Hemp Seeds, Oil, and Milk: Great Nutrition and Health Benefits
A Nutritious and Useful Food
Hemp seeds are a very healthy, nutritious, and versatile food. They are rich in protein and contain important omega-3 fatty acids. They are also loaded with minerals and vitamins. Hemp seeds are a great food for vegans because the seeds can replace dairy in the diet. They can be ground to make a butter, blended with water to make a milk or cream, or pressed to make an oil, a protein powder, or a gluten-free flour.
I like to sprinkle hemp seeds over fruit and cereal. They work well in yogurt and on salads, too. They are also a useful ingredient in many recipes. The shelled seeds are available in my local supermarket as well as in specialty stores. They're sometimes known as hemp hearts.
Hemp seeds sold for food come from a special variety of the hemp plant. Some varieties of hemp contain significant quantities of a psychoactive chemical known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Hemp plants cultivated for food contain negligible amounts of THC, however.
Hemp Seed Products
Hemp seeds are widely available where I live. Products made from the seeds are also available, although I have to travel further to find them. Hemp seed milk and butter can be made at home or bought in a store. The store milk comes in plain or flavoured versions, just like dairy milk, and usually contains added vitamin B12. Plants don't contain this important nutrient. The butter has a rich taste and is a great spread. The oil made from the seeds can be used in smoothies and in salad dressings.
Hemp protein powder is sold in health food stores and can be added to foods and to drinks such as smoothies to increase their protein content. Hemp flour is also available and can provide a protein boost to baked goods.
Hemp seed oil and butter must be refrigerated in the store and at home. They should be sold and stored in dark, opaque containers that are tightly closed. Heat, light, and oxygen will damage the oil. Hemp seed milk is generally sold in a Tetra Pak carton in stores and must be refrigerated after the carton is opened. It isn't quite so essential to refrigerate the seeds, protein powder, or flour. It's advisable to do so, however, because they'll stay fresh for longer if they're kept cool. The storage recommendations and the expiry date should be checked when a hemp seed product is purchased.
Commercial hemp milk is white in colour, like dairy milk. I've only tried one brand of hemp seed butter. It has a rich green colour. Hemp protein powder is also green.
Healthy Fatty Acids
When referring to the diet, the word "fat" conjures up a bad image in some people's minds. Fat is actually an essential nutrient. It's important that we choose healthy fat to eat, however, and that we eat it in moderation. Hemp seeds are a great source of healthy fat.
A two tablespoon serving of hemp seeds contains about 9 grams of fat. This fat consists mainly of healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, with a small amount of monounsaturated (very healthy) and saturated (less healthy) fatty acids as well. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (both polyunsaturated) are present in a little over a 3:1 ratio. Some nutritionists say that many of us are eating far too many omega-6 fatty acids in proportion to the omega-3 ones. Hemp seeds contain a good omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
There are two essential fatty acids (EFAs) needed by humans. These are ones that scientists say we need but that we cannot make in our bodies. Linoleic acid, an omega-6 substance, is one EFA. The other one is alpha-linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 substance. Both EFAs are present in hemp seeds. They are sometimes known as "parent" fatty acids, since the body can make other fatty acids from them.
A Chocolate Hemp Milk Shake Recipe
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Researchers are discovering that omega-3 fatty acids have many very important health benefits. They are necessary for proper brain function and also reduce inflammation, decrease the risk of heart disease, and improve the blood triglyceride and cholesterol profile. These benefits have been discovered for the animal forms of omega-3 fatty acid—EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) —which are found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and halibut. Plants contain a different omega-3 fatty acid—ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Our bodies convert ALA into EPA and DHA, although in limited amounts. Hemp seeds have an advantage in this respect compared to many plants, as described below.
Hemp oil is added to skin creams. Some people report that it's a very effective moisturizer.
Two Additional Fatty Acids in Hemp Oil
Hemp seed oil (or hemp oil) also contains small quantities of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA). Gamma-linolenic acid is an omega-6 substance made from linoleic acid and may be anti-inflammatory. Stearidonic acid is an omega-3 substance made from alpha-linolenic acid and increases the amount of eicosapentaenoic acid—one of the fish oil omega-3 fatty acids—in the body.
Since GLA and SDA are both made in our bodies, people might wonder why their presence in hemp seeds is significant. The reason is that the chemical reactions that make these fatty acids are sometimes hindered by other substances in the body. It's beneficial to eat preformed GLA and SDA instead of relying entirely on our body's production of these chemicals.
The benefits of hemp seed oil can be obtained by eating hemp seeds or the extracted oil. Unrefined, cold pressed hemp oil is green in color due its chlorophyll content and has a pleasant, slightly nutty taste. The oil shouldn't be heated, since high temperatures may damage its fatty acids.
How to Make Raw Hemp Seed Power Bars
Hemp seeds are a good source of protein. The seeds that I buy contain about 7 grams of protein in two tablespoons of seeds. This protein is useful for everyone, but especially for vegans, who eat no food that comes from animals. Foods from animal sources—especially meats and fish—contain much higher protein levels than foods from plant sources.
Protein has many vital functions in the body, including making up our muscles, fighting infections as antibodies, becoming blood-clotting proteins to prevent blood loss when we're wounded, forming enzymes to control chemical reactions, becoming hormones such as insulin, and transporting oxygen in the blood.
Hemp seeds contain a good quality protein which contains all the essential amino acids (ones that our bodies cannot make), although one of them (lysine) is present in a low quantity. Amino acids are joined together in our bodies to make the specific proteins that we need.
A large amount of the protein in hemp seeds exists in the form of edestin. This is a type of protein known as a globulin. Globulins also occur in our blood. Scientists haven't yet discovered whether edestin has any special benefit for us, apart from being a protein.
A Raw Hemp Seed Hummus Recipe
Other Nutrients in Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are an excellent source of manganese and magnesium and a good source of zinc, iron, thiamine, folate, and vitamin B6. They also contain fibre. The seeds are low in sodium and salt. Like all plant foods, they contain no cholesterol. They contain phytosterols instead, which resemble cholesterol in structure and function. Some types of phytosterols have been found to lower the level of LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) in our blood.
A Recipe for Hemp Seed Ranch Dressing
Using the Seeds in a Healthy Diet
Hemp seeds are a great addition to the diet and offer a range of very useful health benefits. I make sure that I eat them often, either on their own, as part of a recipe, or as a milk or oil.
Hemp seeds and their products are relatively new foods in the marketplace. Sometimes wonderful claims are made for their nutritional benefits which haven't yet been confirmed by scientists. Even without these extra benefits, though, hemp seeds and the products made from them are very healthy foods.
© 2012 Linda Crampton