Hemp Seeds Nutrition
The cannabis plant has emerged as a major part of the solution to the ecological catastrophes we face today. Likewise, hemp seed is coming to the nutritional rescue of the befallen Western diet. As a result of national diets of artificial flavors, refined foods, hydrogenated oils, sugar, and genetically modified organisms, British, Americans and residents of other industrialized nations are plagued by cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Wouldn't you think that the marketing capitals of the world would be able to sell healthy lifestyle to the masses?
If health and wellness of people were top priorities of big corporations, then spirulina would be as popular as Pepsi. Governments measure national health as gross domestic product (GDP) -- a purely economic figure that makes no consideration for the health and happiness of people. When a person is diagnosed with cancer the GDP increases because of the businesses that benefit from their treatments, drugs, and medical equipment. When people grow their own food, practice tai chi, eat right, and self-medicate with herbs, the GDP goes down.
Western civilisation is in dire need of a dietary revolution -- to steer away from the fast food lane and onto the highway of health. We need to educate ourselves about healthy lifestyle choices, and stop listening to ads that tell us what's good for us. It is very confusing for the lay person to find reliable dietary information. No matter how scientifically-proven a diet may appear, it is almost always contradicted by another source of dietary guidelines that seems equally credible.
For example, marketers of diet food products have for years claimed that eating fat makes you fat, without distinguishing between the types of fats. People are just now beginning to understand we should be limiting our intake of saturated fat (mainly animal sources) because excess consumption can lead to heart disease, stroke, and obesity. On the other hand, unsaturated fats (mainly plant sources) tend to be healthful and nutritious. Education should really start with medical professionals like doctors and nurses. If more nutrition classes were included in physician training and nurse practitioner programs, proper diet information could be more effectively conveyed to patients.
Two polyunsaturated fats, linoleic acid (LA), and alpha linolenic acid (LNA), are so important to the human diet they are called essential fatty acids (EFAs). EFAs help reduce cholesterol, regulate cellular function, enhance the immune system, and much more. Nature's best source of EFAs happens to be to be cannabis hempseed. Not only does hempseed oil contain the highest concentration of EFAs (80% of total oil volume), but the ratio of LA to LNA (3:1) is exactly what many nutritionists agree is optimum for human nutritional needs. Hempseed's closest nutritional rival is flax, but flax has the opposite EFA ratio and may be detrimental to rely upon it for one's sole EFA supplement. It's more beneficial to consume equal quantities of flax and hemp oil, while using safflower oil for cooking. This may result in the overall EFA consumption ratio you are looking for (3:1).
LNA is an omega-3 superunsaturated essential fatty acid that can only be found in significant quantities in seeds such as flax, chia, kukui, and black currant (how much of these seeds do Americans eat?). Symptoms of LNA deficiency include dry skin, growth retardation, weakness, impaired learning, poor motor coordination, behavioral changes, impaired vision, high blood pressure, mental deterioration, low metabolic rate, and immune dysfunction.
LA is an omega-6 polyunsaturated essential fatty acid that is more likely to be found in American foods than LNA. Sunflower and safflower seeds are also very rich in LA. Symptoms of LA deficiency include: skin eruptions, poor blood circulation, behavioral disturbances, liver and kidney degeneration, gallbladder problems, prostatitis, male sterility, miscarriage, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and growth retardation.
Hempseed oil contains another important fatty acid called gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Because it can be produced in our bodies from LA, it is not considered essential. However, some people with blocking conditions such as diabetes, excess cholesterol, zinc deficiency, and common viral infections may not be able to metabolize GLA from LA and therefore must obtain it from their diet. GLA's nutritional benefits are similar to that of the EFAs and can also relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
One problem with industrialized nations fat consumption is that we are eating far too much saturated fat, far too little polyunsaturated fat, and almost no LNA. A recent report from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund called Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer cautioned that diets high in animal fat are possibly linked to cancers of the lung, colon, rectum, breast, endometrium, and prostate.
A more severe problem is that we are eating highly-refined, hydrogenated, and synthetic fats. Although the British and American Heart Associations recommend using margarine as a healthy alternative to butter, it is actually detrimental to our health. Margarine and other partially hydrogenated fats are made by turning low-grade vegetable oil into hardened saturated fats by refining, bleaching and deodorizing the oil at high temperatures, then creating a high-temperature, pressurized reaction with nickel and aluminum.
This produces a hardened, tasteless grey-colored mass, so artificial colors and flavors are then added for customer appeal. The process, called hydrogenation, produces trans-fatty acids, which are twisted and malformed fat molecules that interfere in the functions of EFAs, disrupt the flow of energy between molecules and cells in our body, and contribute to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
As an alternative to spreading margarine on your bread, you can adopt the Mediterranean style of dipping bread in hempseed oil. I like to add a little hempseed oil to a larger quantity of olive oil and store it in the refrigerator, where it becomes thick enough to spread like margarine. Olive oil is low in EFAs, but high in monounsaturated fats, which is the reason it thickens when refrigerated. The more saturated a fat is, the higher its freezing point. Since hempseed oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, it remains liquid even in the freezer. In fact, the warmer the climate where a plant lives, the more saturated the oils it produces. Coconut, avocado, brazil nuts, and palm kernel are high in saturated fats because saturated fats don't spoil easily in tropical climates. Cold climate plants such as flax, hemp, pumpkin, and canola are high in polyunsaturated fats so the oil can flow under freezing temperatures.
Since hemp is grown in most climates, I would be very interested to see a study conducted that compares the EFA content between tropical and cold climate varieties. The only disadvantage with foods high in EFAs is short shelf-life. Saturated fats, being fully stocked with hydrogen atoms on its carbon-chain molecule (that's why it's called saturated), are very stable and last a long time without going rancid. Polyunsaturated fats, having more than two carbon atoms on its chain that lack bonded hydrogen atoms are reactive and susceptible to oxidation. When exposure of EFAs to heat, light, and oxygen are minimized, a longer shelf-life can be expected.
When you purchase hempseed oil (or any food oil), look for cold-pressed oils packaged in dark nitrogen-sealed containers, and cold-stored. Such oils can be stored for a few years before going bad. Once you open a sealed container, it will keep in the refrigerator for two months and in the freezer for six. Hempseed has a delicious, nutty flavor that compliments any flavor -- sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, and bland. Consuming hempseed oil can be simple as pouring it over anything you eat or drink, or complicated as an extravagant recipe. Avoid cooking hempseed oil over high heat, so if you desire that hemp goodness in your favorite entrée, add it in the final stage of cooking, or just before serving.
Hempseed is also one of nature's best sources of protein. It contains all essential amino acids in a very digestible form. Soybeans have a higher quantity of protein, but lower quality. Soy protein is difficult to digest, it is a common food allergen, and most of the soybeans produced today are genetically-modified frankenfoods.
Don't just take my word for it. Part of the diet revolution includes you do your own research and draw your own conclusions. The best, easy-to-understand, book I've read about fats is Fats that Heal Fats that Kill, by Udo Erasmus (Alive Books). My book, The Hemp Cookbook: From Seed to Shining Seed, extensively covers the nutritional values of hempseed. So chop the onions, crush the garlic, and squash the state, it's time for a dietary revolution! Throw out you tub of margarine and fill your freezer with hempseed; it's time for an American oil change!
Todd Dalotto is founder of the first modern-day hemp food business, Hungry Bear Hemp Foods. He is also the author of The Hemp Cookbook: From Seed to Shining Seed (Healing Arts Press). He lives, writes and cooks in the Coastal Range of Oregon.