaning they offer all nine essential amino acids.

A quick nutrition lesson: “Amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins in the body,” says Greeley. However, the body can’t make all nine essential amino acids, notes Whittington, so it’s crucial to get them through the diet. Most sources of complete protein are animal products (think: meat, eggs, and dairy), but hemp seeds are a wonderful plant-based option for getting your fill.

How to Enjoy Hemp Seeds at Home

Hemp seeds have a mildly nutty taste, making them ideal for myriad dishes. One of the easiest ways to use hemp seeds is to sprinkle them on top of a meal, like salad, chilli, or pasta, says Greeley. Their crunchy texture works especially well with richer foods, like roasted pumpkin soup or pan-seared scallops, as recommended by Whittington.

“[Hemp seeds] can also be mixed into a grain bowl for lunch or a breakfast yoghurt parfait along with your favourite granola,” she adds. Another option is to toss a spoonful of hemp seeds into a smoothie, like a cinnamon smoothie, or baked goods like brownies.

But hemp hearts are more than just a topper or add-in. They can also serve as the main ingredient, as seen in banana energy Bites. Simply spread nut butter onto a banana, then roll it in hemp seeds for a nutritious and easy snack. In the entrée department, these can be used to coat a protein, just like you would with nuts or breadcrumbs.

“Another way to [enjoy] hemp seeds is to use hemp milk in place of cow’s milk or other plant-based milks,” shares Greeley. You can find hemp seed milk at the supermarket. Hemp seed milk is both gluten- and nut-free, so it’s ideal for multiple dietary restrictions.

This story first appeared on www.marthastewart.com.

(Main and Feature Image Credit: Svetlana-Cherruty / Getty Images)

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