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Cannabis sativa L.
The first word itself is enough for you to immediately think of marijuana. What you may not know is that Cannabis sativa L. is a plant species and marijuana is just one strain of it. Another strain of the same species is Hemp.

Hemp and marijuana both contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for altered mental state. However, both these are quite unique in their phytochemical composition as well as uses. Hemp has very low concentrations of THC but high concentration of cannabidiol (CBD). This high amount of CBD negates the psychoactive effects of THC. As you can see, these different strains of a single species are poles apart in their functioning in the body[1].

This article discusses more of such interesting facts about the widely undermined food-Hemp seeds.

Know more about Hemp seeds

The seeds of the hemp plant have recently started to be considered as Superfoods. These are small, pale-beige to dark-brown seeds-but don’t be fooled by their size. These tiny seeds are packed with vitamins and minerals and are a powerhouse of various macro nutrients as well.

Nutritional facts

Research shows that hemp seeds are nutritionally excellent foods. Some highlighting nutritional facts about hemp seeds are as follows[2][3]-

1. Rich Source of Proteins & Minerals

The protein content of hemp seeds is comparable with that of soybean and egg white. It contain all essential amino acids, including methionine, which is often absent in other vegetable proteins[4]. They are also a rich source of Vitamin E and major and minor minerals such as sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and sulfur[2].

2. High Arginine

It contains high quantities of the amino acid arginine, which is involved in the production of nitric oxide, which is essential for cardiovascular health. It helps in homeostasis, increase in number of smooth muscle cells, regularisation of blood pressure among other benefits.

3. Ideal Omega Fatty Acids ratio

Hemp seeds have ideal proportion of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids-2:1 and 3:1 which provides maximum benefits to the body.
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The table below gives a comprehensive summary about the important nutrients in hemp seeds:

NutrientValue per 100 gmValue per serving (5 gm)
Energy567 kcal28 kcal
Protein24.8 g1.2 g
Fat35.5 g1.8 g
Carbohydrates27.6 g1.4 g
Dietary Fiber27.6 g1.4 g
Calcium145 mg7.3 mg
Iron14 mg0.7 mg
Vitamin A3800 IU190 IU
Vitamin E90 mg4.5 mg

The following pie represents the mineral content of hemp seeds-
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Health benefits

Having such a nutrient-dense profile, it is no surprise that hemp seeds have myriad health benefits.

4. Cardio-protective action

As mentioned above, hemp seeds contain arginine and a good proportion of omega6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Research suggests that you can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) if you follow a diet that is high in arginine-containing foods. Hemp seeds contain high amounts of Linoleic acid. Studies have also shown a significant reduction in some aspects of the lipid profile on consumption of a diet high in Linoleic acid[2].
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5. Beneficial for skin

Fatty acids help in maintaining healthy cell membranes. Good quality protein ensures repair and maintenance of cells, as well as growth of new ones. Hemp seeds contain all these nutrients in good amounts, thereby making it an ideal food for skin health.

6. Reduction in inflammation

Inflammation can be caused due to a variety of conditions such as arthritis. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and zinc present in hemp seeds help in getting rid of the toxins in the body. They also contain gamma-linolenic acid (GMA), which has anti-inflammatory properties.

7. Alleviates symptoms of arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation and multiplication of the synovial tissues-which are found between joints. A study was conducted to test the effects of hempseed oil on synovial cells, namely, MH7A human RA synovial cells. The results showed that treatment with hempseed oil decreased the survival rates of the MH7A cells and also led to elimination of these cells without releasing harmful substances in the surroundings-known as apoptosis[9]. Thus it is well accepted that hempseed oil can produce anti-rheumatoid effects and benefit people with arthritis.

8. Enhances digestive health

Whole hemp seeds contain a good amount of both-soluble as well as insoluble fibre. Both these are essential for your digestive system to function smoothly. Soluble fibre helps in binding and eliminating the toxins and other harmful substances, while insoluble fibre provides the necessary bulk and roughage for clearing out the system. Hemp hearts are different-in the sense that they do not contain the outer fibrous shell.

A study was conducted to test the efficacy and safety of a proprietary Chinese herbal medicine-Hemp Seed Pill to treat functional constipation. In the 2 phase trial, the participants had a 2 week run-in, 8 week treatment and 8 week follow up. Phase 1 results concluded that a 7.5 g dose was more effective than any other. Phase 2 concluded that this dose was safe and helped to relieve the symptoms of functional constipation in subjects who had a severe problem[5].

9. Neuro protection

Researches published on CBD have concluded that it has various therapeutic properties for brain function and protection. CBD has also shown to mitigate symptoms of stress and depression in the study subjects. It is also being used as ancillary therapy for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease etc[6].

10. Alleviates PMS symptoms

PMS symptoms are caused by elevated prolactin levels or an increased sensitivity to normal levels. It has been seen that prostaglandin E1, which is synthesised from essential fatty acids found in food, helps to diminish the effects of prolactin. GMA-an essential fatty acid precursor of prostaglandin E1 has shown to have highly beneficial effects in treating various symptoms of PMS such as depression, irritability, breast pain and fluid retention[7].

11. Improves sleep

CBD is one of many cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis species, which has shown to have a calming effect on the central nervous system. Effect of CBD in a large case series showed mild improvement in the sleep scores[8]. In addition to this, hemp seeds are a good source of magnesium, which has muscle relaxant properties, which may aid in better sleep.


Healthy ways to incorporate in the diet

Hemp seeds are fast gaining popularity across the country for their health benefits and a yummy nutty flavour.
Various companies are coming up with products such as-
  • Hemp butter
  • Hemp milk
  • Hemp flour
  • Hemp energy bars
  • Hemp seed oil
You can use hemp seeds like chia or flax seeds. You can add them to salads or cereal bowl for an added crunch, add them to your smoothies or make your own granola bars. You can use the hemp butter in place of normal or peanut butter. The hemp oil can be a great salad dressing!

Precautions

Hemp seeds contain only a small amount of THC, but that will not cause any mental alteration. The only thing that needs to be considered is its high fat and protein content. This makes it calorie dense, thus if you are watching your weight, you need to restrict the amount. Also, if you have any underlying medical condition, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider before incorporating it in your regular diet.

Storage

Hemp seeds contain a large amount of PUFA, which is basically unsaturated fatty acids. This makes it highly susceptible to rancidity if not stored properly. Store it in air tight containers, possibly in a cool place. Store only a small quantity at a time to avoid spoilage and wastage.

Quantity

It is recommended that people with a sensitive gut should start off with 1 teaspoon and gradually increase to not more than 2 tablespoons.

References
1. Hemp Defined, supra note 47; see also Nicole M. Keller, Note, The Legalization of Industrial Hemp and What it Could Mean for Indiana’s Biofuel Industry, 23 IND. INT’L & COMP. L. REV. 555, 557 (2013) (explaining that industrial hemp’s high cannabidiol concentration in fact blocks the psychoactive effects of THC).
2. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2868018/#!po=9.37500
3. fao.org/fsnforum/sites/default/files/discussions/contributions/Hempseed_as_a_nutritional_resource-_An_overview_2.pdf
4. finola.fi/nutrition/
5. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21045817
6. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5938896/
7. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6350579
8. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6326553/
9. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24814038