What You Need to Know About Hemp Seeds by Susan Bowerman

by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD.
I always find it interesting to see new natural food products enter the mainstream – and hemp foods are a good example. Hemp is reportedly one of the world’s oldest domesticated plants – grown primarily as a source of fiber for paper and textiles – yet it seems that only recently has it entered the mainstream as a valuable food source, too. When you say hemp, it does capture some people’s attention, since hemp is technically known as cannabis sativa – which many people know as marijuana. But a different variety of cannabis sativa is used for food products so eating them won’t produce any psychological effects.

Like all plant foods, hemp has some interesting things going for it nutritionally. The fibrous part of the plant is used to make things like rope and woven fabrics, but the seeds – rich in fat and protein – are what are consumed as food. Like all nuts and seeds, the natural fats they contain serve as a concentrated energy source for the plant as it sprouts, and they contain a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. As for protein, hemp seeds boast a full complement of essential amino acids – the building blocks that the body uses to manufacture its own proteins – making it comparable in protein quality to soy. The seeds also offer some fiber and are a source of B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium and magnesium.

Hemp flour is made from the hemp seeds – it’s what remains when most of the seed oil has been removed. While you can’t make baked goods entirely with hemp flour, you can replace about a quarter of the flour in a recipe with hemp flour. Hemp flour adds a little bit of protein and a nutty taste, without major changes in taste or texture to the finished product.

Hemp milk is made from the seeds – similar to the way soy milk is derived from soybeans. The nutrient content varies a bit from brand to brand, but a cup of plain hemp milk averages about 5 grams of fat, has between 3 to 5 grams of protein, and averages about 120 calories. The calories in the flavored versions, though, can climb as high as 190 per cup, due to added sugars. Hemp milk has a mild, nutty flavor and you might also see other products made from it – like hemp “ice cream”.

I’ve also seen hemp seeds and oil at the natural foods store. Most people use the seeds like any other seeds – sprinkling them on cereal, salads or yogurt, or adding them to trail mix for some additional crunch. The oil adds a nutty flavor to salad dressing and most people find it best mixed with other oils, like olive or canola. It’s also good drizzled on top of steamed veggies. A tablespoon of hemp seeds has about 55 calories, and about 3 grams of protein; hemp seed oil has about the same calories as other seed oils – around 130 per tablespoon.

You might also see find hemp seed butter – similar to peanut butter, although you should know before you try it that it doesn’t exactly look like peanut butter. In fact, it’s green. Once you get past that, it has a pleasant nutty taste, and you can use it on a sandwich, or as in ingredient in salad dressings, sauces and dips. Two tablespoons of hemp seed butter has about 180 calories and about 9 grams of protein.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.

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