Pubdate: Mon, 01 Jul 2002
Source: Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition (Canada)
Author: Gero Leson
Bookmark: (Hemp - Outside U.S.)
Note: The author of Leson Environmental Consulting in Berkeley, Calif., has
worked for more than 15 years as an environmental scientist and industry
consultant in Germany and the United States.


"Most people don't know hemp seeds as a traditional food staple documented in
China as far back as 1500 BC."

Health food aficionados could not have overlooked the recent grocery shelf
appearance of hemp foods: pure hemp oil, salad dressings, nutrition bars, corn
chips, nut butter and the basic material, the hulled hemp seeds, or hemp nuts.
What's in these foods, and why would we want to eat them?

By definition, hemp foods contain the seeds or oil of the hemp plant, Cannabis
sativa. Familiar to us as birdseed, most people do not know hemp seeds as a
traditional major food staple documented in China as far back as 1500 BC. Legal
to grow in Canada since 1998--following a 60-year prohibition--health-conscious
eaters in North America and Europe are now rediscovering that these seeds have
what it takes to make healthy and tasty foods.

Like other oil seeds, the meat of hulled hemp seeds consists mainly of fat and
protein, with a topping of vitamins, phytosterols, trace minerals, dietary
fibre and other carbohydrates. Most oil seeds contain plenty of omega-6
essential fatty acids but little to no omega-3s. Health agencies recommend that
we eat EFAs in an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of about four to one, whereas
western diets typically have ratios of 10 and more. In other words, we're
getting way too many omega-6 EFAs.

With their omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of only about three, hemp seeds and oil
beat the target ratio of four and make up for omega-3 deficiency in the
remainder of our fat supply. Hemp oil also provides small amounts of other
highly polyunsaturated fatty acids, notably gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which
has known therapeutic benefits. Similarly, hemp seed protein contains all
essential amino acids in a ratio closer to that of "complete" protein sources
(meat, milk, eggs) than for other oil seeds, except soy beans. Hemp seed
protein is readily digestible and appears to be free of anti-nutrients that
interfere with protein uptake.

The composition of hemp seeds makes them particularly valuable in athletic
nutrition. More than 20 per cent of their fatty acids are triple-unsaturated
and readily available for energy production. The excellent omega-6 to omega-3
ratio and plentiful vitamin E content promote healing of inflammatory injuries
and bruises, while the digestibility of hemp protein supports muscle buildup.

It is this beneficial balance of basic nutrients and the fact that they are
"offered in taste" that make hemp seeds and oil such attractive, modern food
sources. They add a nutty element to salads, soups, sauces, dips and pastry. My
favourite quick snack is toasted hemp nuts with a bit of soy sauce. Those with
a sweet tooth will find that they enrich puddings, jams and other sweet

In the United States, the revival of hemp foods has met with objections by
federal drug control authorities. Botanically closely related to marijuana,
hemp seed hulls contain small residues of THC, marijuana's major psychoactive
component. Farming of low-THC varieties and thorough seed cleaning has allowed
Canadian farmers to reduce THC in oil and nuts to low parts per million levels.
Several studies have shown that these levels are far too low to cause a high,
undesirable health effects or positive drug tests, even when someone eats large
amounts of hemp foods daily. Fortunately, joint media pressure and court action
by Canadian and US industry members appear effective in removing irrational
hurdles to the revival of a traditional, complete and tasty food source grown
in Canada.

MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk