Hemp is one of the oldest medicinal plants on our planet, which has been harnessed by a number of cultures, including the ancient Indians, Mesopotamians, Sumerians, Persians, Egyptians and indigenous tribes of Central America, for a variety of uses since the Stone Age. And, thanks to an increased awareness of the myriad health benefits associated with hemp, whole hemp seeds (the seeds that grow on the hemp plant) are enjoying a well-deserved resurgence in popularity – particularly with those for whom a healthy diet enriched with only the finest of natural superfoods is of paramount importance.
So, let’s take a look at what makes the humble hemp seed so special.
Whole hemp seeds – what makes them so special?
Whole hemp seeds grow on the hemp plant – an industrial variety of the Cannabis Sativa that is perhaps better known as marijuana. Unlike marijuana however, industrial hemp, which is also used to manufacture paper and textiles, does not contain a large amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient that produces a high. Indeed, whole hemp seeds contain less than 1% THC, whilst marijuana contains somewhere between 15 and 20%. On the other hand, whole hemp seeds do contain an impressive amount of other beneficial nutrients, which are responsible for its growing reputation as a powerful superfood.
Whole hemp seeds contain:
- Fibre – although shelled hemp seeds are incredibly popular, enjoying hemp seeds whole provides a welcome boost of this much needed nutrient that, according to the NHS, can help to prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and certain types of cancer, as well as improve our digestive health.
- Protein – in fact whole hemp seeds are a complete source of protein and contain the highest percentage of Edestin (derived from the Greek word ‘Edestos’, which means edible) of all plant species. Edestin is widely considered the most edible and readily digestible form of protein there is. We need protein for muscle growth, endurance, to balance blood sugar levels, accelerate healing, and to promote strong teeth and healthy bones.
- Vitamins – whole hemp seeds contain vitamins A, B, and D, and are rich in Vitamin E, which helps to protect our cells from oxidative stress.
- Minerals – whole hemp seeds contain more than 20 different minerals, including magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, platinum, phosphorus, sulphur, boron, nickel, germanium, tin, iodine, chromium, silver and lithium, in addition to a number of important trace elements.
- Lecithin – just like vitamin E, the lecithin in whole hemp seeds is important for healthy brain chemistry. It also supports efficient liver function, which in turn aids the body’s natural cleansing process.
- Essential fatty acids – whole hemp seeds contain the highest concentration of essential fatty acids of all seeds, and boast a 4:1 Omega-6 / Omega-3 fatty acid ratio, which according to a study by the Center for Genetics on Nutrition and Health in 2001, is associated with a 70% decrease in mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. They also contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) an anti-inflammatory acid, which in combination with their chlorophyll content, helps to regulate hormones.
- Globulins – whole hemp seeds contain alpha, beta and gamma globulin, which help to strengthen our immune system, repair old and damaged tissue and manufacture new tissue.
- Chlorophyll – whole hemp seeds are an excellent source of chlorophyll, which is responsible for the green colour of hemp products.
- Histadine – whole hemp seeds also contain histidine, an essential amino acid that is a precursor of histamine, a compound released by our immune system cells during an allergic reaction. It is required for growth, the production of red and white blood cells, restoring damaged tissue and protecting the myelin sheaths that enclose our nerve cells.
- THC – as mentioned, whole hemp seeds contain a small amount of THC, which is routinely used to manage pain and reduce the side effects of many modern diseases.
Whole hemp seeds for 5 wholesome health benefits
There are more than 3 million edible plants in the world, yet none compare to the incredibly high nutritional value of hemp outlined above. Not surprisingly, whole hemps seeds have been linked to a long list of outstanding health benefits, five of which are outlined below.
1) Whole hemp seeds and heart health
Whole hemp seeds contain polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3 in an optimum ratio), which can help to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol. This keeps our heart healthy and prevents the build-up of arterial plaque that can lead to heart attack and strokes. According to scientific research (Margolin et al.,1991), omega-6 fatty acids specifically lower blood pressure, whilst omega-3 fatty acids actively reduce the risk of heart disease (Delgado-Lista et al., 2012; Von Schacky, 2003; Morris et al., 1993).
2) Whole hemp seeds and mental wellbeing
The fatty acids found in whole hemp seeds are also incredibly beneficial for our brain. Scientific studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can:
- Help those suffering from memory disorders (Mazereeuw et al., 2012)
- Help those suffering from depression or manic depression (Perica & Delas, 2011)
- Reduce the symptoms of ADHD and autism in children (Levy & Hyman, 2005; Richardson, 2006)
The vitamin E in whole hemp seeds is also helpful in combatting mental disease, such as Alzheimer’s. Indeed a US trial on a group of 613 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s revealed that those supplemented with vitamin E exhibited slower decline on the activities scale than those taking a placebo. They were able to carry out everyday tasks such as washing and their caregivers reported spending less time looking after them.
3) Whole hemp seeds and weight loss
Whole hemp seeds are high in dietary fibre, which acts as a natural appetite suppressant and helps us to feel fuller for longer, ultimately resulting in demonstrable weight loss. The omega-6 fatty acids found in whole hemp seeds also directly combat weight gain and obesity (Schirmer & Phinney, 2007), making whole hemp seeds the ideal superfood for those wishing to lose weight.
4) Whole hemp seeds and healthy digestion
The generous quantities of soluble fibre in whole hemp seeds helps to keep our digestive tract healthy and clean, eliminating digestive disorders, such as constipation and bloating. The histadine in whole hemp seeds also stimulates the production of gastric juices in our stomach, which is especially advantageous for those suffering from indigestion.
5) Whole hemp seeds and radiant skin
Whole hemp seeds are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects and repairs our skin. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that vitamin E can:
- help to protect our cells from the oxidative stress and environmental pollution that results in fine lines and wrinkles
- help to protect against UV radiation
- help to prevent premature aging
- help to heal wounds
In addition, vitamin E is an excellent moisturiser, which is why it is often found in superior cosmetic products, such as face creams and body lotions.
Enjoying whole hemp seeds
Whole hemp seeds possess a decidedly crunchy exterior, a temptingly creamy centre and boast a slightly nutty flavour, which makes them an ideal addition to a variety of drinks and dishes. Try scattering whole hemp seeds straight from the bag into soups, salads, fruit salads and desserts for added bite, grind them for use in a selection of gluten-free breads and cakes, or use them to prepare a yummy hemp milk. Alternatively you can shell whole hemp seeds and mix them directly into smoothies, shakes, juices and nut milks.
How to shell hemp seeds
These days you can purchase ready shelled hemp seeds as well as whole hemp seeds. If you prefer whole hemp seeds (and wish to benefit from their fibre-rich shell) in general, but also want to enjoy them shelled on occasions, you can shell them at home by following these simple steps:
1) Spread your whole hemp seeds out into a single layer on your kitchen work surface or table.
2) Place a chopping board on top of the whole hemp seeds.
3) Tap the chopping board with a heavy instrument, such as a rolling pin or wooden mallet, to remove their shells.
4) Pour the hemp seeds into a bowl of water. The shells will float to the surface.
5) Lastly, skim the shells from the surface of the water and rinse the shelled hemp seeds in a colander.
Remember that, as whole hemp seeds absorb a substantial amount of liquid, it’s essential to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.