Whole Foods Market has always had its finger on the pulse of food trends, so when the company asked its global buyers and experts to name the hottest food trends, the inclusion of hemp was a major endorsement.
“Hemp hearts, seeds and oils are nothing new to food and body care lovers — they’re in everything from waffle mix to dried pastas,” read the Whole Foods report. “Even baby hemp leaves have had their moment in the microgreens trends. But a new interest in the potential benefits stemming from other parts of hemp plants has many brands looking to explore the booming cannabis biz…. It’s clear that hemp-derived products are going mainstream, if not by wide distribution, then by word of mouth!”
Hemp, a non-psychoactive member of the cannabis family, is a super-botanical whose seeds, stems, leaves, flowers and roots are packed with nutrients that can improve daily life. The following is a breakdown of the nutrients and how they help.
Essential Fatty Acids
Cold-pressed hemp seeds produce what the 1993 book Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill described as “nature’s most perfectly balanced oil.” The seeds feature generous amounts of essential fatty acids like alpha-linolenic (omega-3) and gamma-linolenic (omega-6). The human body does not produce these polyunsaturated fats on its own, so they must be consumed through food and supplements like those in the image below. Among their many benefits, omega-3s may improve eye health and brain function and reduce mental health and heart disease risk, while omega-6s boost healthy HDL and lower unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels. Hemp boasts an ideal 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which is particularly helpful for vegans who do not consume fish or animal proteins.
Hemp seed oil hydrates, moisturizes and protects the skin. A 2014 study concluded that hemp seed oil is an “excellent choice for nourishing the skin and protecting it from inflammation, oxidation and other causes of aging,” while other studies suggest it’s anti-bacterial and provides sun protection by helping block UV-A and UV-B rays. Other skin-related studies suggest hemp seed oil can help increase moisture content, skin thickness, and collagen and elastic fibers; decrease dryness, redness, itchiness and irritation; and repair the outer layer of the skin. Simply eating hemp seeds might even promote healthier skin, so imagine the benefits when applied directly to the skin as a face cream. Note: The best hemp beauty products prioritize seed oil, not CBD, which has limited beauty benefits.
Cannabinoids are compounds that bind to specific types of receptors in the body and produce a variety of potential responses. Hemp contains little or no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound famous for getting people high, but it does contain healthy amounts of cannabidiol (CBD), which is considered “a potential therapeutic agent due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-tumor, neuroprotective, and potential anti-obesity properties.” Other potentially beneficial cannabinoids found in hemp include cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN) and cannabicyclol (CBL). Preliminary research suggests these compounds have a bright future, and ongoing research will soon tell us more.
Free radicals can damage cells through oxidative stress, but hemp seeds can help prevent or reduce the negative effects. As noted in the Antioxidants journal in 2019, “Hemp seed is also rich in natural antioxidants such as phenolic compounds, tocopherols, and phytosterols, which may play a role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases, including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, lipid metabolism, cardiovascular health, immunomodulatory effects, dermatological diseases, and gastrointestinal disorders…. The predominant phenolics in hemp seeds are simple and complex lignanamides, which display interesting and diverse biological activities, including feeding deterrent activity, insecticidal effects, and anti-inflammatory activity. Other bioactive compounds of the hempseed oily fraction are tocopherols, which act as antioxidants and prevent the oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids.”
Hemp has long been prized as a high-quality source of plant-based protein. By weight, hemp seeds provide about as much protein as beef and lamb, and the leaves contain five times more protein than lettuce. A single serving of hemp seeds, about two heaping tablespoons, provides 10 grams of protein. Per this 2009 hemp review, “Hemp seed protein is composed of 65% high-quality edestin protein, the most potent protein of any plant source, with the remaining 35% provided by albumin protein and essential amino acids. Hemp seeds contain all 9 essential amino acids (AAs), with a high concentration of sulfur-containing AAs (methionine and cysteine), which are usually low in vegetable proteins.”
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are substances your body needs to grow and develop normally, and hemp is packed full of both. Hemp is especially rich in B vitamins, including thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, folate and pyridoxine, as well as C, D, E and carotene. Likewise, the mineral content includes phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron and zinc.
Like cannabinoids, terpenes are another class of hemp compounds that studies suggest may have health and wellness benefits. Terpenes are plant-based hydrocarbons with aromatic qualities, and common hemp terpenes include the mango-like myrcene, the lavender-ish linalool, the citrusy limonene, and the pine needle-rich a-pinene. Ongoing studies will provide more information on what specific benefits terpenes offer, but this 2020 study suggests they might help with issues like pain, inflammation and liver health.
The fiber-loaded stalks of the hemp plant might not be edible, but hemp seeds are! Whole seeds (“unhulled”) are packed with soluble and insoluble fiber primarily in their shells. The soft inner-kernel of the seed contains significantly less fiber, so opt for whole seeds over de-hulled or shelled seeds when possible. Studies suggest high-fiber diets can help with weight management, gut health and blood sugar levels.
The Journal of Dietary Supplements published a study in 2020 found that hemp supplementation helps with everything from stress response to sleep, but one of the notable findings was an improvement in “perceived life pleasure.” When seeking to maximize the potential benefits of hemp, though, QUALITY MATTERS. The best of the best comes from pesticide-free, non-GMO organic plants grown in the United States. Settle for nothing less.