Soy, dark chocolate, blueberries and broccoli... What do these plant foods have in common? Apparently, a lot. These foods pack such a powerful punch of nutrients that they've been categorized with the most elite - the superfoods. But look out soy! Hemp is making a come back in the food market, and he's wearing a bright red cape with a blue "S" on his chest.
What's all the nutritional fuss?
Nuts are known for their healthy composition, rich in protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Although not a true nut, hemp seeds have a similar profile but a little more exceptional. For example, these small, flavorful seeds can brag about Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Only a handful of other plants provide this important omega-6 fatty acid. Plus, the ratio of omega-3 to the omega-6 is near perfect, comparable to fish oil.
Another obvious advantage of hemp seeds is the amount of protein crowded into one serving. Per one Canadian manufacturing label, four tablespoons of shelled hemp seeds fuel the body with 15 grams of protein, a stronger dose than most nuts. And according to Lynn Osborn's article in the Hemp Line Journal, July-August 1992, this protein is some of the most easily digestible protein with 65% of it being globulin edistin, a simple protein form.
The bottom line? For those with food allergies and for those who have gone vegan or vegetarian, hemp seeds provide important macronutrients not easily found in restricted diets. As for omnivores, hemp seeds offer yet another delightful taste and texture for their enjoyment and health.
I thought hemp was marijuana. Is it safe to eat?
According to the North American Industrial Hemp Council (NAIHC), industrial hemp looks very much like the illegal hallucinogenic hemp, aka marijuana. However, this field crop hemp comes from selected Cannabis sativa plants with insignificant amounts of delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the drug chemical responsible for the high. These varieties do, however, contain a natural plant chemical called cannabinoid (CBD), which depresses any THC reaction. In other words, eating hemp seed is perfectly safe. It could make you feel healthy but not high.
How can I include hemp in my diet?
For eating purposes, these tiny little seeds act much like a nut. In fact, the flavor is often described as nutty and grassy. Whole seeds can be consumed raw or toasted and added to yogurt, pancakes, oatmeal, cereal, salads, roasted meats and stir-fry. The possibilities go as far as your imagination. Even no-bake cookies taste great with hemp.
Other edible hemp choices come from processed hemp seeds, which include hemp butter, hemp milk, hemp salad dressing and cooking oil, hemp cheese, hemp ice cream, hemp flour and hemp protein powder. Keep in mind that these products won't have the same nutritional benefit as their whole seed counterparts. It's the seed oil that supplies the essential fatty acids. The oil alone won't contain the fiber or the protein. Likewise, the hemp seed meal-what's left over after the seeds have been pressed for oil-doesn't contain the desirable fats. It does, however, retain a good percentage of protein and fiber.
Where has hemp been hiding?
Hemp is retro, man, like 70's peace and love and well, like WWII times. But since the U.S. government placed restrictions on hemp production, hemp protein products haven't been hugely popular, except within organic health food circles where hemp is imported from other countries.
Canada, however, lifted its restriction on industrial hemp in 1998 and within the past few years witnessed tremendous growth in licensed hemp cultivation. The U.S. will likely see a flood of hemp products and hemp marketing campaigns from such a near-by neighbor.
It's also important to note that hemp production requires very little to no herbicide or pesticide. With the recent trend to go "green", this crop may continue to grow in popularity.
What's faddish about hemp marketing?
Many foods can be and have been promoted as if it's the miracle food. Eat (fill-in-the-blank) every day and live forever, right? Hemp marketers aren't immune to these clever ploys. One Canadian manufacturer claims that by consuming hemp energy bars
for breakfast you can lose weight. They then unveil their special weight-loss plan: Consume a hemp energy bar for breakfast and eat a large salad for your one and only other meal. Essentially, this company's suggested "diet" is about guaranteeing future sales of its bars. The diet's effectiveness stems primarily from the suggested and severe calorie reduction.
Sound nutrition advice for superfood groupies...
Sure, hemp seed and other foods deserve their superfood capes. But use your head! Question too-good-to-be-true marketing claims and avoid extreme nutrition advice. Remember this: Health is gained by a balance of things, including a diet of variety and moderation. Now, go try some hemp. It's good for you!