Hemp, Hemp Hooray!

Last month I wrote about the tiny yet mighty heart-healthy chia seed. Let’s take a look at another tiny yet mighty seed – the hemp seed.

Won’t Eating Hemp Make Me High?  

Let’s start off with THE question associated with hemp seeds: will I get high if I eat hemp seeds? The answer is no. Hemp seeds do not naturally contain cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), both of which are found in its cousin plant, cannabis. However, the hemp leaves, stems, and flowers do contain CBD and THC (no more than .3% by law). Trace amounts of CBD and THC from these parts of the plant may transfer to the seeds if they come in contact with the plant during harvesting. These trace amounts are generally regarded as safe (GRAS) by the FDA (GRAS No. GRN  000765) and will not make you high.

Furthermore, after being harvested, the plants are dried and the seeds removed. The seeds are cleaned, the outer shell cracked open, and the heart of the seed is removed.  The heart of the seed is what is most commonly found in the grocery store, so the amount of THC or CBD is negligible.

Hemp History   

Hemp has a long and interesting history. It is hard to believe a food cultivated in Asia dating back to 8,000 BC is still grown today. Hemp cord was used to help construct the pyramids in Egypt. In later years it was used to make textiles, building materials, and paper. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue in ships that had hemp rigging and sails. Early settlers and our founding fathers grew hemp for food and to make textiles.  Our Declaration of Independence was drawn on hemp paper.

In more recent times, hemp production has faced some legal challenges. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Control Act passed in 1970 made growing hemp illegal because of its THC content. Meanwhile, in Manitoba, Canada, Martin Moravcik (later becoming one of the founders of Manitoba Harvest Company) received a grant to study hemp and its THC levels. The study found undetectable amounts (less than 0.003%) of THC in hemp, and industrial hemp became legal to grow in Canada in 1998.

In the United States, federal courts blocked the US Drug Enforcement Administration from making sales of hemp products illegal in 2001. In 2018, a federal law legalized hemp production in the United States.

Environmentally Friendly

Unlike raising animals for a source of protein and cotton to make clothing, hemp is a sustainable resource for both protein and clothing and is environmentally friendly to grow. Hemp seeds are approximately 35% protein and contain several nutrients. Hemp can be grown in cold and hot climates. Three months after planting, hemp can be harvested, and several crops can be grown in one season. The multi-step process of growing corn and soy, harvesting it, feeding it to farm animals, and then humans eating the animal is an energy intensive process. Far less energy is used to grow hemp plants to be fed directly to humans. In addition, crops grown to feed animals are most often genetically modified and sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Pesticides and herbicides are not warranted to grow hemp since the plant is resistant to most pests.

The outer husk of the stalk is spun into yarn and is used to make soft durable clothing and is an environmentally friendly alternative to cotton. Cotton uses large quantities of water to grow, and crops are heavily sprayed with herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides. Whereas 10,000 liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram of cotton, just 300-500 liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram of hemp.  Growing hemp requires less land and produces a larger yield than cotton. This amazing plant’s long roots replenish soil nutrients and eliminate soil toxins. Hemp leaves absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than trees. The woody part of the stem is used to manufacture building materials. None of the plant goes to waste.

Health Benefits  

Hemp hearts are a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids. Just two tablespoons of hemp hearts have 10 grams of protein (the average man needs  approximately 56 grams of protein a day and a woman about 46 grams per day). They also are loaded with the minerals iron, magnesium, and zinc. Hemp seeds are rich in inflammation-reducing Omega-3 fatty acids. They have an optimal ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids for heart and brain health.

Three tablespoons of hemp hearts:

  • Contain 99% of DV (daily value) of manganese, which helps regulate blood sugar, and is an essential mineral for bone health.
  • 53% DV of copper, which is needed to manufacture strong tissue and is good for bone health.
  • 50% DV of magnesium which is key for bone metabolism and regulation of blood pressure and glucose.
  • 40% DVD of phosphorus which supports strong bones.
  • 32% DV of B1, which supports our nervous system.
  • 27% DV of zinc for a strong immune system.
  • 17% DV of niacin (B3), which is needed to convert fats, carbohydrates, and proteins into energy.
  • 13% DV of iron, which makes hemoglobin that carries oxygen throughout our body.
  • 11% DV of B6, which helps metabolize carbohydrates and helps the liver detoxify the blood.
  • Also folate, potassium, and riboflavin.

Hemp hearts contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which are beneficial for gut health, and immune health, and may help reduce cholesterol. They are an excellent source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a potent antioxidant that is protective against  free radicals. Tiny and mighty – yes!

How to Use  

Sprinkle hemp seeds on any food to add some interesting texture or to increase nutrient density – salads, smoothies, soups, granola, non-dairy yogurt, hot cereals, acai bowls,  baked potatoes, stir fry, bean burgers, fruit bowls, grain dishes – really  just about  anything you can think of. Because of hemp heart’s high manganese content, I suggest limiting hemp heart intake to 2-3 tablespoons a day Remember, more is not always better.

Interaction with Medications  

Do not eat hemp hearts if you are taking a diuretic, as it can cause unhealthy potassium loss through increased urination, or if prescribed cardiac glycosides, because hemp hearts can decrease the heart rate further.  Hemp hearts offer numerous health benefits and are environmentally friendly. In what ways can you begin to incorporate hemp hearts into your diet?

Contributing Guest Writer: Jody Perrecone

Jody Perrecone is a certified nutrition consultant and graduated with honors from Bauman College. She graduated from CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program) nearly two decades ago and has been an advocate for whole food plant-based nutrition ever since. She has a certification in plant-based nutrition from e-Cornell University and is the founder of Perrecone Wellness. Jody has a passion for helping her clients experience their best life with optimal nutrition and enjoys helping them on their journey. She also conducts WFPB cooking classes and has given numerous wellness presentations over the years to corporations, organizations, and even health food stores. She lives in Rockford, IL with her amazing husband and entertaining cat, Pico.