Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Marijuana and hemp are the same plant, but they’re not one and the same. Greg Herriott, who co-founded Hempola, a hemp company based in Barrie, Ontario, with Kelly Smith, explains the difference.
“Let’s look at peppers. In the family of peppers you have hot peppers, like jalapenos, and you have sweet peppers, like red or green peppers. In the jalapeno peppers, it’s the same geneses species [as other peppers], but the difference between them is in the varieties. In the jalapeno pepper there’s a molecule that creates the heat or the spice. In the sweet pepper you have very little, if any, of that molecule. So in Cannabis sativa L. [hemp], there’s very little, if any, of the molecule that creates the psychoactive high [found in marijuana].”
While the hemp plant – which isn’t genetically modified and is grown organically – can be used for a multitude of things, the only part we consume is the nut (with the hull intact) or seed. The hull (shell) is safe to eat and is full of fiber, although it’s not digestible. The tiny seed inside brims with nutrition – including protein, essential fatty acids (EFAs), vitamin E, minerals, and complex carbs.
As dieters and fitness devotees, you’re probably most interested in the protein aspect – so let’s get to it. The protein found in hemp is similar to that found in soy. “It has roughly the same amount, and as far as the quality of the protein – it’s a high quality protein,” says Cynthia Sass, a registered dietician, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and co-author of Your Diet is Driving Me Crazy (Marlowe & Company, 2004). The seed itself contains about 25 percent protein, Denis Cicero says in his book The Galaxy Global Eatery Hemp Cookbook (North Atlantic Books, 2001). He adds, “Hempseeds cannot serve as the sole source of protein, so it is wise to complement them with other protein sources such as fish, soy, or dairy.”
Along with its protein component, hempseeds are highly praised for their whack of good fat. They contain both omega-6 and 3, which help the body to operate optimally.
“[Omega-3] tends to be helpful in reducing clotting risk, so it has an effect on reducing the risk of heart disease associated with clotting factors… it can also reduce hardening of the arteries,” explains Sass, “and it is thought to help decrease blood pressure. Omega-6 fatty acids we think can help lower cholesterol including the LDL, which is the bad cholesterol.”
But the not so nice news is that the oil is rather sensitive; both Cicero and Sass agree that it can go rancid quickly. “So when you do use it as a food product, you tend to have to store it carefully, so that it’s not exposed to air and light,” says Sass. “It doesn’t have a long shelf life.” That being said, most products are labeled appropriately.
If you haven’t already incorporated hemp into your diet, it won’t be hard. Many companies have made foods that are delicious, nutritious, and easy to use. For instance, Hempola’s pancake and brownie mixes are simple to prepare and are scrumptious. When it’s snack time, I’m addicted to Ruth’s Hemp Foods’ SoftHemp bars, and because they’re made with hempseeds you get all of the nutritional benefits.
Or if you’re only after the benefits of the oil, you can buy it in bottles. But beware – remember that no oil tastes delicious when you swallow it alone. For first-timers Herriott offers a suggestion: “If you’re buying a bottle of our oil, at the same time pick up a fresh loaf of bread, like a baguette; open the oil, drizzle it into a plate, slice your bread, add a little balsamic if you want, and dip your bread – you’ll just flip. You’ll love it.” As well, it tastes wonderful drizzled over the pancakes.