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By Matthew G. Kadey, RD | Better Nutrition, Nov. 2006 Issue


When most people think of hemp, they associate it with Woodstock or a Cheech and Chong movie. But what you may not know is that hemp food products are full of ingredients that can keep you healthy without any of the groovy effects that come with an afternoon at a Grateful Dead concert. Plus, the seeds and oils are delicious.

In 2004, after years of legal wrangling, the US Drug Enforcement Administration finally cleared hemp seeds for use in food production. However, since hemp still cannot be grown legally in the US, the seeds are imported from Canada, where hemp is permitted to be grown on the prairies. "Hemp varieties farmed in Canada must contain less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by weight," says Gero Leson, D. Env., a scientific advisor to the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance. In comparison, marijuana typically contains between 3%-15% THC, the substance responsible for its psychoactive properties. There's so little THC in industrial hemp that even if your entire diet were to consist of hemp foods, you still wouldn't consume enough THC to bring about any funky side effects.

7 Reasons to Reach for Hemp

  1. Vegetarian Source of Essential Fats Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are not made by the body and must be obtained from diet. The two EFAs are omega-6 and omega-3, which contribute to the health of our hearts, joints and skin - and are both contained in hemp foods. "Hemp oil is easily the most balanced vegetable oil on the market," says Leson.
  2. The Right Ratio Hemp's ratio of omega-6 to omega3 fatty acids is roughly 3:1, which is recommended by many health agencies including the World Health Organization. Hemp seeds are also a direct source of stearidonic acid, another omega-3 fatty acid. "This is significant because linolenic acid is converted to stearidonic acid on its way to becoming the very healthy fat known as DHA that is found in fish," explains Leson. He points out that by consuming stearidonic acid you bypass the need to make it from linolenic acid.
  3. Amino Acid Power Amino acids are the building blocks of cells, antibodies, muscle tissue and enzymes, and hemp just happens to contain all of them. "Similar to soy, hemp has a balance of all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete vegetarian protein source," says Leson.
  4. Easy-to-Digest Soy Alternative Hemp often gets overlooked in favor of soy and other legumes as a vegetarian protein source. But unlike these other beans, hemp is free of trypsin inhibitors (trypsin is an enzyme that aids in protein absorption) and of oligosaccharides, the gas-producing substance in many legumes.
  5. The Complete Nutritional Package Besides protein and fat, the seed contains fiber, vitamins (particularly vitamin E), plant sterols and minerals like iron, magnesium and phosphorus. "Hemp foods really do give you the whole package nutritionally," says Leson.
  6. Good for Mother Earth, too When you purchase hemp products, you are being a green consumer, "Hemp is a sturdy crop that grows tall and fast, which means it outcompetes weeds," says Keith Watson, a hemp crop specialist with Manitoba Agriculture. Because it is so robust, the vast majority of hemp from Canada is organic, with no pesticides or herbicides needed. "Once the grain is taken for food production, i here is a great deal left over that can be used for other purposes such as making paper, clothes and insulation," explains Watson. Growing more hemp for paper would be a great alternative to cutting down the world's forests.
  7. Free of GMOs Unlike much of the soy grown in North America, hemp is never genetically modified, a practice many environmentalists worry will upset our sensitive ecological balance.
Hemp Food   Enjoy with
Shelled hemp seed   Salads, yogurt, trail mix
Hemp Oil   Salad dressing, dipping bread (Note: Hemp oil forms unhealthy trans fat under high heat, so don't use it for frying.)
Hemp protein   Smoothies Hemp butter, bread, crackers
Hemp flour   Pancakes, breads, baked goods.