Friday, June 1, 2012

Health Benefits of Hemp

Health Benefits of Hemp
Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CPT
FT Faculty: Health & Wellness & Nutrition Dept

I am a huge fan of hemp products and since they are gaining in popularity I thought I would dispel some myths, state some facts and share my personal experiences. I first got turned on to hemp products over a year ago when I was searching for another vegan alternative to soy protein powder. I wanted a product that was organic and free of harsh chemicals like the hexane that is used when processing soy. And if the products were produced in a way that was good for the environment, that would be fantastic! Enter hemp!
For many people when they hear the word “hemp” they automatically conjure up images of magical brownies or think that hemp is something that needs to be stashed somewhere inconspicuous. Hemp, or industrial hemp, is from the same plant as cannabis sativa however, hemp manufacturers eliminate all but traces of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). I guess that can be taken as good or bad news depending on your preferences. Because of this image problem, Canada has really taken the lead in this market capturing a good part of the US market share.
So what’s so great about hemp?
There are lots of things that are great about hemp including the nutritional content, the low environmental impact, its versatility and taste. I have tried just about all of the different hemp products available including the hemp butter, hemp oil, hemp seed, the high fiber hemp powder, the regular hemp protein powder, the high protein hemp powder, hemp beverage and several varieties of the shakes. So in terms of nutrition, hemp has many things going for it: it is vegan, gluten free, soy free, high in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids which are essential to health and need to be consumed through diet, and is a good source of highly digestible protein. The fats are in a 4:1 ratio which is thought to be ideal for health. Hemp also has two other omega fats, stearodonic acid (SDA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA) that are absent from many other foods.  In addition, most manufacturers certify that their products are organic which means no harsh chemicals or genetically modified organisms. The one thing you have to keep in mind is that hemp oil and butter should not be used for cooking and when baking with the powder the oven temperature should not exceed 350⁰F. High temperatures degrade hemps properties.
Looks good on paper, what about taste?
Personally I love the taste which is earthy and somewhat nutty and don’t mind the green color one bit. For me and for many people, hemp is easier to digest then soy or animal proteins like whey or casein. Hemp is high in fiber too so it digests slowly making it a good food for keeping blood sugar in check. Manitoba Harvest and Nutiva are my favorite eco-friendly companies and brands. I use the Hempshakes for smoothies, the high protein hemp in oats, the chia and hemp seeds in baking and in smoothies, and the high fiber hemp in baking. I even have one of my original muffin recipes on the Nutiva site. Check it out:
Bottom Line
While some researchers argue that the plant form of the omega fats found in hemp are not converted efficiently in the human body and that it should not be overlooked that the oil, nuts, and butter are nutrient dense (i.e. high in calories), hemp still stands head and shoulders above the many processed foods that crowd our plates. It is an antioxidant powerhouse, allergen free, contains highly digestible protein, is high in fiber, is produced using sustainable agriculture, does not contain harsh chemicals or is organic and is extremely versatile. Have fun exploring hemp and  be sure to post a comment if it try it!


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