In many circles, hemp tends to have a negative connotation, due solely to its association with marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are both products of the cannabis plant, which means that the association does have merit. However, there are several notable differences between hemp and marijuana. Marijuana leaves are high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that produces the psychoactive effect that marijuana consumption provides.
Hemp, on the other hand, is very low in THC and is most often used for industrial purposes (such as the creation of fabrics, paper, plastics and more) more than for any type of consumption. Cannabis plants are also cultivated and bred differently depending on their intended use. Most marijuana plants are female, produced to emphasise flowering buds. Hemp plants, meanwhile, tend to be male and don’t have the flowers or buds. These different growing techniques drastically affect the THC content of the plants.
As a result, cannabis plants grown to produce hemp have THC levels of about 0.3%. For comparison’s sake, a cannabis plant cultivated to produce high-quality marijuana might have THC levels as high as 30%. This drastic difference should eliminate any concerns about hemp being a drug or a drug-related crop.
Hemp as a Source of Nutrition
Although the primary use for hemp is for industrial purposes, it does have nutritional applications. Indeed, hemp can and does serve as a food source for both humans and animals. Moreover, it has significant nutritional benefits that many people are not aware of – benefits that make it worthwhile adding to your diet.
Most often, if using hemp as a food source, the form it will take is hemp seeds. You can purchase hemp seeds in both plain and shelled varieties. Hemp seeds with their shells are hard and crunchy, while shelled hemp seeds are considered to taste a bit better and be easier to eat. These two different varieties of seeds also have slightly differing nutritional benefits. With their shells, hemp seeds are a terrific source of insoluble fibre, which is vital for digestion and proper gastrointestinal function. Without their shells, hemp seeds lose some of that fibre but are higher in protein content.
Hemp seeds are the most common form of hemp-related food. However, the seeds can sometimes be made into other foods or ingredients as well, such as cooking oil or hemp protein (which is good for protein shakes).
Why Include Hemp in Your Diet ?
Now that we’ve addressed how you can incorporate hemp into your diet, let’s consider the bigger question: why? What benefits are to be gained from eating hemp seeds – or, to a slightly lesser extent, cooking with hemp oil or hemp flour? Below, we have outlined ten of the core benefits – as well as why each advantage is important for both your short-term and long-term health.
- Hemp is a source of vital nutrients: We already discussed the fibre and protein content of hemp seeds. Fibre is an essential aid to digestive health. It can also help stave off numerous common health problems – including heart disease, diabetes and even certain types of cancer. Protein, meanwhile, is necessary to produce various body chemicals, from hormones to enzymes and more. It is vital to the health of almost every cell in your body – which means that it also contributes to building healthy bones, muscles, blood, skin, cartilage amongst other things. Hemp seeds are also rich in healthy fatty acids, which help to boost the immune system, improve cellular health, and prevent a range of health problems. There is no plant, nut or seed in the world with more ideal levels and ratios of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The list of nutritious content to be found in hemp seeds goes on and on, too, including Vitamin E, potassium, calcium, and iron – to name but a few.
- Hemp helps fight heart disease: As you can see from the above paragraph, hemp is rich in many of the essential nutrients that keep our bodies safe. By ‘safe,’ we mean that these nutrients have many benefits and help stave off a whole slew of different health concerns. Perhaps the most important of these health problems, though, is heart disease. In 2014, the World Health Organisation released a study that tracked the top global causes of death from 2000 to 2012. Cardiovascular disease topped the list, claiming 7.4 million lives. (Stroke was second, causing 6.7 million deaths.) The nutrients in hemp seeds – especially omega-3 fatty acids – can help reduce your risk for cardio problems. Fatty acids improve arterial function and blood flow, lower your heart rate, helps your heart to be an all-around healthier and more stable.
- Hemp protects your brain health: The heart isn’t the only vital body part that can benefit from a hemp-inclusive diet. On the contrary, scientists have proven that omega-3 fatty acids are also incredibly good for brain health and mental wellbeing. There is a simple explanation for this benefit: the brain and the cerebral cortex are built at least partially from DHA, one of the two primary omega-3 fatty acids (the other is called EPA). DHA contributes to everything from memory to language to creativity. In the long-term, eating foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids – such as hemp seeds – can keep the DHA levels in your brain high. Adults with higher DHA levels are less likely to develop dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions that affect memory and learning. In other words, a senior whose diet has included hemp for years may remain sharper for longer than someone whose diet was less rich in omega-3s.
- Hemp helps boost your immune system: So far, we’ve mostly talked about the long-term benefits of hemp. As you have probably noticed by now, hemp seeds are worth adding to your diet due to how they can help prevent many of the health conditions that people tend to develop as they get older. However, hemp can also have shorter-term health benefits as well. The omega fatty acids featured in hemp seeds help to strengthen cells and aid them in fighting off germs and viruses. With a stronger immune system, you’ll be better equipped to fight off the cold or flu that your kids bring home from school every year.
- Hemp promotes healthy digestion: The digestive benefits of eating foods like hemp, which are extremely high in fibre, can be felt in both the short-term and the long-term. Regarding more quickly felt benefits, a diet that is rich in fibre can reduce your frequency of stomach aches and prevent constipation. The insoluble fibre found in hemp seeds – particularly those that still retain their shells – is powerful for keeping the digestive tract clean and clear. People without a clean and healthy gastrointestinal tract are also more likely to develop health issues such as colon cancer, weight gain, diabetes and more.
- Hemp can help you eat less: If you’re trying to curb weight gain, hemp’s weight-related benefits go beyond the complexities of bodily function. Hemp seeds satiate your appetite in a way that saturated fats and carbohydrates don’t. The result is that you eat less and don’t feel hungry as quickly after you’ve eaten. Because of their terrific satiety, hemp seeds can be a helpful inclusion in virtually any diet – whether it’s nutrition-based or exercise-based. When you don’t feel quite as hungry all the time, it will be easier to avoid the unhealthy foods that you should be trying to cut out of your diet.
- Hemp leads to healthier skin: The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are present in hemp seeds or hemp seed oil have been proven to help with dry skin problems. Individuals who suffer from skin conditions like eczema or dermatitis can get relief from consuming hemp seeds. Even if you don’t have a skin condition, though, hemp seeds can be a good way of addressing the dry, itchy skin that usually accompanies the cold, dry temperatures of wintertime.
- Hemp helps ease the symptoms of PMS: The list of dietary benefits from eating more fatty acids goes on and on, and includes this major perk for female dieters. Some scientists have conducted studies on the impact of fatty acids on PMS symptoms. Those studies have mostly shown that diets richer in GLA – an omega-6 fatty acid – can help to significantly reduce some of the pain, depression, irritability and fluid retention symptoms associated with PMS. Since hemp seeds contain high quantities of the GLA fatty acid, they are helpful for neutralising these uncomfortable symptoms.
- You can grow Hemp without the use of pesticides: If you have been looking for organic crops that use no pesticides, GMOs, or other unnatural methods to support growth, then hemp should be on your list. When growing cannabis plants for marijuana cultivation, growers would have to pay a significant amount of attention to each Cannabis used for hemp, on the other hand, is a very low-maintenance plant. Farmers can plant hemp cannabis outside and mostly leave it to grow by itself. A hardy plant, this form of cannabis doesn’t need pesticides to grow or produce a substantial quantity of hemp seeds. Thus, most of the hemp seeds on the market are completely organic.
- Hemp can lower your cholesterol: High cholesterol levels can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other conditions. Thanks to their omega-3 levels and polyunsaturated fats, hemp seeds, and hemp seed oil can help to prevent arterial blockages and blood clots and lower cholesterol overall. Lowering your cholesterol and dispelling blood clots are also other ways that a hemp seed diet contributes to protecting you from the risks of heart disease.
Clearly, hemp seeds (and other food products produced using hemp seeds) are extremely nutritious and highly beneficial. Whether you are looking to lose weight, avoid afternoon or late-night food cravings, improve your digestive function or protect yourself from common health problems, hemp seeds are a worthy addition to your daily diet.
Where to Buy Hemp Seeds
Due to their association with marijuana (and the resulting negative connotation), hemp seeds are not typically available at a conventional supermarket. If you want to buy hemp seeds – either to see how you like them or to start reaping their health benefits – you would be better off checking your local organic food market or health store. The proprietors of such establishments are usually more likely to be aware of the considerable health benefits of hemp seeds – as well as their detachment from marijuana as a drug.
With that said, if you can’t find a store in your area that stocks hemp seeds – or if you think the prices at your local health store are higher than they should be – you can always check online. Websites like HealthySupplies.co.uk and The Hemp Shop sell hemp seeds on the Internet. By shopping online, you can find hemp seeds in bulk quantities and usually for lower prices than you would pay at a local organic foods store.
A Note about Side Effects
Before you start adding hemp seeds to your diet, you should be aware of a few minor possible side effects.
Firstly, by adding hemp seeds to your diet, you are also increasing your intake of polyunsaturated fat. This type of fat is good for you but can lead to mild diarrhoea – especially if your body isn’t used to it. In most cases, you can avoid any significant symptoms by starting small with your hemp seed intake and gradually increase it over time.
The other drawback or side effect of eating hemp seeds relates back to the THC content of the cannabis plant. While hemp seeds should not include enough THC to create any sort of high, there is a possibility that ingesting a lot of hemp seeds over a short period could create trace levels of THC in your body. If you are required to take drug tests for work, sports, or any other reason, there is a slight possibility that the THC content of hemp seeds could cause you to fail a drug test.
For the most part, though, these side effects tend to be minor and rare. In any case, the significant health benefits of hemp seeds should greatly overshadow the few drawbacks.