First thing’s first: Hemp comes from the cannabis plant—but it’s absolutely not marijuana. Hemp is derived from the non-psychoactive variety of the plant, and is both genetically different and cultivated by different means. In fact, hemp seeds and stalks have been used to produce everything from textiles to paper production for over 8000 years. So don’t worry about hemp having any wacky side effects—eating it is both super-healthy and completely safe for everyday use.
Emily Keranen, NMD, an Arizona-based naturopathic doctor, is a big fan of hemp—and readily recommends it to her patients: “Hemp products are a good source of omega fatty acids, particularly omega-3,” she says. “Additionally, the high mineral content of hemp seeds, particularly phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and zinc, helps to strengthen bones and boost the immune system.”
So how do you eat it?
Hemp can be consumed in a variety of ways, depending on your diet and preferences. Hemp seeds, which have a neutral to slightly nutty taste, are commonly eaten by vegetarians because they’re a big source of plant-based protein, says Dr. Keranen: “The amount of protein in hemp (one tablespoon contains about 5.3 grams of protein) makes it a great protein source for plant-based eaters and anyone else looking to increase their protein intake.”
In addition, a study in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism showed that hemp seeds contain powerful antioxidants and other protective compounds, promoting immunity, joint support, and cardiovascular health.
Hemp seeds are incredibly versatile (think of them sort of like chia). You can sprinkle them on top of yogurt or applesauce, pop them into your favorite smoothie or smoothie bowl, or even add them to baked goods like cookies, muffins, or quick breads. You can also reach for Hemp Heart Bites, which pack a whopping 10 grams of protein per serving.
Additionally, you can get the benefits of hemp by consuming it as a protein powder. Powders like Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro are super-easy to add to a post-gym or pre-workout shake, and boast tons of amino acids (which help us build muscle), fiber, protein, and omega-3s.
Lastly, there’s hemp oil, like Nutiva’s Organic Hemp Oil. Says Keranen: “Hemp oil is a wonderful source of omega fatty acids and can be used as a finishing oil on salads, or added to dressings, smoothies, and dips for raw vegetables and bread.”
A note of caution: Dr. Keranen says that hemp’s omega-3s can degrade at high temperatures, so don’t use the oil for baking, roasting, or other oven activities. (Not into drizzling oil onto your food? Hemp oil also comes in capsules.)