For hundreds of years, people had used hemp for all sorts of products, and literally in every area of life. It is for a very good reason that hemp enjoys a nearly iconic status among millions of our contemporaries throughout the world.
Hemp seeds (Cannabis sativa L.) are a highly nutritious food - they offer a number of substances that are essential to human health.
A lot of research has been conducted on the nutritional value and benefits of hemp seeds. Let's take a look at the current research data.
First and foremost, hemp seeds are prized as a rich source of highly absorbable protein (amino acids) and oil (fatty acids).
Protein makes up roughly 24% to 40% of the total nutritional value of hemp seeds, while oil can be anything between 24% to 35% of its content. (Ref. 1 and 2)
Protein. Among amino acids found in hemp seeds, are: tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, cystine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, valine, arginine, histidine, alanine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, glycine, proline, serine. (Ref. 3)
Since it is quite easy to extract protein from hemp seeds, hemp protein is gaining recognition in its own right, too. It is especially popular among athletes and anyone engaged in active physical training.
Oil. Most of the oil found in hemp seeds is made up of poly-unsaturated fats, with smaller amounts of mono-unsaturated and saturated fats (roughly 80%, 13% and 7% of the total fat content, respectively). (Ref. 3)
Of particular interest to us is the fact that hemp seeds offer a perfect 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids which are believed to be beneficial for treating cardiovascular problems, such as atherosclerosis. (Ref. 2)
In general, many health benefits have been attributed to the consumption of fats - not only from hemp seeds but from many other nuts and seeds as well. In addition to heart disease, nuts (and their fats) can also help with gallstones, diabetes, cancer and inflammation. (Ref. 4)
Essential Nutrients: Apart from protein and oil, hemp seeds contain a number of vitamins and minerals which include the following (for the Finola variety of hempseed).
Vitamins: vitamin A (3800 IU per 100g), thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D (2277 IU per 100g), vitamin E (90mg per 100g).
Minerals: calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium. (Ref. 3)
What strikes us most here is the high content of several crucial nutrients in hemp seeds. These nutrients are often present in inadequate amounts in modern diets, which may lead to their deficiencies within the body.
The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for vitamin A is: 800 micrograms (mcg, or µg) per day - an average for adult females and males. (Ref. 5)
Using USDA conversion ratios, the conversion of 3800 IU is equal to roughly 1700 micrograms. So, a 100g serving of hemp seeds per day will provide more than twice the required amount of vitamin A in your diet. (Ref. 6)
Vitamin D is a nutrient whose deficiency has been implicated in a number of chronic conditions, incl. osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, cystic fibrosis and overactive thyroid. (Ref. 7)
Vitamin D is naturally synthesized by the body following exposure to sunlight. It is quite hard to get this important nutrient from food.
The Recommended Dietary Intake for vitamin D is 15 micrograms (mcg, or µg) per day - an average for adult females and males. (Ref. 5)
Using USDA conversion ratios, the conversion of 2277 IU is equal to roughly 57 micrograms. (Ref. 6) So, a 100g serving of hemp seeds per day will provide nearly 4 times the required amount of vitamin D in one's diet. This is quite an achievement for just one source of food.
Another nutrient, vitamin E, is a very powerful anti-oxidant. Th Recommended Dietary Intake for vitamin E is 15 milligrams (mg) per day - an average for adult females and males. (Ref. 5) So, a 100g serving of hemp seeds per day will provide 6 times the required amount of vitamin E in the diet.
Hemp seeds are also an excellent source of dietary fibre. (Ref. 3) Health benefits of dietary fibre have been widely documented.
Phytochemicals in hemps seeds.
Phytochemicals (or phyto-compounds, or botanical compounds, or biologically active compounds, or secondary bioactive metabolites etc) are chemical compounds that are naturally found in plants. Phytochemicals usually exhibit anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and other bioactive properties; but they are not considered to be essential nutrients - like vitamins and minerals. (Ref. 8)
Although phytochemicals are not essential nutrients per se, it is becoming increasingly clear that their therapeutic value can be very high. Specifically, their usefulness has been suggested for the possible treatment of cancer, neurological disorders and cardiovascular disease. (Ref. 9, 10 and 11 )
Phytochemicals often give plants their characteristic colours and smells.
Hemp seeds are an abundant source of phytochemicals.
One study reports that hemp seeds contain, among some phytochemicals: beta-sitesterol, methyl salicylate, and trace amounts of beta-caryophyllene, myrcene and cannabidiol. (Ref. 12)
Beta-sitesterol is known to possess antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties; terpene beta-caryophyllene may offer anti-inflammatory and cytoprotective properties; another terpene myrcene is an antioxidant; methyl salicylate may reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer; and cannabidiol can bring with it some analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticonvulsant and anti-epileptic activity. (Ref. 12)
A little bit of hemp history.
There is still some confusion about hemp as a species of plants, and its potential psychoactive effects.
It is crucial to understand that hemp products, that you can now legally buy, don't have any detectable levels of THC (Tetra-Hydro-Cannabinol) - the chemical that produces psychoactive effects. In other words, these products are not drugs and are perfectly safe to consume.
Such products are manufactured from hemp varieties which are commonly known as industrial hemp.
But industrial hemp is closely related to some cannabis varieties with a significant THC presence, which do cause psychoactive effects.
Because of this connection, there had been a lot of backlash against all hemp varieties in the 20th century, especially in the USA.
As we gain further scientific knowledge about potential health benefits of hemp, more people are starting to take hemp products (incl. hemp seeds) as a wholefood source of excellent nutrition.
Hemp seeds as an energy food.
If tiredness is caused, to a certain degree, by some vitamin deficiencies and toxins residing deep inside the body, then hemp seeds can deliver all the required nutrition ex. vitamins and minerals, on the one hand, and help detoxify the body with phytochemicals and other antioxidants, on the other hand.
Hemp seeds are recognized as a functional food. (Ref. 12) Functional foods are the ones that "can reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions", simply by virtue of being nutritionally rich and supplying the body with the required amounts of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, carbohydrates and so on. (Ref. 13)
Seaweeds are another exceptional example of a functional food that we highly recommend to use interchangeably with hemp seeds. Learn more about the health benefits of seaweeds here.
Hemp seeds are a very versatile food. Many other products can be derived from them as well - oil, flour, milk, bakery products, chocolate and even beer.
You can add shelled or de-shelled hemp seeds to smoothies, juices, salads, yogurts, or any other food you fancy.
Written by: Irina Bright
Original publication date: 2013
Republication date: 2020
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2. Marcela Mihoc, Georgeta Pop, Ersilia Alexa, and Isidora Radulov (October 23, 2012). Nutritive quality of romanian hemp varieties (Cannabis sativa L.) with special focus on oil and metal contents of seeds. Published in Chemistry Central Journal. Retrieved April 26, 2013 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3543203/
3. Delfin Rodriguez-Leyva, and Grant N Pierce (April 21, 2010). The cardiac and haemostatic effects of dietary hempseed. Published in Nutrition & Metabolism. Retrieved April 26, 2013 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2868018/
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6. Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database, National Institutes of Health, USDA (June 12, 2012). Unit Conversions. Retrieved April 26, 2013 from: https://dietarysupplementdatabase.usda.nih.gov/ingredient_calculator/equation.php
7. Kara J. Pepper, MD, Suzanne E. Judd, MPH, PhD, Mark S. Nanes, MD, PhD, and Vin Tangpricha, MD, PhD, FACE (May 18, 2009). EVALUATION OF VITAMIN D REPLETION REGIMENS TO CORRECT VITAMIN D STATUS IN ADULTS. Published by National Institutes of Health. Retrieved April 26, 2013 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2683376/
8. Phytochemical. (April 23, 2013). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 26, 2013 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Phytochemical&oldid=551849185
9. Min-Yu Chung, Tae Gyu Lim, and Ki Won Lee (February 21, 2013). Molecular mechanisms of chemopreventive phytochemicals against gastroenterological cancer development. Published in World Journal of Gastroenterology. Retrieved April 26, 2013 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3582010/
10. G. Phani Kumar, and Farhath Khanum (July - December 2012). Neuroprotective potential of phytochemicals. Published by Pharmacognosy Review. Retrieved April 26, 2013 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3459459/
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