Hemp seeds are the seeds of the plant Cannabis sativa L. Many people probably think of hemp or marijuana in terms of the recreational drug. Although hemp and marijuana are closely related, the hemp plant is just one variety of many Cannabis strains, and hemp crops used for food and fabric are actually very low in THC, the psychoactive substance responsible for getting people ‘high’.
In fact non-drug varieties of Cannabis, commonly referred to as hemp were an important source of nutrition in Old World cultures.
In Australia and other countries, strict laws regulate the use of Cannabis as a drug or food. However, changes to the Food Standards Code in November 2017 have allowed the sale of low-psychoactive hemp seeds as food.
This is great news from a health perspective because hemp seeds are incredibly nutritious.
What’s more, when compared with 21 major crops, Cannabis sativa fared very well in terms of ecological-friendliness. Because of its exceptional resistantance to pests and weeds, Cannabis sativa crops usually require minimal pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. So even non- certified organic products are likely to have little chemical residue.
Why are hemp seeds so important nutritionally?
They are a rich source of healthy fats.
Hemp seeds are made up of over 30% oil. This oil contains more than 80% polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) and is particularly rich in the two essential fatty acids (EFA) omega-6 and omega-3. EFAs are important because the the body cannot produce them and they must come from the diet. They are required for a plethora of body processes such as, hormone production, healthy skin and hair, regulation of blood clotting and cholesterol control, proper nervous system functioning, as well as immune and inflammatory responses.
In vitro research has shown that the healthy oils contained in hemp seeds may be beneficial in relieving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Another study, showed that patients with atopic dermatitis had improved clinical symptoms when supplemented with hemp seed oil over a 20 week period.
Hemp oil is also a rich source of the polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA). There is some evidence to suggest that GLA may improve symptoms in diabetic neuropathy and rheumatoid arthritis. Although evidence is mixed, GLA may also help with breast pain, premenstrual symptoms, eczema and allergies.
Hemp seed oil provides a valuable source of vitamin E
This naturally occurring antioxidant protects the oil from oxidation and rancidity. Typically, 100 grams of hemp seed oil contains around 80-110 mg of vitamin E. Therefore 1 tablespoon of hemp oil provides about 11-14 mg of vitamin E, providing the daily recommended adequate intake for Australians.
They are an exceptional source of plant based protein.
Hemp seeds contain about 25-30% protein. This protein contains nutritionally significant amounts of all the essential amino acids. This is a unique quality in plant based protein, as many lack at least one of the essential amino acids. Therefore, hemp provides a great complete source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.
In addition, hemp seed is exceptionally high in the amino acid arginine, particularly important for its ability to improve blood flow and circulation. Interestingly, animal studies have shown that hemp seeds may lower blood pressure and provide cardioprotective effects.
They contains important nutrients
Hemp seeds contain good amounts of the minerals manganese, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc. They also contain beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A.
Other things you should know about hemp seeds
Mature hemp seeds contain high levels of chlorophyll. This gives the oil a characteristic green colour, but also increases risk of oxidation when the oil is exposed to light. Combat this by storing oil in dark containers or amber bottles.
Polyunsaturated oils such as hemp oil, contain double bonds that make them chemically reactive and sensitive to heat. Therefore these oil should not be used for cooking. Alternatively, drizzle hemp oil over salads, use a dipping oil or add it to smoothies.
For a delicious way to use hemp seeds, check out my cashew and hemp seed cheese recipe.