The Protein-Packed Seed You Can Throw in Any Meal

This tiny seed is a salad savior.

This month, I’ve discovered two amazing foods that I don’t think enough people know about. The first: the coffee and chocolate scone at La Colombe. Oh. My. Gosh. And the much healthier second: hemp seeds. Again, Oh. My. Gosh. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you why the coffee-glazed chocolate scone is the bomb, but you probably need some convincing on the second one, right? I figured.

About a year ago, I chatted with Jolene Hart, certified health coach and author of Eat Pretty (which has a sequel coming out this fall, by the way), about her favorite picks when it comes to foods for glowing skin, and hemp seeds made the list, thanks to the fact that they’re packed with protein (essential when it comes to our skin, hair and nails), and filled with anti-inflammatory healthy fats, which strengthen skin cell membranes and help it to retain moisture.

After talking with Hart then, I grabbed a small bag of hemp seeds from the bulk aisle at Whole Foods and sprinkled them on things every now and then when I remembered to, but I’ll admit: I was not a devoted hemp seed consumer. That all changed a few weeks ago when I came across a bag of shelled hemp seeds in the aisles of Trader Joe’s that proudly reminded me in large lettering on their bright green bag that they had a whopping 10 grams of protein per serving. I gave up soy a few months ago, so working protein into my everyday lunch salads without eating meat has been kind of a struggle sans tofu. Not anymore, though. I grabbed a bag, sprinkled a serving (three tablespoons) on a kale salad which I ate for lunch the next day, and I kid you not: I was full from lunchtime until 8 p.m.

Ever since, I’ve been working them into just about all my lunches — tomato toast, quinoa salads, Chipotle (really!) — and  shouting “They’re magic!” to anyone who will listen to me wax on about hemp seeds. (Most of my coworkers will not.)

So, to find out more about just how magical these little seeds are, I reached back out to Hart, who is probably the only other person on earth who will happily converse about hemp seeds for an hour. And she confirmed what I pretty much already knew: They’re basically magic.

As Hart, who sprinkles hemp seeds on her two-year-old’s food and tells him they’re actual sprinkles (hilarious, I know), says, “I always name hemp seeds among my favorite foods. The minerals, protein and fats come together to make hemp seeds this superfood.”

When it comes to minerals, Hart says hemp seeds are rich in iron, which can be hard to work into your diet if you don’t eat meat; zinc, which is crucial for both immunity and clear skin; and magnesium, which many Americans are deficient in. Thanks to the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they’re also a great anti-inflammatory food.

And now, to the protein — the filling, filling protein. As Hart explains, thanks to the protein punch hemp seeds give you, they’re a slow-burning fuel that keeps your blood sugar in check. Why does that matter? Well, when your blood sugar spikes, it screws with your cortisol levels, which leads to inflammation, and this can lead to all sorts of no-thank-you stuff like blemishes, wrinkles and weight gain. And because it’s a slow-burning energy source, you stay fuller longer.

Hart says she often suggests hemp seeds as a recipe swap for other proteins when talking to clients. For instance, she says, if a recipe calls for shrimp, she suggests throwing in anywhere from a quarter cup to half a cup of hemp seeds and calling it your protein instead. But wait, wait, wait — isn’t that a lot of calories, you ask? (I wondered the same thing, too.) And the answer is, well, yes. Three tablespoons, so a serving, of shelled raw hemp seeds from Trader Joe’s has 180 calories. But Hart says she doesn’t think in calories, she thinks in nutrients, then follows that up with “We used to be scared of things like avocados and how many calories are in those?”

And the really nice thing about hemp seeds is that you can literally put them in anything. Unlike flaxseeds, which have a tough outer shell, shelled hemp seeds don’t need to be ground in order for you to get the nutrients. So you can mix them into pretty much anything you’re putting on your plate and soak up all their goodness — and you’ll barely notice they’re there! The have a mild, nutty flavor that is truly barely noticeable, in my opinion. Hart says she often suggests mixing them into smoothies or even making hemp milk — throw a half cup of hemp seeds in a blender with four cups of water and voila! — for cooking. Seriously, guys, I’m telling you: You can work ‘em into anything.

So what are you waiting for? Go grab some to sprinkle on your lunch salad and thank me later. Oh! And note: Make sure to store them in the fridge. Storing them somewhere warm can cause them to go rancid which screws with their anti-inflammatory magic powers, and no one wants that.

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