It seems like every few weeks, a new superfood sprouts up and works its way into health food stores. This includes several seeds, the latest one being Hemp. It belongs to the cannabis family and is commonly confused with marijuana, even though the two plants are quite different. Hemp contains less than 1 per cent of the psychoactive drug while marijuana contains up to 20 per cent or more.
Hemp has been used for food and fibre from the start of human history. While hemp seeds are grown in many parts of the world, its major producers include Canada, France, and China. Hemp, the seed of Cannabis sativa L, has been an important source of nutrition for thousands of years in Old World cultures. In several Western countries, hemp seeds and oil are gradually making a comeback.
Its special health benefits are being recognised by scientific studies. The value of hemp seeds lies in their exceptionally high levels (30 per cent) and quality of protein, second to soybean. Interestingly, unlike soybean, hemp seeds do not contain phytic acid (an anti-nutrient that prevents us from absorbing essential minerals like iron). The protein quality is high with all essential amino acids. The globulin and albumin are the chief constituents, which are easily digestible forms of proteins. Hemp seeds are high in Arginine, an essential amino acid known to improve heart health and protect from heart disease.
Besides being a good source of proteins, Hemp seeds are also an excellent source of fibre and good-quality fat, predominantly poly-unsaturated fats and essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids boost immunity, improve brain function, possess anti-inflammatory properties, protect against heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, asthma, psoriasis, PMS and certain types of cancer. High fibre content of Hemp seeds helps maintain good digestive health, heart health and blood sugar levels within range. Hemp seeds are also rich in Vitamin E and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur and calcium.
Clinical trials have identified hempseed oil as a functional food, and animal studies demonstrate the long-standing utility of hempseed as an important food source. Studies in the recent past have shown that consuming Hemp seeds, whether raw or in oil form, have the capacity to aid in the healing process of diseases related to immune deficiency. A recent animal study reported that Hemp seeds possess strong anti-hypertensive properties and can be used as a therapeutic agent for both the prevention and treatment of hypertension.
Due to their high fat content, Hemp seeds may quickly go rancid, therefore, they are best kept in a cool place and used quickly. Heating Hemp seeds will destroy their nutritional benefits, so add these to your food after cooking. They may be roasted and sprinkled on your salads, soups, breakfast cereals or added to your yogurt or smoothies. Their creamy texture and nutty taste blends well with cakes, cookies and desserts.
Hemp seeds are considered allergy-free and safe and are not known to cause any interactions with common medications except for anti-coagulants. However, pregnant and lactating women should be cautious about including these in their diets: you must consult your nutritionist or doctor first.