Cannabis has been getting a ton of press these days. Newsfeeds are flooded with coverage of progressive reform focused on medical and recreational use of marijuana. While many folks are getting tunnel vision focused on crystal covered buds and huge glass pipes, this is a friendly reminder that there’s some much less controversial benefits that can be garnered from the cannabis plant. Perhaps its most undervalued offering is its seed.
Hemp seeds are a truly fantastic food. Full of nutrition, great tasting and easy to integrate into a number of recipes, they deserve a place in everyone’s diet. Hemp also happens to be a highly sustainable crop, requiring half the water of other commodities like soy to grow productively along with a slew of other environmental benefits. This stuff is awesome, but many folks are confused by its close relationship to marijuana.
Are hemp and marijuana the same? Does hemp get you high? Will eating hemp lead to a failed drug text? Ok. Calm down. This stuff is actually pretty simple.
The Difference Between Marijuana and Hemp
Let’s get on the same page before going much further. Marijuana refers to cannabis varieties that are grown for their high THC content. This is the source for medicinal and recreational products galore. The variety of plants grown for this use can contain more than 20% THC by weight. If you’re looking to get high, then find yourself some marijuana.
Hemp refers to cannabis varieties that are grown for their high plant fiber and low THC content. It is often used for food and textiles and has less than 0.2% THC content, little of which ends up in the seed. Eating, wearing, or even smoking hemp and the products produced by processing it will NOT get you high and will not lead to THC building up in your system at any level that would raise eyebrows in the HR department at work. Many hemp products companies have pledged this to be the case.
A Nutrition Powerhouse
While hemp won’t get you high, it will most definitely provide your body with a solid dose of nutrition in all the right places.
Hemp seeds are a fantastic source for non-processed complete plant based protein (meaning it gives you a full spectrum of essential amino acids). Better still, two thirds of the protein in hemp comes from edestin, which is a blood protein that is extremely easy to digest and has immune boosting properties. The other third of its protein content comes from albumin, which is similar to the protein found in egg whites. In just three tablespoons of raw hemp seed, there is a whopping 10 grams of complete protein. Hemp allergies are incredibly rare, so it’s a great alternative for those who are looking to avoid soy, dairy and nuts.
All nuts and seeds contain some amount of essential fatty acids (EFAs). However, not all EFAs are created equally. Most nuts and seeds contain some amount of Omega 3 and/or Omega 6 fatty acids. These are just about always in the form of alpha linoleic acid (ALA), and/or linoleic acid (LA) respectively. Hemp contains ample amounts of both ALA and LA, but also stearidonic acid (SDA), a form of Omega 3, and gamma linoleic acid (GLA), a form of Omega 6. What’s great about these two fatty acids is that we process them far more effectively than ALA an LA. Three tablespoons of hemp seeds contain about 8 grams of Omega 6 and over 3 grams of Omega 3. Note that the ratio of these two EFAs in hemp is very similar to the ratio that is recommended by many health professionals.
Rounding out hemp’s nutritional benefits is an ample amount of soluble fiber and necessary minerals. 90% of the fiber in hemp is soluble, which helps support weight loss, blood sugar regulation and cardiovascular health. Hemp also contains a strong array of minerals, Better still, your body might actually be able to digest these minerals because hemp does not contain any phytic acid, a compound found in most nuts/seeds that may bind with some minerals before the body can digest and utilize them.
One of the best things about hemp is that it is quite easy to integrate into meals and snacks. Unlike protein powders, fish oils and other supplements, there’s no “choking down” hemp products. Most people really enjoy the flavor and texture that hemp seeds contribute to preparations.
My favorite way to integrate hemp into a diet is by using the whole seeds in simple recipes or as a garnish. The unadulterated product contributes a nice blend of all the nutritional benefits and lends a delicious nutty flavor that is most similar to pine nuts. A quick Google search delivers tons of recipes available online. Pesto is a popular preparation, as its easy to prepare and can be slathered on just about anything. Many folks also make their own hemp energy bars. Boxed hemp milk is available on the grocery store shelves, but it is incredibly easy to make your own from scratch. Of course, you can also sprinkle hemp on oatmeal, granola, salads and wraps for a quick and easy shot of flavor and nutrition. One other important note is that some companies market hemp seeds as “hemp hearts.” It’s anyone’s guess as to why they’ve chosen to brand the seeds this way, but just know that hemp hearts and hemp seeds are the same thing.
Because of its amazing EFA content, hemp is often pressed to produce pure hemp oil (not to be confused with hash oil – a marijuana derivative). Like fish and flax oils, this is a highly concentrated product that is very sensitive to light and temperature. So it is best to keep hemp oil in a dark bottle, in the fridge. Unlike other EFA supplements, hemp oil has a great nutty flavor that makes a fine contribution to salad dressings and shakes.
Hemp protein powders are available for those focused on increasing protein consumption. One nice thing about these products is that they are minimally processed. Unlike other protein powders, that are often extracted using hexane and other chemicals, hemp protein powder is actually a byproduct of the hemp oil pressing process that is sifted to remove some of the fiber. The upside to this method is that these protein supplements also include the naturally occurring soluble hemp fiber, but the down size is that there’s a bit less protein per serving than more traditional protein powders.
Real Nutrition from Real Food
Smart eaters know plant based protein, quality fats, and soluble fiber are essential components of a balanced diet. However, it is rare to find all three of these in one ingredient that is so easy to integrate into meals. Better yet, no one needs a doctor or a judge to sign off on them boosting their nutrition by enjoying hemp seeds on a regular basis.