Darrell L. Tanelian, MD, PhD
That the hemp plant is used as food initially surprises and confuses most peopl.
That the hemp plant is used as food initially surprises and confuses most people. The public information system has largely restricted knowledge of hemp to its use in making rope and cloth from the fibre of the plant, and paper from the plant stalk. Yet both the oldest Chinese agricultural treatise, the Xia Xiao Zheng, written around 1600 BC, and other Chinese records discuss hemp as one of the major grain crops grown in ancient China.
The cultivation and use of hemp (Cannabis sativa) has also been documented by many other ancient civilizations, including India, Sumeria, Babylonia, Persia, Egypt, Europe, the Aztec and Mayan civilizations of South America, and native cultures in North America. Over thousands of years, hemp has followed humankind throughout the world or vice versa. Grown legally in Canada since 1998, it is making a comeback as a highly sustainable crop that grows easily in the Canadian climate, providing both health and environmental benefits.
The strains of hemp used for food have been naturally selected to produce little of the psychoactive substance delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in marijuana. And since the most modern handling and shelling of the seed minimizes its contact with leaf resins, the shelled seed itself and the oil, nut butter and other foods prepared from it have THC concentrations as low as one part per million to nondetectible.
The shelled seed, or "hemp seed nut," is the most basic hemp seed product. Other major hemp food products are hemp seed nut butter (which resembles peanut and other nut butters), cold-pressed hemp seed oil and hemp seed flour. These can be consumed alone or used with, or instead of, other grains, seeds, nuts and oils in any appropriate recipe.
While hemp seed is an excellent source of protein that also contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, its most important feature is that it provides both essential fatty acids (EFAs) needed in the human diet linoleic (omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). These fats are "essential" because they cannot be manufactured in the body and so must be consumed as food. Hemp has an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of 3.38, which is closest to the optimum 4.0 average recommended by the World Health Organization for the human diet.
PDF Table of General Hemp Nutritional Analysis by Weight
Hemp for Heart Health
EFAs are essential for the health of the heart. Numerous studies show that substituting healthy polyunsaturated fats such as hemp for saturated fats can reduce the risk of sudden cardiac arrest and fatal cardiac arrhythmia, as well as reduce blood cholesterol levels and decrease the cellular buildup in arteries associated with atherosclerosis. Hemp also contains phytosterols, which have been shown to reduce total blood cholesterol by an average of 10 percent and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by an average of 13 percent.
Hemp for Brain Health
Because EFAs make up a large portion of the brain, hemp is especially beneficial for brain health, particularly memory function. Membrane loss of EFAs has been found in such disorders as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Research has shown that a diet with a proper balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids such as in hemp oil may help delay or reduce the neurological effects of these diseases and improve quality of life.
Hemp for Skin Health
The critical importance of EFAs for healthy skin makes hemp seed oil a highly effective skin care and cosmetic product. Its lipid constituents allow it to permeate through the skin and nourish skin cells directly. For this reason, hemp oil is beneficial for skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. For the health of skin and hair, nourishing and balancing hemp oil is now added to a multitude of soaps, shampoos, skin lotions, lip balms, conditioners and other natural skin-care products.
The Chinese and other great civilizations of the world valued this plant for its marvellous versatility. Let us rediscover its forgotten health benefits. If properly understood and accepted, hemp can resume its rightful role in nourishing the body and preventing disease.