Although human civilization has relied on hemp seeds as an important source of nutrition for thousands of years, it was only recently that researchers uncovered their true nutritional potential. As it turns out, hemp seeds are packed with an impressive list of dietary staples, including fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and fiber.
Unfortunately, hemp seeds happen to be harvested from the cannabis plant, which has resulted in serious debate and confusion over this food product in the past few decades.
What is Hemp?Hemp is another name given to the cannabis plant, specifically in describing strains with trace levels of THC. Hemp differs from what most people traditionally think of as cannabis, due to the lack of psychoactive properties responsible for the ‘high’ that marijuana users experience.
Even still, the relationship between hemp and cannabis has led many countries, such as the United States, to ban the production of hemp in spite of its incredible nutritional profile. However, hemp seeds are still imported by various companies and are widely available in the US food market. Hemp seed is usually sold in the form of shelled seeds, oil and flour.
Essential Fatty Acids and Unsaturated FatsEdible oils make up over 40% of the weight of hemp seeds, containing about 80% essential fatty acids (EFAs). EFAs are a type of fatty acids that the human body requires but cannot synthesize by itself, making them an essential part of a healthy diet.
Hemp seed contains both of the EFAs known for humans: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Hemp seed contains omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of 4:1, which is the ideal ratio recommended by major health institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Health Canada. No other nut or vegetable oil contains EFAs in this specific ratio, making hemp seeds one of the healthiest sources of EFAs on the market today.
In addition to EFAs, hemp seed oil also contains a high ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), making it even more useful for meeting the recommended daily intake of fats. PUFAs have been linked to the reduction of cardiovascular disease and are also found in fish oil supplements. However, the consumption of fatty fish or fish oil supplements is not always well-tolerated, which makes plant sources of PUFAs more practical as a dietary supplement.
A Complete Source of ProteinProteins are the other major component of hemp seed, which is composed of over 30% pure protein by weight. The protein found in hemp includes all 21 known amino acids, including the 10 essential amino acids, which, like EFAs, are required by the human body but cannot be naturally synthesized.
This makes hemp seeds a more complete source of protein than traditional sources, such as meat, milk, eggs and soy. Hemp seeds are also one of the only plant-based complete proteins, making hemp seeds a key staple of any vegetarian diet.
Fiber ContentHemp seeds are comprised of 27% carbohydrates, almost all of which are in the form of soluble and insoluble fibers. Shelled hemp seeds contain fibers in an insoluble-to-soluble ratio of 4:1. Soluble fiber has been found to lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels, whereas insoluble fiber helps in regulating the digestive system and bowel movements.
When hemp seed is made into flour, it boasts a fiber content of 40% – the highest fiber content of all commercial flour grains. High fiber diets have been linked with the prevention of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Vitamins and MineralsIn addition to their high fat, protein and fiber content, hemp seeds also contain a considerable amount of vitamins and other useful minerals. In particular, hemp seeds are rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E. Hemp seeds also contain adequate levels of vitamins B1 and B2 as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium.
What This Means For Your HealthWithout a doubt, hemp seeds are among the healthiest and most nutrient-rich foods available today. In addition to providing many of the dietary components that are recommended for daily intake, hemp seeds are also believed to help in the prevention of a variety of common diseases.
Daily intake of the EFAs and PUFAs that are abundant in hemp seeds has been linked to the prevention of diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndromes. Additionally, PUFAs are believed to be protective against colon, breast and prostate cancers and may be beneficial in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. EFAs, PUFAs and antioxidants have also been linked to the prevention and improvement of various neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.