An Easy Way to Add Protein to Almost Any Dish
My cooking class students can easily name some of my favorite ingredients: lemon, maple syrup, kale, tamari...the list goes on. While I like adventure and variety in my diet, I also like to keep certain staples at home because it makes meal preparation easier. My staples also tend to be not only flavor powerhouses, but nutritional powerhouses as well. One of my favorite go-to ingredients that pops up my recipes all the time: hemp seeds!
Where to buy?
Now, if you haven't had hemp seeds before, don't brush them off as just another hard-to-find packaged ingredient. While you might not find them at every neighborhood store, they are worth seeking out if you are interested in making sure your diet has good sources of clean protein. (I buy mine at Whole Foods and Trader Joes--a big bag there is $5).
What's good about hemp?
Hemp seeds come from the cannabis plant and are a complete protein, which means they contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need. Most plant sources of protein like beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains are incomplete proteins, which just means they need to be eaten in combination with other foods to provide all the essential amino acids (this doesn't need to happen all at one meal). Hemp seeds are also a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, a nutrient in which many Americans are deficient. Increasing our intake of Omega 3s is thought to help with inflammation, heart disease, brain function and more.
Hemp: a healthier source of protein
Most Americans get twice as much protein as they need (from animal foods, primarily), but if you don't consume animal products or are looking to reduce your intake of them, you want to make sure that your diet still has good sources of protein.
While both plant and animal foods can easily meet your suggested daily amount for protein, consuming an excess of animal foods like meat, dairy, and eggs is also associated with increased risk of kidney disease, cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Eating less meat also has financial benefits (eat less but better quality meat to save money) as well as environmental benefits (the meat industry is responsible for a huge amount of greenhouse gas pollution). Many experts (including the CDC) also believe that the heavy use of antibiotics in animal food production presents a threat to public health as it leads to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The simple solution? Convert more of the foods on your plate to plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Hemp seeds are one of the easiest ways to do this without needing to totally revamp everything you are doing.
How to use and store hemp seeds
Since hemp seeds require no cooking or preparation, they work as a perfect garnish to lunch salads, oatmeal, and all kinds of entrees, and can also be blended into smoothies, soups and creamy sauces. I keep a mason jar on hand in my pantry and sprinkle a tablespoon or two onto my breakfast each morning. 3 tablespoons is a full serving size and provides 10 grams of protein.
Hemp has a relatively neutral and slightly grassy taste to it. (It does come from the cannabis plant after all). The seeds (also called hearts) are tiny and soft. They are easy to bite into, similar to the texture of a cashew. Store hemp seeds like you would store your other nuts and seeds--in a cool, dry and dark place like a pantry or cabinet in an airtight container. If you won't go through them quickly, pop that container into the freezer to extend the shelf life.
You can also buy hemp as a protein powder, which means that the protein is much more concentrated than in the whole seed. I prefer to use whole foods when at all possible (I'm a chef so I can't help preferring real food to powders) but if I do use a protein powder, it's usually an unflavored, unsweetened hemp protein. These can be mixed into smoothies or baked into breakfast bars.
On the hemp bandwagon?
Learn how to use more hemp by joining me at an upcoming Plant-Powered Protein class! We'll use hemp seeds to make an Horchata Hemp Shake to power you up for the day ahead. Or check out another favorite recipe, Raw Brownie Bites with Hemp, a sweet treat made with hemp seeds, walnuts, dates and cocoa powder.