Hemp is an excellent nutritional source of Omega–3 and 6 and amino acids, including the eight essential ones. The presence of these nutrients helps regulate such common conditions as: cardiac function, insulin balance, mood stability, skin and joint health.
Omega–3 and 6 and amino acids are not made by the body so they need to be acquired through the diet. Hemp seed is processed into oil, protein powder or hulled or shelled seed and can be used in the daily diet to deliver an excellent source of these nutrients.
There are many different healthy hemp products available today that provide an excellent source of nutrients. These produces include: lactose–free milk, salad dressings, protein powders, dips and nutrient bars to name a few.
See our hemp recipes section for delicious food preparation ideas.
For pet health: Hemp is a healthy vegetable protein for animals, contributing to overall health and vitality and a rich sheen to the coat. Cats, dogs, cows and horses have all been fed hemp as a supplement. As chum, hemp is used as angler’s bait. Hemp seed is also excellent feed for birds – from chickens to songbirds to racing pigeons.
Nutritional Profile and Benefits of Hempseed, Nut and Oil
By Gero Leson & Petra Pless
Hemp foods are expanding onto the shelves of grocery and natural food stores across North America. By definition, these are foods containing hempseed oil, whole seeds, &l t; Available hemp food products currently include salad dressings, nutrition bars, bread, cookies, granola, nut butter, corn chips, pasta, ice cream and cold pressed oil supplements. These products are not sold for the “hemp cachet” alone; manufacturers promote hemp foods for their exceptional nutritional benefits. Examining the composition of hempseed will help explain these benefits.
Like other oil seeds, the hemp nut; i.e., hulled seed, consists mainly of oil (typically 45%), protein (35%), and dietary fibre and other carbohydrates (10%, predominantly stemming from residues of the hull).
Composition of hemp nut
In addition, the nut contains vitamins particularly the tocopherols and tocotrienols of the Vitamin E complex, hytosterols and trace minerals. Overall, hemp’s main nutritional advantage over other seeds lies in the composition of its oil; i.e., its fatty acid profile, and in its protein that contains all of the essential amino acids in nutritionally significant amounts and in a desirable ratio.
Most oil seeds contain plenty of linoleic acid (LA), an essential fatty acid (EFA) from the “Omega–6” family, yet they offer little alpha–linolenic acid (ALA), the other EFA from the “Omega–3” family. Health agencies around the world agree that humans should ingest these EFAs in an Omega–6/3 ratio of about 4. Since seed oil and fats in meat, both low in Omega–3, account for most of our fat intake, Western diets typically have Omega–6/3 ratios of 10 and more, which is far too rich in Omega–6. Recent clinical research continues to identify this imbalance as a cofactor in a wide range of common illnesses: cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, diabetes, skin and mood disorders. A 1999 workshop by the U.S. National Institute of Health demonstrated the impressive benefits of a balanced Omega–6/3 ratio in our diet: reduced risk of atherosclerosis, sudden cardiac death and certain types of cancers, decrease in the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, mood improvement in bipolar disorders, and optimized development in infants.
In clinical studies, these benefits are often achieved using Omega–3 rich fish and flaxseed oil supplements. A more “holistic” approach is to shift our general dietary fat intake towards nuts and oil with a better Omega–6/3 ratio. Hemp nut and oil offer, varying somewhat with plant variety, Omega–6/3 ratios of 3 and less. This exceeds the target ratio of 4 and compensates in part for Omega–3 deficiencies in the rest of our diet. No other vegetable oil that can be used for so much of our cooking (up to 300º F) offers EFAs at such high levels in a desirable Omega–6/3 ratio.
Typical fatty acid composition of vegetable oils
Hemp oil also provides significant amounts of the “super” polyunsaturated fatty acids, notably gamma–linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA). These are not essential themselves, but our body only naturally produces them from the LA and ALA essential fatty acids, respectively. Supplementation with GLA and SDA appears to alleviate the symptoms of atopic dermatitis and other skin diseases in some patients treated with black currant seed oil, which has a similar fatty acid profile to hempseed oil, but is much more expensive and difficult to find. Clinical trials of the putative benefits from ingested hempseed oil are currently under way at the University of Kuopio in Finland to assess the extent of these potential benefits. GLA and SDA content in hempseed vary considerably with variety and this needs to be considered when using hempseed oil to alleviate such symptoms. Hempseed oil typically contains less than 10% of saturated fatty acids. Unlike other more sensitive oils like flaxseed, hemp oil can be heated up to 150° C (300° F) for prolonged periods of time for cooking or baking purposes, without forming hydrogenated (hardened) or refined trans–fatty acids, known to be particularly detrimental to the blood cholesterol balance.
The hemp nut protein is also of exceptional high quality relative to amino acid (AA) composition and the protein structure, the latter affecting digestibility and utilization of protein by our body. Hemp protein contains all of the essential amino acids in nutritionally significant amounts at a ratio closer to “complete” sources of protein (like meat, milk, eggs) than all other oil seeds except soy beans. Hemp nut protein consists of two globular proteins, albumin (1/3) and edestine (2/3), with a structure very similar to proteins manufactured in our blood, and are thus readily digestible. Hemp nut protein appears to be free of antinutrients, which are found in soy to interfere with protein uptake. Thus, eating hempseed or nuts delivers protein with an AA composition as we need it and in a structure readily utilized.
Hemp’s nutritional advantage over other sources of fats and protein thus lies in its highly desirable balance of basic nutrients. Simply put, when eating hempseed, nut and/or oil, our body obtains much of what it needs without the caloric ballast of non–essential nutrients. Yet, unlike fish and flax oil supplements and protein powders, properly processed hempseed offers these benefits “in taste;” i.e., with a nice flavour profile. Fresh cold pressed hempseed oil and hemp nuts, particularly when toasted, add a nice nutty flavour to many dishes and off the shelf food products. Thus, hemp nut and oil are attractive both nutritionally and culinarily, rendering them truly modern food sources.
Gero Leson, D.Env. is an environmental scientist and consultant with extensive experience in food and fibre uses of hemp and other renewable resources.
We are drawing on the many cooking talents sprinkled throughout Canada’s hemp industry for the selection of recipes for HempTrade.ca. Whether your tastes are refined or you prefer simple meals, hemp’s wonderful nutrition can he harnessed at home for almost any kind of meal or snack.
Hemp is a very flexible and easy to use ingredient and these are only some of the delicious uses that have been cooked up by Canada’s hemp gourmets.
Hemp is certainly a versatile ingredient, but the oil and hulled seed forms should not be heated to high temperatures. Because it has a low smoke point, like flaxseed oil and other highly unsaturated oils, it has the ability to change from good fat to bad fat with high temperatures thus counteracting its health benefits. So use raw when possible. A good rule of thumb: if it’s too hot to eat, it’s too hot for hemp.
Hemp textiles and apparel are one of the most enduring and ancient uses of hemp and one of the most well known.
Well–made hemp garments are known to last for years. Hemp fabric is naturally resistant to UV light, mold and mildew, and if treated, to salt water (for centuries hemp was used for the sails and rigging on ocean–going ships). It also is a very breathable fabric and naturally comfortable.
Compared to cotton, which cannot be grown in Canada, hemp is stronger and requires less toxic chemicals and fresh water to grow and manufacture. In recent years, it has become a popular practice to blend hemp with other fabrics, notably with organic cotton, which adds a stretch to the strength of hemp as well a pleasant softness. Hemp has also been blended with linen with comfortable results.
For these reasons, hemp garments will remain a “traditional” use of hemp fibre in the modern world.
While hemp is grown across Canada, there is currently no domestic manufacturing of hemp fabrics because of technical and trade reasons. Most textiles are imported for China or eastern Europe, and the garments are fabricated domestically. “Dirt to shirt” hemp garment production in Canada may be a feasible ambition, as new technologies are refined and become available, which will optimize the costs of production and as well, produce even better and more desirable fibres.
Hemp textiles and garments are found in casual wear, such as caps, hats, shirts, trousers and sweaters, as well as designer garments, with hemp selected specifically for its exceptional utilities. If made with care and quality, hemp fabric can satisfy the most demanding of manufacturers.
Hemp is well known for being good for the body whether you eat it, or you use it in a soap, hair care or cosmetic product. Based on hemp oil, natural cosmetics and body care items were among the first grown–in–Canada products to be made widely available to the North American public.
The gamut of healthy hemp body products include shampoos, conditioner, hand & body lotions, bath and massage oil, moisturizing cream, and lip balms.
As hemp seed oil is one of the world’s richest sources of polyunsaturated fats, including both of the essential fatty acids (Omega–3 and Omega–6) and GLA (gamma linolenic acid), it is an excellent natural emollient and moisturizer. Body care products containing hemp seed oil can reduce skin discomfort by soothing and restoring dry or damaged skin. They also increase the skin’s natural ability to retain moisture.
With regular use, body care products containing hemp seed oil can help slow down the effects of skin aging and leave the skin smooth, soft and moisturized.
Some of the most popular hemp body care products include:
Hemp soap is made by many different companies, ranging from international chains to cottage soap makers selling direct at farmer’s markets. There is excellent diversity and some very nice choices for the consumer. Hemp soaps are available in bar and liquid forms, utilizing a range of very interesting and pleasurable recipes.
Hemp seed oil provides the proper balance of essential nutrients needed for strong healthy hair. Hair is often damaged and stripped of its natural lipid coating by harsh shampoos, leaving hair dry, brittle and lacking luster. In hair care products, hemp seed oil imparts gloss and manageability to hair, bringing relief from dry scalp or hair damage by blow–dryer heat, chemical perms, colouring or sunlight.
Hemp lip balm is a very popular choice to smooth and moisturize dry, chapped and cracked lips; now used by snowboarders, athletes, resource workers and lovers worldwide.
Hemp fibre is a bast fibre similar to flax, kenaf, jute and ramie. All bast fibre plants have long slender primary fibres (bast fibres) on the outer portion of the stalk as well as wood–like inner core fibres.
The technical characteristics of hemp fibre leads to its use in innovative as well as traditional fibre products.
Bast fibres are usually used for textiles (including carpets and clothing) and industrial uses, such as geotextiles, erosion control blankets, and composite reinforcements and fillers – the largest biggest current and future use for hemp fibre. The high strength and economical features of hemp fibre make it a sought after replacement for fiberglass and synthetics in a range of molded composites including: car parts, construction materials and also consumer goods.
Advantages of using hemp for fibre in industry include: excellent physical properties in strength and modulus, cost effectiveness in composite and paper applications and increasing availability. A wide range of fibre formats and qualities are now possible. Hemp fibres can be fabricated to be lighter, stronger and cheaper than fiberglass.
The wood–like inner core fibre of the hemp plant can be used for animal bedding (animals don’t eat it and it is highly absorbent), garden mulch, and an assortment of building materials such as hempcrete.
Hemp’s use in industry is also attractive because it can be grown and manufactured in accordance with sustainable and ecological principles.
The economic reality of hemp is that hemp cannot necessarily compete with waste products (wood, straw, stover etc.) on price. Products such as biofuels or Medium Density Fiberboard are technically possible, but competitively cost–challenged. Hemp is valued between 4–10 times that of waste fibres so it must find its way to the right products markets and products.
However, with the rising cost of resources worldwide, hemp is becoming more economically competitive. In particular, hemp could replace many bioproducts of petroleum, including plastics and composites products.
A processing challenge for the hemp industry has been that while every other industry has developed since 1938, hemp has not had the chance or the funding to develop the infrastructure to process the harvested raw material into usable and valuable raw materials. Establishing commercial processing for hemp fibres is, in some ways, a game of catch up.
Hemp cements, or hempcretes, made from mixes of core fibre and minerals such as lime and sand, have been used in construction throughout Europe as an alternative to concrete. Knowledge of the technique is not yet widespread in North America. Access to suitable clean fibre in affordable amounts has been another issue. Hemp bales have also been used in straw baling. Hemp fiberboard and insulation can also be manufactured but is not commercially produced and must be imported. As a concrete replacement, hemp is held to be superior in insulation values, strength, and breathability. Given growing North American demand for energy efficient and eco homes, these aspects of hemp are exciting.
Using hemp for paper relieves pressure on forests, and helps protect habitat and wildlife. Hemp has low lignin content; depending on grade and process, pulping hemp can require less bleach, a major pulp pollutant in the water supply. Hemp fibres also add longer life to recycled fibres, likely the biggest potential use of hemp in the paper sector in the future.
Hemp could be used to produce alternative including biodiesel and ethanol. Seed, straw and chaff can all be used, though the process varies depending on which feedstock is used. There is technical debate on the viability of using hemp seed for this application. Hemp seed is high valued, so cost is also not attractive. As hemp is a biomass champion, using the cellulose as a source of the sugars used in creating alternative fuels has greater potential. There is arguably greater potential with hemp biomass to create energy for power plants and industry.
Hemp is grown and processed into an increasing number of uses. Currently the Canadian hemp industry’s focus is on industrial fibres and hemp seed products. Because of large availability of other fibres, perceived costs of production & hemp’s limited acreage to date, hemp is not widely used for many potential products, despite the strong technical benefits. However, as research, design and testing cycles progress, and commercial applications are proven, some of hemp’s other many other uses will be manifested.
Briefly, other interesting uses of hemp worth highlighting include:
With plant heights reaching 15’ or more, and large biomass yields, hemp captures high amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. This carbon will be stored in the fibres of the plant. Because of its deep tap root, hemp may also be superior to many other crops in terms of soil sequestration. If hemp fibre is processed into durable, long lasting products, the carbon captured will be retained for the lifespan of the product. For these reasons, hemp could emerge as very important in addressing issues of climate change by acting as a carbon sink: in both the field and in finished industrial and consumer products.
Hemp helps clean up soil by bonding heavy metals to the fibre; some environmental engineers are using it for phytoremediation. Hemp has also been used as a plough down or green manure crop to add Organic Matter to the soil. In terms of crop rotation hemp’s deep root helps aerate the soil if the hemp follows a shallow–rooted row crop: and if left in the field, the leaves from the plant can also add organic matter to benefit soil building and soil life.