Hemp: The Ancient Super Plant

Hi everyone,

I’ve had quite a number of enquiries regarding hemp products of late, and with the recent proposal for low-THC hemp food products to be sold in Australia being approved by ministers in April, we can expect to see hemp food products filling up our shelves over the next six months. Industrial hemp, unlike marijuana, has extremely low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical component that causes psychoactive effects such as hallucinations. Cultivation of hemp for industrial purposes has been done by many civilisations for over 12,000 years, with such uses as rope, canvas, paper, and clothing. It has also been used in Chinese medicine for over 3,000 years.

Genetic Difference between hemp and Marijuana

A recent publication of a new study shows the genetic difference between hemp and marijuana. (1) After more than 12 years of research, the team found a single gene responsible for the genetic differences between hemp and marijuana as noted:

While hemp produces a non-euphoric cannabidiol (CBD) with approximately 0.3 to 1.5 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration, marijuana is packed with between five to ten percent (or even higher) psychoactive THC concentration.”

The researcher believe they have ‘indisputable evidence’ that hemp and marijuana should be regarded as separate plants.

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Botanical Name: Cannabis Saliva

Hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, are rich in healthy fats, minerals and is classed as a complete protein (this means it contains all 9 essential amino acids). Hemp seeds are usually consumed after the hard outer shell is removed, leaving just the soft, creamy ‘heart’ behind. The seeds have a slight nutty flavour, making them incredibly versatile for use in cooking, baking, for adding to smoothies and salads.

Health benefits of Hemp Seeds

  1. Excellent source of Nutrition

Hemp seeds are composed of more than 30 precent healthy fats in balanced ratio of Omega 3 & 6, Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA), antioxidants, amino acids (25% protein), fiber, iron, zinc, carotene, phospholipids, phytosterols, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin D, vitamin E, chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, potassium, phosphorus, and enzymes. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is a necessary building block for some prostaglandins; Hormone-like chemical in the body that help smooth muscles, control inflammation, body temperature, aid in healthy growth of cells, nerves, muscles and organs throughout the body.

*GLA may be beneficial for PMS and menopausal Symptoms

GLA in hemp seeds produces prostaglandin E1, which reduces the effects of the hormone prolactin. Prolactin is thought to play a role in the physical and emotional symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). GLA in hemp seeds may also help reduce the symptoms of menopause. (2)

Essential fatty acids in Hemp Seeds:

The oil contained in the hemp seed is 75-80% polyunsaturated fatty acids (considered ‘good’ fats) and only 9-11% of the lesser desired saturated fatty acids. Hemp seed oil is reputed to be the most unsaturated oil derived from the plant kingdom. EFAs are involved with producing life’s energy throughout the human body and without them, life is not possible. Fatty acids are utilised in the body to synthesis hormones, aid in tissue repair, provide energy ‘fuel’ and assist in neurotransmitter activity. 60% of the brain is actually fat!

  1. Heart health

Hemp seeds contain a perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 Linoleic Acid and Omega-3 Linolenic Acid – for cardiovascular health and general strengthening of the immune system. In these numerous health-healthy compounds, including the amino acid arginine. L-arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide in the body. It has been shown to enhance blood flow and help the body maintain optimal blood pressure. Nitric oxide signals the smooth muscles cells in the blood vessels to relax, so that vessels dilate and the blood flows more freely.

This help the arteries stay free of plaque; and when the body has inadequate nitric oxide, the risk of coronary artery disease increases. The GLA found in hemp is an anti-inflammatory, and may assist in reducing risk factors associated with heart disease such as blood pressure, blood clots and an increase in recovery after a heart attack.

  1. Skin Health

Fatty acid deficiency can manifest in a variety of ways, but skin problems such as eczema, thick patches of skin, and cracked heels are common associations. Hemp seeds are a rich source of fatty acids in optimal omega 6 to omega 3 ratio. Research suggests hempseed oil may improve symptoms of atopic dermatitis, and potentially provide relief from eczema. (3)

  1. Plant based-protein

If you are following a plant-based diet, hemp makes a healthy source of complete protein. With all essential amino acids and an amount of protein similar to beef (by weight), hemp seeds are an excellent option. Two-three tablespoons of hemp seeds provides about 11g of protein, complete with amino acids lysine, methionine, and cysteine. Two main proteins in hemp seeds, albumin and edestin, which is comparable to soy and egg whites. Hemp’s edestin content is among the highest of all plants. It is also easy to digest because of its lack of oligosaccharides and trypsin inhibitors, which can affect protein absorption.

  1. Digestion

Whole hemp seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, which may support digestive health. Soluble fibre dissolves into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down digestion; this helps you feel full for longer and is one reason why fibre may help with weight management. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve, and helps to add bulk to the stools. This helps food move through the digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination.

Fibre plays an essential role in digestive, heart, and skin health and may improve blood sugar control, weight management, and reduce risk of colon cancer. However, de-hulled or shelled hemp seeds (also known as hemp hearts) contain very little fibre, as the major of fibre content is in the shell.

Final thoughts

The use of hemp for food and medicine may be as old as the human race itself. Recent interest in the seed arises from the awareness of the nutritional need for omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids, as well as the need for cheap sources of protein to feed a burgeoning population in Asia and the developing world. In addition to its nutritional value, hemp seed has demonstrated positive health benefits, including the lowering of cholesterol and high blood pressure.

With news of hemp seed products being approved for sale in Australia, companies will no doubt be developing hemp and hemp-like products in processing techniques have been the start of such seemingly remarkable foods as a hemp seed tofu and a low fat cheese substitute that even melts and stretches like real cheese. I don’t like overly promote processed foods, so if we were to start adding in hemp, it would be in the form of hemp seeds, pure and simple. I also don’t think that hemp should replace other animal/vegetarian protein sources-but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have a place in your diet. Just as soy products had become a marketing promotion for ‘healthier’ alternatives, Hemp soon will too; and with all processed food products moderation is key.

Healthiest Regards

Tegan, Nutrition Nourishment.

Hemp Scientific Research

  1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nph.13562/full
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21069097
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16019622
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