Few natural food sources have withered as much confusion, controversy and misinformation (and lack of information) as hemp – which is unfortunate, and even ironic, given that it is one of the world’s most perfect foods.
Actually, it goes far beyond food, as this super-plant has also been used for centuries as a wonderful source of fibers for clothing and accessories, soaps and oils, and much more. It's even rumored to be the world's "oldest food" consumed by modern man.
But even despite the recent hemp boom which has hit the nutrition & supplements world over the last year, few still know just how impressive this plant is, or that it may qualify as one of the best brain health-boosting & anti-aging foods on the planet.
Have you been seeing more and more health foods, snacks, nutrition bars, oils, breads and other products on the shelves with the word “hemp!” on the packaging? Protein powder that “now includes hemp greens!”, cereals with hemp seeds, hemp drink mixes, hemp bathing oils and soaps? Thanks to a recent explosion of legal hemp growing largely based in Canada (hemp has been legal to grow in Canada since 1998), a version of this plant – and more specifically, the seeds of the plant, has become what many believe to be the next revolution in health foods, based on its rather staggering nutritional profile.
But before we get into exactly why hemp is such a perfect food (and specifically, a perfect brain health food), let’s clear up any misconceptions you might have regarding the hemp seeds legally sold and used in foods compared to its (illegal) other incarnation.
The hemp available today in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and UK is based on a naturally selected strain of the plant, cannabis sativa, which produces effectively no measurable THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana. By law, this Canadian-grown hemp must contain less than .01% THC, which means that no, you cannot get “high” from eating even large amounts of these hemp food products, including the straight seeds or ground powders.
While there may still be some lingering errata with regard to trace amounts of THC showing up on drug tests in some very isolated cases in which persons consumed hemp, the analogy of someone eating a poppyseed bagel and worrying about the trace amounts of opium from the poppy seeds comes to mind.
Bottom line: these hemp food products are THC-free (which is also why they are legal). So put any pot-related misinformation, stereotypes, concerns or fears aside, straighten out your friends and family on the subject, and read on about just why this plant deserves unprecedented attention when it comes to your health as you age...
The nutritional profile of hemp is perhaps the biggest reason for its recent (and historical) praise as one of nature’s truly perfect foods: high in protein, rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (with an uncannily perfect ratio of omega-6-to-omega-3, almost too good to be true), rich in chlorophyll and the green plant phytonutrients like the best green leafy vegetables possess, low in carbs/sugars, high in fiber.
And it tastes great, with a nutty flavor that blows away flax and soy. No soy estrogens or the other negative properties which can make soy inappropriate for some people. Did we mention the extremely high amounts (and perfect balanced profile) of essential fatty acids, which are particularly important for brain health, memory, mood, and concentration?
Let’s look at some of the specifics:
- Shelled hemp seed contains 33 percent pure digestible protein and is rich in iron and vitamin E as well as omega-3 and GLA. A recent report funded by the Canadian government states that hemp protein is comprised of 66 percent high-quality edistin protein, and that hempseed contains the highest percentage of this of any plant source. Hemp also contains three times the vitamin E contained in flax.
- Good fats: 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.
- Hemp for Heart Health: EFAs are essential for the health of the heart. Numerous studies showthat 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.
- 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.
- 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 list of hemp benefits goes on, and that's not even getting into the topic of how hemp is also an incredible material for clothing, materials, industrial uses, and more -- and completely bio-sustainable, eco-friendly to the planet (unlike synthetic materials).
The foods, products, and what's out there: at BrainReady, we've become huge fans of hemp foods recently, and have been trying many different brands and varieties of hemp foods (always raw, organic, pure hemp however...no hybrids). Many stores now carry shelled hemp seeds, which are a great way to get your hemp -- as you can eat them straight out of the bag, mix with cereals, put into shakes, however you like.
There are also hemp protein powders, which are usually ground hemp seeds concentrated into a powder to provide a high protein, fiber, and all the other benefits in a powder form that is easily mixed with liquids such as juice or water (and are great after a workout!). Then there's even "hemp milk", similar to packaged soy milk (same form factor and idea as soy milk cartons, but with hemp instead of soy), which have become our replacement for soy milk recently. There are hemp nut butters (very tasty!), and of course, hemp oils (much like flax oil).
A few of our favorites that we've tried (with links):
Living Harvest Raw Organic Hemp Seeds: these are wonderful eaten straight, or mixed with other cereals. Great nutty taste! Our new breakfast favorite.
Living Harvest Hemp Protein Powder: the concentrated, high-protein ground hemp that has become our new post-workout recovery favorite. We mix it with water and drink, but you can also mix it with juice or other beverage if you prefer. Incredible combo of protein, EFA's, branch chain aminos, fiber, wow!
Manitoba Harvest Hemp Seed Butter: this tasty stuff is our new peanut butter. Great on organic whole grain toast, on crackers, or straight!
Nutiva Organic Shelled Hemp: this 5-pound bag is definitely the best, most economical way to get ultra-high quality organic hemp seed...which we use as the basis for cereals, for adding to salads, anything. Hemp is definitely something you want to buy in bulk, and this is a good way to do it particularly as most stores do NOT carry this one, so get it online.
Nutiva Organic Hemp Oil: the best hemp oil we've tried, and this deal (via Amazon.com) is great because you get two bottles for the retail price of one. Hemp oil is great on toast, salads, vegetables, and yes, you can use it on your skin (save money on the expensive anti-aging skin lotioons and try hemp oil...it's incredible).
In summary, hemp is an incredible brain health & anti-aging nutritional powerhouse -- but it's also so much more. Suffice to say that we've made it a dietary staple at BrainReady and are feeling better than ever.
- The BrainReady Team
(What do you think of the hemp explosion? Share your thoughts, questions and comments.)