By Emily Ledger
What we eat, and how it is sourced, is increasingly playing on our consciences. Both for health and environmental reasons, more of us are eager to find nutritious and more sustainable alternatives to our diet staples. There is one plant that has the potential to meet the requirements for both nutrition and sustainability – hemp.
Hemp has been stigmatised for decades thanks to its unshakeable association with marijuana. Often bundled together with its psychoactive cousin, the environmental and nutritional values of hemp are often overlooked. The most nutritional part of the plant is the seed – which can be eaten alone or used to make milk and oil. Hemp seed oil shouldn’t be confused with CBD oil, which is a concentrated oil from the plant.
Meat-free and vegan diets are often criticised for supposedly not supplying all essential nutrients. This usually refers to a lack of protein supply, as the human body is known to absorb proteins found in meat more effectively plant proteins. However, this is down to the ‘phytates’ found in plants, which can interfere with protein absorption.
Hemp also contains all 10 essential amino acids (proteins). This is rare in a plant food source, and the absence of phytates means that the body effectively absorbs these proteins.
Although fish is considered to be the most effective source of omega-3 fatty acids, hemp also contains numerous essential fatty acids. In comparison to fish, the absorption of omega-3 from Hemp is fairly low. However, it is a great source of other fatty acids that are converted into key biological chemicals. This makes it a great source of these nutrients for people who don’t eat fish.
Vitamins and Minerals
As well as being an excellent source for essential fatty acids and proteins, hemp also contains a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals. The plant is high in vitamin E, which helps to maintain healthy skin and hair, as well as iron, which is essential for healthy blood.
Other Useful Nutrients
The plant contains compounds called phytosterols, which are useful in reducing cholesterol levels. Additionally, hemp seeds are a great source of magnesium – a critical nutrient that plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body.
Incorporating Hemp Into Your Diet
Hemp seeds can be eaten on their own, as part of a salad, baked in bread, or pressed for their oil. You can purchase a variety of forms of the plant from health shops and online.
Hemp oil is one of the most commonly used food products made from the plant. It can be used for salad dressings and to make sauces among lots of other things. However, it is recommended that Hemp oil is not used for frying, as this may compromise the fatty acids, converting them to saturated fats. (This usually doesn’t occur until temperatures exceed 200°C).
Made from Hemp seed oil, water, and sweeteners, Hemp milk is a great dairy-free alternative. Not only is it healthier than dairy milk, as it contains less saturated fats, it is also a great source of a more varied range of nutrients.