All whole, plant foods have ample benefits for us when it comes to health and nutrition. There are some foods however, that stand out amongst the rest for their impressive nutrition profiles that supply and provide us today with some vital nutrients that are commonly lacking in many of our diets. One such superfood is hemp, and in this essay I will share with you why you want to make this food a regular part of your diet.
When I first began my journey into optimal health and nutrition, not only did I not know that one can eat “hemp” – but like most others, associated anything “hemp”, with marijuana. I had no idea of the incredible uses or nutritional value that this powerful plant could provide. And with only a little research I found out that hemp foods, clothing, rope, paper and other usable products, not only have nothing to do with the marijuana drug, but are actually some of the healthiest and sustainable products for us. It all depends on how the plant is grown, and commercial hemp farms ensure a hemp product that is literally free of any THC – the psychoactive compound of the marijuana drug.
Since then, I have incorporated many superfoods into my regular diet, like coconut oil and hemp. Today, I have the pleasure of passing along the benefits of this incredible superfood to you, and sharing a little more about this misunderstood plant’s amazing properties for us all.
Hemp is one of the most unique plants on this Earth as it has been stated that we can build very sustainable communities from just this plant alone. Hemp is a source of some of the most nutritious substances on this planet and can make various food products. Hemp can be used to make clothing and all sorts of fabric products. Hemp can be used to make sustainable paper, perhaps never needing to cut down another tree. Hemp can be used as a bio-fuel. Hemp makes incredible rope and numerous other products that can replace so much of the synthetic products we use in our daily lives today.
Suppression of this plant’s powerful use and potential is nothing short of the typical politics associated with other industries who have a lot to lose if the power of hemp is fully recognized. Even though, as of 2004 the FDA has approved hemp for use in food, it is still illegal for the most part, to farm hemp in the US. This is the reason why most hemp products come from Canada, where it is legal to grow and many hemp farms are found in the prairies.
Where food is concerned, while today there are hemp powders, butters, milks, oils, flour and you name it, the best way to eat this superfood is by consuming the original, raw hemp seed (hulled). In this, its most natural form, we get the full spectrum of its outstanding nutrition that spans the macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), all in their healthiest forms.
The best part about hemp too, is that it is considered a very eco-friendly option for our use. Hemp grows tall and fast without almost any need for chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and all parts of the plant can be used for something, making almost nothing go to waste. Hemp is also not genetically modified (at least for now).
Health Benefits of Hemp
The two most powerful benefits of hemp are its protein and essential fatty acid type and amounts.
When it comes to the protein, hemp not only offers a robust amount of protein per serving, but the protein from hemp is considered a complete protein – containing all of the necessary amino acids. One tablespoon of hemp seeds provides a whopping 4g of protein. A typical serving can be around 4-5 tablespoons. The protein is also highly digestible and not as hard on our system, as some forms of animal protein.
As for the essential fatty acids, hemp is an omega 3 powerhouse. Hemp is one of the few foods (other than chia) that has a near perfect ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids, 3:1. Our diets today get too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3, so this is an important source to keep in mind.
Omega 3 is a family of fats from the polyunsaturated group of fats. Within this family is the essential fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). There are also two other very important fatty acids within this family, known as EPA and DHA. While no plant food, (algae excluded) contains all the necessary omega 3 fatty acids, a healthy body is able to convert the ALA to EPA to DHA. Hemp is also an excellent source of the fatty acid GLA.
With respect to the body's natural conversion ability, hemp also contains an advantage as it contains stearidonic acid, which makes DHA directly (the crucial fatty acid found in fish and algae).
A diet rich in omega 3 is today hailed for many health benefits including reduction of heart disease risk and enhancement of a healthy cardiovascular system, including healthy blood pressure, heart rhythm, and proper blood clotting, as well as optimal brain function and many other vital reactions in our bodies, which we are still learning about. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties which help to heal and protect us against all degenerative diseases and conditions.
Aside from being an excellent source of complete and highly digestible protein, as well as essential fatty acids, hemp seeds are also a good source of iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, phosphorus, magnesium and B vitamins. (Source: Healing Source Hemp) They are also a source of long fiber, and being a plant food cholesterol and trans fat free.
Aside from the above benefits, hemp also offers the following health properties:
- High nutrient density
- High in fiber
- High in vitamins, particularly vitamin E
- High in minerals, particularly iron, magnesium and phosphorus
- Includes beneficial plant sterols
- Is easily digestible
- Gluten free
- Enhances regular bowel movements
- Enhances healthy weight management
- Is an excellent source of food energy
- Is not prone to inducing allergies or food sensitivities
Hemp foods offer an incredibly healthy addition to any diet, but are especially valuable for raw, vegan or vegetarian diets.
Uses of Hemp Foods
To take in the amazing nutritional benefits of hemp, it is wonderful to know that there is a wide assortment of hemp products to suit any meal!
The taste of hemp is normally masked in foods, depending on the amount of hemp used. Hemp seeds do have a flavor that is described as “nutty and buttery”. I would not say the taste is delicious, but rather acquired as one gets used to it. Some people however love the taste of all hemp products, so in the end it really depends on one’s preference in how they will eat this food and personal taste buds.
Shelled hemp seeds are ready to eat right out of the bag. They can be sprinkled on salads, blended in smoothies or shakes, sprinkled really on any meal from pasta or rice dishes, to casseroles. The choice is really up to you and how creative you get.
Although more rare, hemp seeds can be found with the shells, which can make a crunchy snack. They also come ground, which can serve as the basis for sauces or be put into smoothies, shakes or other drinks. While it is possible to bake with hemp, for maximum health benefits, it is best to enjoy this food item in its raw form.
Hemp protein powders have also become a big hit as a natural option, as opposed to the artificial protein powders sold widely in supplement stores. Anyone can use these in smoothies to make a complete meal from, not just those interested in fitness or body building. However, one can still get outstanding protein amounts from the whole seed, and it is always my recommendation to enjoy your food whole, not isolated or processed in any way for most benefits. The other question we always have to ask ourselves when it comes to protein is why are we interested in more. Since more is by no means better, it is important to be well-educated about protein today, since this is another nutrient that has had lots of misinformation spread around about it.
Hemp oil and hemp butter is also available. The butters can be spread on healthy breads and crackers. The oils can be used in smoothies, as salad dressings, or for dipping bread, but not for cooking, as they become unstable and produce unhealthy trans fats when subjected to heat.
With hemp’s increasing popularity, there are also hemp milks and other hemp products coming out. While these can still be beneficial, the further we get from the original food, the more processed the food product becomes. So enjoy other hemp products responsibly by reading all ingredients and labels. Added sugars, flavors, preservatives, bad fats, or colors, to me defeat the purpose of eating a highly nutritious food. Therefore as much as possible, enjoy your hemp in its whole, natural, raw form, and get creative with it yourself when it comes to using it in your homemade meals.
A 16oz/454g/1lb amount costs anywhere from $10 to $20 depending on the source. Given the nutritional value, versatility, health benefits and satiety that it offers, this makes for a very worthy investment. Hemp foods can be easily purchased throughout Canada and the US in local health food stores or online health stores.
Here are some delicious recipes to get you started with using hemp seeds:
- Super Seed Energy Granola Bars
- Zesty Spinach Hemp Veggie Salad
- Chocolate Spirulina Hemp Superfood Squares
- Twin Pear-Parsnip-Carrot Salad
- Green Smoothies
Today when I think back to what my diet was like before hemp seeds, I can barely imagine it. Hemp seeds have been one of the best ever additions to my diet.
Although hemp is considered a superfood, I encourage you not to get caught up on the label or any health bandwagon associated with that, and simply know that this is a plant that offers tremendous benefits for our health and our planet. Our generation has not had the privilege of knowing about the potential of this food and plant product in the past, but the good news is that this is all changing. With today's natural health revolution, superfoods like hemp are making a regular appearance in the diet of many people.
Today, each of us can include this whole, plant food in numerous ways for the whole family and reap the health rewards it offers. Enjoy your creative meal combinations in the kitchen with hemp!