Hemp has a pretty bad wrap in conventional circles. Most people associate it with its not so legal cousin Marijuana, and so shun it aside as a bit of an untouchable (or else utilise its "medicinal" capacities but keep it on the sly).
What people don't know are the incredible health benefits of the glorious wee hemp seeds themselves. Not to mention the multitude of uses of the rest of the plant in the clothing, textile, fuel and building industries. Did you know in the 1940's, Henry Ford in fact built a car made completely of hemp plastic and fueled by hemp oil? Meanwhile, the constitution of the United States was drafted on hemp paper, and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hemp farmers. Now that's some heavy-weight support.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that we all go and light up a joint, (although there has been scientific evidence to show the medicinal and healing properties of cannabis). But what most people don't know is that industrial hemp, that is crops grown for food, textiles, and building materials, are completely free of the psychoactive substance THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which makes regular cannabis illegal. Furthermore, THC is contained in the leaf or bud of the Cannabis Sativa plant, not the seeds, making hemp seed derived products completely safe (even for children).
Now that we've cleared away the misconceptions, let's get onto the amazing benefits of the hemp seed itself. Whole hemp seed nuts are made up of ~25% protein (muscle buffs take note), with all 8 essential amino acids making them a complete protein. In a lot of countries hemp protein powder can be sold but only as "animal feed" (despite being human food grade), although that does seem to be changing. Until that time, our favourite way to get the goodies from hemp is to consume the oil - which is 100% legit. Here are five of our favourite benefits of this wonder oil:
1. Complete Source of All Essential Fatty Acids
Hemp seeds contain one of the world's richest sources of essential fatty acids (EFAs). EFAs are the healthy Omega fats that can't be produced by our bodies and therefore must be consumed (thus the term "essential"). They are known for their role in preventing heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, arthritis; encouraging healthy skin, joints, brain & cardiovascular function; improving post-workout recovery, increasing metabolism and promoting fat-burning; and are anti-inflammatory to the body.
Furthermore, hemp seed oil is nature's most perfectly balanced oil, being the only oil to contain the ideal 1:3 ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6, as recommended by the World Health Organisation. In the modern western diet this ratio can be as high as 1:20, which leads to a host of diseases. These Omegas make hemp seed oil a great alternative to flax or chia seed oil, which are also plant-based Omega powerhouses.
Hemp Oil vs Flax & Chia Oil
|per 100ml||Hemp Oil||Flax Oil||Chia Oil|
|Omega 3 (Linolenic Acid/LNA)||17g||50g||57g|
|Omega 6 (Linoleic Acid/LA)||53g||12g||19g|
|Omega 9 (Oleic Acid)||10g||19g||9g|
|Omega 3:6:9 Ratio||1:3:1||4:1:2||6:2:1|
2. Safe Alternative to Mercury Filled, Toxic, Rancid Fish Oil
Given its perfect ratio of Omega 3 to 6 as well as its Omega 9 content, hemp seed oil is a great alternative to fish oil. Fish oil capsules have become very popular of late, and have been marketed hard by supplement companies as the best way to get your daily EFAs.
What they don't mention is the often toxic levels of mercury in these oils, which can cause neurological damage, cognitive impairment, poor fetal development, attention and learning disorders, and more. This is why pregnant woman are told to stay away from fish oil!
In addition, fish oil is highly unstable and has the tendency to go rancid very quickly. You wouldn't leave fish in the fridge for more than a few days, and yet those capsules may have been sitting on a chemist shelf for more than a year. The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research tested capsules from an array of global brands, and discovered that the majority of them had indeed begun to oxidize. This means the potential EFA benefits are lost, and their consumption may cause more harm than good. Health risks associated with rancid fish oil include greater risk of hardening of the arteries and increased blood clotting.
Let's not mention the even more shocking ethical and environmental quandaries the fishing industry is facing right now. The UN is predicting that the current rate of overfishing of our waters will lead to the complete extinction of all sea-life, and the associated bird and wildlife who depend on the oceans for food, in less than 50 years (if you want to learn more, I highly recommend the fantastic documentary "The End of the Line".
3. Excellent Source of Chlorophyll
Another little known benefit of hemp seed oil is that being plant-derived, it is an excellent source of Chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the natural compound contained in dark leafy green vegetables, and one of the main reasons we're told to eat more of them. It cleanses and purifies the blood, makes you feel good, gives you mental clarity, and keeps the body in an alkaline state thus preventing disease.
4. Vitamin E & GLA for Healthy Hair, Skin & Nails
Hemp seed oil is also bursting with vitamin E, with 1 tablespoon providing over 10% of your daily requirement. It additionally contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), the compound found in evening primrose oil. Both of these are great for promoting young, healthy and supple skin, hair and nails, and bright clear eyes.
5. Eczema and Psoriasis
Hemp seed oil is proven to do wonders for people with eczema and psoriasis. Even if you have mildy dry skin areas, a few tablespoons of hemp oil internally as well as rubbing some on the dry spots topically, will help to smooth out rough patches.
Hemp seed oil should always be used raw or at very low temperatures, and stored in the fridge in a dark glass bottle to prevent light-oxidation. Here are 5 of our favourite easy ways to use it:
1. Quick and Easy Hemp Salad Dressing
Mix in a jar: 3 Tbsp hemp seed oil, 1 Tbsp apple cider/balsamic vinegar, 1/4 squeezed lemon + it's grated rind, 1 clove crushed garlic, 2cm grated ginger, pinch sea salt, cracked black pepper, and chopped fresh/dry herbs. Shake and serve, or store in the fridge for up to a week.
2. Herby Hemp Pesto
Blend in a food processor: 1/3c walnuts/pine nuts, 1 large handful basil, 1 large handful parsley, and 2 cloves garlic. Add juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/3c hemp seed oil, 1/4tsp sea salt & pepper to taste. Serve as a a spread on raw crackers or toast, dollop on pizza, or toss through your favourite pasta.
3. Hemp Hummus
Try your favourite hummus recipe with hemp oil instead of olive oil.
4. Make-Up Remover
Wet a cotton ball, put a few drops of hemp oil on it, and use to gently remove mascara and eye makeup. Effective and moisturing. Vitamin E directly on your eye area will help smooth fine lines too.
5. Body Oil
Mix hemp oil with some essential oils such as ylang yang, rose, or neroli, or just use on its own. Slather yourself when you just hop out of the shower while the skin is still damp and porous. It absorbs quickly without feeling greasy.
THIS WEEK'S CHALLENGE FOR YOU:
Give hemp oil a whirl - in a pesto or hummus recipe, as a makeup remover, a body moisturiser, or simply drizzled over your salad.
Let me know what you think.
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Source: WHO, Journal of Nutraceuticals Functional & Medical Foods, UN, The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research.