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Nutrient - Hemp - not just practical but nutritious too

By Alison Belcourt BA(Hons) DipION MBANT NTCC CNHC

Hemp is one of the oldest cultivated plants known to man. Grown traditionally for the practical uses of hemp fibre, the seed of the plant is now recognised as a “power house” of nutritional goodness. Hemp seeds contain about 30% oil, 25% complete protein and are rich sources of fibre, phyto-sterols, vitamins and minerals, too. Adding them to breakfast cereal or smoothies gives a wonderfully balanced and nutritious start to the day, especially for vegetarians and vegans who also need a complete source of protein in their diet.

The protein that we eat is broken down into amino acids, which are reassembled into human protein molecules, according to our needs. We need protein for structure (muscles, collagen, tendons or ligaments) and to function (cellular instructional proteins, transport proteins, hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters).

The protein contained in hemp seed is “complete” protein. In other words, like animal protein, it contains most of the 22 known amino acids, including the eight essential amino acids that we cannot synthesise in the body and, therefore, have to get in daily amounts from our diet. 

Not only does hemp seed contain complete protein, but it is also a rich source of “globular” proteins called albumin and edestin (from the Greek “edestos”, literally meaning edible). About 65% of hemp protein is edestin. These globular proteins are used to make the functional protein molecules, including the antibodies, which are essential for a healthy immune system. Although we can make these complex protein molecules from the basic amino acids in our diet, they need to be available in the right proportions. So, including proteins like edestin and albumin in our diet supplies all the amino acids in the required amounts, making the process of globulin production much more efficient.   

Eighty per cent of the oils in hemp seed are polyunsaturated and it is an exceptionally rich source of the two essential fatty acids, linolenic acid (omega 6) and alpha linoleic acid (omega 3), provided in a balanced proportion of between 2:1 and 3:1, which is considered optimal for human health.

The special benefit of hemp protein is that it is very easily digested in its raw state, unlike soya protein, which needs to be processed, cooked, sprouted or fermented for us to be able to digest it properly. Hemp is also free from the oligosaccharides found in soya that can produce excess gas and cause digestive discomfort.

So, hemp seed is protein-rich, EFA-rich and fibre-rich, making it a valuable addition to meals where people are trying to balance their blood sugar, build muscle and even lose weight. Unlike soya bean, hemp plants need little pesticide use and thus, have a low environmental impact, with no history of genetic modification. The delicious taste means, unlike whey protein, that there is no need for artificial flavourings and sweeteners.

It’s simply nature’s gift of natural goodness. 

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