While hemp fiber has long been used to make clothing, shoes, paper, and accessories like wallets and belts, its recent uses in the food industry have been getting lots of favorable attention. Touted as “the new flax,” hemp’s popularity seems to be more than just a fad.
One reason for all of the attention is hemp’s versatility. You can eat the raw seeds, add them to smoothies or salads or baked goods,grind them into flour, or make them into hemp milk. In addition, you can eat the fresh leaves in salads. Several food manufacturers have leveraged this versatility by creating numerous hemp products; these include cereals, granola, frozen waffles, nut butters, hemp oil, protein and meal replacement powders, and varieties of flavored non-dairy milks and ice cream-like frozen desserts.
Another (and more compelling) reason for the attention is hemp’s numerous nutritional benefits. The hemp nut (the inside of the hemp seed) is an excellent source of protein and provides 10 essential amino acids. While the hemp nut does not contain as much protein as a soybean, it does tend to be more easily digested than other vegetable proteins. The hemp nut also contains healthy oils, most of which are essential fatty acids (EFAs) in both omega-6 (linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid) and omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid and stearidonic acid) forms. In comparison, flax seed does not contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in hemp is roughly 3:1; experts consider this to be the optimum ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the diet, making hemp a good food choice for reversing the imbalance caused an overabundance of omega-6 EFAs in most North American diets. Other nutrients in hemp include magnesium, beta-carotene, calcium, fiber, iron, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamin.
As a healthy food with so many uses, hemp’s popularity in food products is well founded. When you also consider that hemp seeds are safe for people with allergies to tree nuts, soy, and dairy, the scale tips even further in favor of this superfood.
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