Yes, these little seeds do come from the same plant species as pot – Cannabis Sativa – but they don’t contain the active ingredient that gets you stoned, sorry! As of April 2017, hemp seeds have been approved for sale in Australia by the food and ingredient regulator Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ). Touted as a cure for cravings, digestion aid and as an ingredient that can help lower blood pressure, hemp seeds are looking to be the next superfood that will hit mainstream fast. But is there any evidence in these claims and what does hemp actually contribute nutritionally.
Hemp seeds contain a lot of strong nutritional components that can play a role in improving the quality of our diets. To start, they contain a very high content of plant protein – 1 tablespoon contains around 11g of protein. To compare, one egg has around 6g and a glass of milk (250ml) around 5g. For vegetarians and vegans, hemp seed is an alternative to meat. Like all seeds, the fat content is also high – around 45%. But the fats in hemp seeds are mostly omega 3’s, the healthy fats that help reduce the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and possibly protect against heart disease.
There are many claims being associated with hemp seed as being a wonder drug for cravings, blood pressure and digestion. Don’t be fooled. Many come with unsubstantiated evidence and outrageous claims based on studies using small sample groups over short amounts of time. There simply isn’t enough evidence out there on the use of hemp seed and health impacts to date. But what they can do is provide good bang for your buck so to speak – a boost of quality nutrients in a small dose.
Other nutrients found in abundance in these seeds are Vitamin E and D. Not many foods contain vitamin D with the majority produced in our skin from exposure to sunlight. During winter when we don’t get a lot of sunlight, vitamin D levels can drop to deficiency levels. Finding quality dietary sources can assist to keep vitamin D status optimal during the darker colder months.
Another component found in hemp seeds are phytosterols. These are naturally occurring food chemicals that help to lower cholesterol. Food manufacturers make a range of cholesterol lowering products like milk and margarine that contain plant ‘sterols’. When consumed in the dose prescribed, the sterols have been shown to reduce cholesterol. Another great reason to include these nutritional powerhouses.
If you’re wanting to include hemp seeds, do it to add variety and all the positive nutrients it provides, not for the claims that come associated with it. Sprinkle on salads, add to home made dried fruit bars, stir through porridge or add to muesli or toss through stir-fry’s of an evening. Whatever your fancy, a little will go a long way. Being high in fats, particularly omega 3’s, hemp seeds have a short shelf life and can go rancid quickly. Be sure to purchase small amounts at a time to prevent this from happening. Rancid hemp seeds will take on a fishy smell and change the taste profile dramatically.
A small bag of hemp seeds will set you back around $10 for 100-120g. Not a cheap food but when you look at the nutrients you get for it – a lot better quality and value than a supplement.
Give them a go. It’s for variety, of course 🙂
Jennifer Madz, Senior Dietitian