Hemp has been cultivated for thousands of years for its fiber, oil, and seeds. The seeds were part of the diet in many cultures around the world until its cultivation became illegal in many countries, including the United States, because of hemp’s close relation to marijuana. The hulled hemp seeds are a nutritious food grain, but, not surprisingly, many people are wary of trying hemp seeds, fearing narcotic effects similar to marijuana.
Both hemp and marijuana are Cannabis plants and contain many common cannabinoids. But their main difference lies in the percentage of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is higher in marijuana that goes by the scientific name Cannabis indica. Selective breeding has produced marijuana plants containing THC in excess of 20%. Hemp, on the other hand, is Cannabis sativa, and contains negligible amounts of THC, less than 1% in most cases. It has higher amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) instead, which suppresses the expression of THC.
While hemp seeds, or any other part of the hemp plant, do not produce the narcotic and pain-relieving effects of marijuana, they have several other amazing health benefits. Here are some very good reasons to include hemp seeds in your diet.
1. Excellent nutritional profile
Hemp seeds are nutritionally rich, consisting of 44% fat, 33% protein, and 12 % carbohydrates. They are rich in dietary fiber, and contain the minerals iron, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous in appreciable quantities. 3 Tbsp. hulled hemp seeds can provide nearly half the daily value of magnesium and phosphorous. They are rich in vitamin E and D too, with vitamin A, B1, B2, and B6 having some representation.
Considered a wholesome food on account of containing all the three macronutrients and several micronutrients in favorable proportions, hemp seeds have the potential to combat nutritional deficiencies in deprived communities. They are highly digestible and devoid of gluten, so people with gluten intolerance and other food sensitivities can safely use hemp seeds.
Of the 20 amino acids required to form the hundreds of thousands of different protein molecules synthesized in the body, nine are called essential amino acids because we need to get them from food. Animal proteins are called complete, or perfect because they contain all of them in the right proportions. Plant proteins usually lack one or more of the essential amino acids, but hemp seeds happen to be one of the few plant sources of complete protein. They contain all the 9 essential amino acids, although lysine content is rather low.
2. Hemp seeds are a great source of essential fatty acids
Hemp has a high fat content as can be expected of all oil seeds, but polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats form the bulk of the fat in these tiny seeds. It is rich in both linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, two essential fatty acids that our body should necessarily get from food.
Linolenic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid necessary for proper growth and development. It is an essential component of cell membranes too. In the body, linolenic acid gets converted to other long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have specific roles in the healthy functioning of the brain as well as the retina of the eyes. Sufficient EPA and DHA levels are extremely important during pregnancy as their insufficiency can affect the brain and nervous system development of a fetus.
Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that forms part of the cell membranes. It is also required for the synthesis of signaling molecules like prostaglandins. Deficiency of linoleic acid may cause hair loss, scaling of the skin, and poor healing of wounds, but it is rare, since omega -6 fatty acids are abundant in vegetable oils. In fact, they usually get bad press because higher proportion––20:1––of omega -6 to omega 3 fatty acids in the diet is thought to be the underlying cause of many diseases. Hemp seeds have a much more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio at 3:1.
3. Hemp seeds are good for heart health
Consuming hemp seeds regularly can have a heart-protective effect, thanks to the omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids occurring in a favorable ratio. They are known for reducing platelet aggregation and ischemic heart disease. Unlike fish oil, hemp seeds or hemp oil do not supply long chain omega 3-fatty acids EPA and DHA directly. But they are high in alpha-linolenic acid, which gets converted into EPA and DHA in the body. They, in turn, form prostaglandins which have a hormone-like activity in regulating cell metabolism and cardiovascular function.
Low levels of EPA and DHA are associated with sudden cardiac death, so people with coronary heart disease are often advised to consume these fatty acids at 1 gram per day dosage. A lower dose of 840 mg per day should ensure general heart health. Hemp seeds can thus be part of a heart-healthy diet along with other omega-3 fatty acid sources.
High amounts of Arginine in hemp seeds may be another reason for their cardiovascular benefits. This amino acid increases the production of nitric oxide that acts as a vasodilator. It helps lower blood pressure. High arginine levels are associated with reduced C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. CRP is a marker of inflammation in heart disease.
4. They reduce inflammation
Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil give relief from inflammatory diseases like arthritis. Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) in hemp seeds is mainly credited with their anti-inflammatory property. GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid derived from linoleic acid (LA), but unlike other pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, it has exactly the opposite effect. It actually inhibits the formation of pro-inflammatory leukotrienes. This unique property of GLA is referred to as the GLA paradox.
According to a study appeared in the Journal of Arthritis and Rheumatism, GLA supplements taken over a period of 6 months reduced pain and other symptoms of arthritis by 25% in the participants.
5. Eating hemp seeds improves digestive health promotes weight loss
Hemp seeds contain good amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber which help accelerate the movement of food through the digestive tract and help clean the colon of toxins. Fiber that passes into the large intestine undigested feed the microbes in there. Healthy intestinal flora is associated with not only digestive health but good immune function as well.
Hemp seeds have a natural appetite-suppressing effect that can have weight loss benefits for obese people. Eating 3-4 tablespoons of hemp seeds with breakfast is known to curb hunger pangs throughout the day. It helps increase metabolic rate too. The high fat and protein content of the seeds can provide a feeling of satiety and help reduce sugar cravings.
6. They are good for skin disorders
Including hemp seeds in your diet may help improve your skin and hair health. Applying hemp oil externally improves the texture and feel of the skin as it helps in the repair of skin cells damaged due to sun exposure, use of strong chemicals, and the dehydrating effect of wind. Eating hemp seeds can offer a lot more. It can reduce skin dryness, itching, and rashes.
Hemp seeds and hemp oil can bring relief to eczema sufferers. The anti-inflammatory action resulting from the GLA as well as the favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio help reduce the symptoms. Also, hemp improves digestive function and helps remove toxins and allergens from the body that could be the trigger for eczema flare-ups.
7. Hemp seeds can promote female reproductive health
Hemp seeds may be extra beneficial for female reproductive health, mainly because of GLA which has a balancing effect on hormones. It reduces pre-menstrual syndrome and associated breast tenderness and pain. Sensitivity to the hormone prolactin is behind the breast discomfort, and the prostaglandin E1 derived from GLA has been shown to reduce sensitivity to prolactin.
GLA supplementation helps bring down other PMS symptoms such as depression, irritability, and fluid retention too. It may even ease menopausal problems. The mineral content of hemp seeds also may have a role in promoting female health. They are rich in iron, magnesium, and zinc, minerals that have a special place in female health.
8. Eating hemp seeds regularly may offer cancer protection
Gamma linolenic acid is an experimentally proven anti-cancer compound. Hence, hemp seeds are regarded as cancer protective not only by natural health enthusiasts but by the American Cancer Society which acknowledges that GLA supplementation can actually help cancer patients. It has been shown to stop or reduce the rate of growth of various types of cancer cells and lower the risk of cancer cells invading other areas (metastasis). It also helps other cancer therapies work even better by reducing inflammation.
9. Hemp seeds in the diet may prevent or delay degenerative diseases
The anti-aging effects of hemp seeds are not to be dismissed as old wives’ tales. There’s ample evidence that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain and nervous system health. Sufficient amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid may protect older people from age-associated degenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The alpha-linolenic acid in hemp seeds help to increase the levels of EPA and DHA.
Another way hemp seeds can help is by preventing age-related macular degeneration that causes blindness in the elderly. EPA and DHA are essential for retinal health.
How To Include Hemp Seeds In The Diet:
Hemp seeds can be incorporated into the diet quite easily. The hulled seeds can improve the taste of any dish they are added to. They can be eaten raw or cooked, or roasted to bring out the nutty flavor similar to that of sesame seeds. Hemp seeds go well with salads and baked goods. Add them to smoothies and soups to increase their nutritional value and to gain other health benefits. Buy your hemp seeds here.