Hemp: A New Superfood?



Discovering the Versatility of Hemp

When it comes to health and nutrition, it always seems that there is a new “superfood”—something you must incorporate into your diet if you really want to have optimal health. As a Dietitian, it’s important for me to determine the validity of these claims. Are these foods really worth the hype? Do they offer benefits that surpass other food sources?

Today, let’s dig into hemp.  Have you heard of it? The first time that I had anything to do with hemp was at camp in grade-school. Hemp bracelets were “all the rage.” Never would I have imagined that one day I’d consume a derivative of this plant on a regular basis.

  • How can something that can be used for bracelets provide any sort of health benefit when ingested?
  • So besides being used for bracelets, what is hemp good for?
  • What is it?
  • Isn’t it a form of marijuana?—
  • According to Medical News Today, Hemp belongs to the same family as marijuana but the two plants are very different. Marijuana is grown to contain high amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical that is responsible for its psychoactive properties. Hemp, on the other hand, describes the edible plant seeds and only contains a trace amount of THC (0.3% so parents, it’s perfectly fine to give your children).
Hemp

Hemp

According to the Navita’s website, “The hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) is one of the earliest known cultivated crops, and it has many uses including textiles, fiber, wood, plastic and fuel alternatives. In the early 1940’s, Henry Ford built a car that was made completely of hemp plastic and fueled by hemp oil. The constitution of the United States was drafted on hemp paper and ‘founding fathers’ of the United States, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were hemp farmers!” Talk about a versatile plant!

I have been using hemp protein powder for years in pancakes and other baked goods because it is free of all common allergens. It wasn’t because of the nutrients that it provided—it was purely because my body could tolerate it with no adverse effects. Now, I’ve become aware of its benefits. You’ll often find hemp blended with rice and pea proteins in vegan protein powders.  By itself, hemp protein powder is a complete protein, unlike other plant-based protein sources (rice or pea).

  • This means that it contains all essential amino acids (the building blocks for protein synthesis and precursors to the formation lean muscle mass).
  • Hemp is particularly a great source of the sulphur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine, both of which are necessary for enzyme production.
  • Enzymes enable your body to digest and absorb nutrients.
  • Another distinguishing factor of hemp protein is that, unlike other vegan protein sources (soy), it does not contain phytates, which can interfere with the absorption of essential minerals.

Hemp powder is green, so if you add it to pancakes or muffins, don’t be surprised by the color change. It has a mild, nutty flavor. It is best used in addition to other flours when baking (replace 1/4th of the called for flour with hemp protein). It also makes great smoothies.

A 1/4th cup serving provides roughly 120 calories, 15g of protein, 5 g of fiber, 11g carbohydrates, 6% of your daily calcium needs,  35% of iron needs, 65% of magnesium needs, 11% of potassium needs (based on a 2,000 calorie diet—individually needs may vary). 

Let me take detour for just a moment to highlight the magnesium content (65%!!!). Magnesium plays an important role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body. Some of these include the metabolism of food, synthesis of fatty acids and proteins, neuromuscular transmission and activity and muscle relaxation (athletes, take note). Most individuals do not get enough magnesium from diet alone. As a runner, my body can tell when I’m magnesium deficient– I take longer to recover (i.e. my muscles feel tight and sore). A hemp protein shake would be excellent as a post-workout recovery drink.

The next hemp product that I tried was hemp milk. Since I have sensitivities to all nuts, almond and cashew milk weren’t viable options for me. Someone at a health food store suggested that I try hemp milk. Let me tell you—I LOVE it. Unlike almond milk, which can sometimes be watery, hemp is thick, creamy, and rich. It felt decadent to drink. Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds that are soaked and ground in water. An 8oz serving contains 80calories, 8 grams of HEALTHY fat (Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids), and 2 grams of protein. It is a good source of Vitamin D, Calcium, and Phosphorous. As with any milk-alternative, be sure to choose unsweetened original or unsweetened vanilla to avoid added sugars. Use as you would any non-dairy milk in smoothies or cooking.


Just two weeks ago, I tried the next hemp product: hemp seeds.

I’d seen them for a while—first in select health food stores and then on the shelves of Costco. (You know you’ve arrived when you land a spot in Costco) I held off on trying them because they just didn’t seem appetizing (if I’m being honest). Then, one day, out of a great longing for anything similar to a nut or seed—savory and rich – I bought a huge bag. My intentions were to use them to make hemp seed butter, as I had done in the past with almonds, pumpkin seeds, etc.  but when I got home—I remembered that both by Blendtec and food processor were in storage :/ With an unprecedented nutrient profile, I wasn’t going to throw in the towel on these small-but-mighty seeds. I decided to sprinkle them on top of my protein pancakes. Ahhhhhh, heaven. Rich, nutty, slightly crunchy….delicious. Thank you LORD for hemp seeds! I loved them so much that I sprinkled them on my salad for lunch. I should have tried these a long time ago. I really had been missing out. Let me tell you the incredible stats of these glorious seeds.

A 3 tbsp serving (30g) provides:

    • 170 calories
    • 13 g HEALTHY fats (ALA, Omega 3 and Omega 6)
    • 10 g Protein (wow!)
    • 3 g fiber
    • 3 g carbohydrate
    • 45% daily value for Magnesium
    • 45% daily value for Phosphorous
    • 110% daily value for Manganese
    • (all based on 2,000 calorie diet)

These provide an excellent source of protein for those who are looking for An animal-protein alternative.

Really, I would have been impressed with just the hemp protein powder, milk and hearts/seeds….but I just so happened to stumble upon these two products in the grocery store that were icing on the cake: hemp yogurt* and hemp tofu* (completely soy free!). I had to do a double-take. Options for those with nut/seed/soy allergies or those who consume a vegan diet just keep getting better thanks to these glorious alternatives! The hemp yogurt (unlike most non-dairy yogurts) actually provides protein. A single, 5.3oz container of plain hemp yogurt packs 10g of protein and 8 grams of sugar. Hemp yogurt does come in flavors (blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry). Surprisingly, they only contain 1 more gram of sugar than the plain variety (9g) and have b/w 8-9grams of protein. This is a much better option than fruit-flavored greek or regular yogurts that usually contain 17+g of sugar per serving!

The hemp tofu, packs 15 g of completely allergen-free, plant-based protein and 4 grams of fiber in one 4-oz serving. Bring on the soy-free tofu scrambles!

In addition to the multitude of health benefits hemp provides, it is also incredibly sustainable. Due to its fast-growing, drought-resistant and hardy nature, it is a healthy alternative to genetically modified products that use excessive resources. Hemp absorbs large quantities of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and actually improves soil structure over time.

Wow, wow, wow. If this isn’t a true “superfood, “ I don’t know what is. Really.

If you just want to start simple— sprinkle hemp hearts/seeds on your oatmeal, yogurt, or add them to your salad! Try using hemp milk in sauces or in your morning shake. Slip some hemp-protein powder into your zucchini bread for added protein and fiber.

*TEMPT/Living Harvest is the only brand that I’ve found that makes hemp yogurt or hemp tofu.

Here are some great ways to try out this glorious food source if you’re feeling adventurous

Mini Quiches   These are a great make-ahead breakfast option or work well as a protein-rich snack to keep you satisfied until dinner.

Ingredients
olive oil spray
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup bell pepper
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (or one green onion)
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary (or 1/2 tsp. dried, crushed)
black pepper to taste
12.3 ounces of plain TEMPT hemp tofu
1/4 cup plain hemp milk
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon cornstarch (may sub another thickener such as arrowroot or potato starch)
1 teaspoon tahini (preferred) or cashew butter
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2-3/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spray 12 regular-sized muffin cups well with non-stick spray or use silicone cups like these.
  2. Heat a non-stick skillet and sauté the garlic, bell peppers, and mushrooms over medium heat until the mushrooms just begin to exude their juices. Stir in the chives, rosemary, and freshly ground black pepper, remove from the heat, and set aside.
  3. Place the tofu and all remaining ingredients into a food processor or blender. Process until completely smooth and silky. Add the tofu mixture to the vegetables and stir to combine. Spoon equally into the 12 muffin cups: it will fill regular muffin cups about halfway.
  4. Put the muffin pan into the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350 F. Bake until the tops are golden and a knife inserted into the middle of a quiche comes out clean–about 25-35 minutes depending on your oven and muffin cups (silicone will take longer than metal, so if you’re using a metal pan, check it at 20 minutes). Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for about 10 minutes. Enjoy! They’re light, so plan on making more of these—or serve hearty side dishes—if you’re serving more than 3 people.

Courtesy of fatfreevegan.com

Breakfast Tofu Scramble thanks to Food52.com. Now those with egg allergies (or vegans) can enjoy scrambles for breakfast!

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups diced vegetables (I like zucchini and red peppers when they’re in season, but use whatever you have on hand)
  • One 14- to 16-ounce block of TEMPT hemp tofu (feel free to use plain, chili lime, chorizo, or chimichurri flavors made by living harvest/ tempt brand)
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium tamari
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • Black pepper to taste
  1. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the oil and sauté the onion until it’s soft and cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for two minutes. Add your vegetables of choice, and cook till they’re tender.
  3. While the vegetables cook, crumble the tofu with your hands, so that there are still some visible pieces, but it’s broken up quite thoroughly. Whisk together the tahini, tamari, mustard, and turmeric.
  4. Add the tofu to the skillet, along with the tahini mixture. Mix the ingredients together thoroughly and cook till the tofu is warmed through, about 4 minutes or so. Add the nutritional yeast and mix it in well. Finally, add the spinach and cook until it’s just wilted. Divide the scramble onto four plates and top each with parsley.

Vegan Hemp Seed Basil Pesto

Basil and Hemp Seed Pesto  By Christina Bedetta from createnourishlove.com (gluten free, vegan) Using hemp seeds instead of pine nuts adds 3 additional grams of protein per 1/4 cup of this basil pesto!

Ingredients

  1. 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  2. 2-3 cloves garlic*
  3. 1/4 cup hemp seeds
  4. 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  5. 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  6. 1/2 tsp sea salt
  7. Nutritional yeast, optional**

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor or high-speed blender, and process until smooth. Serve with your favorite pasta, a plate of roasted veggies, or an open-faced sandwich!

Notes

  1. *Adjust the amount of garlic you use according to your taste buds. I love garlic so I used 3 cloves, but it was pretty strong!
  2. **You may add a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast to the pesto if you desire a cheesy flavor, or simply sprinkle some on top of your meal before eating!

References:

http://www.createnourishlove.com/2014/06/27/basil-and-hemp-seed-pesto/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/03/hemp-sustainable-crop_n_5243351.html

http://livingharvest.com/unsweetened-vanilla-hemp-milk/

http://livingharvest.com/hemp-tofu-extra-firm-original/

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308044.php

http://navitasnaturals.com/product/453/Hemp-Protein-Powder.html

http://www.theconsciousdietitian.com/foodsustainability/chia-seed-flax-seed-hemp-seeds-which-one-is-for-you/

Danielle Sikorski

About Danielle Sikorski

Danielle is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Personal Trainer residing in Anchorage, Alaska. She received her B.S. in Nutrition, Dietetics and Foods Science from California State University at Northridge. As an athlete, Danielle was initially drawn to Nutrition because she desired to learn how to best fuel her body for optimal performance. However, after becoming a Dietitian, her focus has broadened. After a Lyme and autoimmune disease diagnosis, she has learned the role that food can play in healing the body. She now works with clients with a variety of goals ranging from sports performance, Food Intolerance, Autoimmue, to Weight loss. ******In her spare time she loves running to clear her mind and also enjoys cooking with her husband. ---------------EDUCATION & CERTIFICATIONS: • B.S. in Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science • Internship at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, NV specializing in Medical Nutrition Therapy in the ICU, Pediatric ICU, Cancer Center, Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes Education • Internship at W.I.C. specializing in pre and post-natal Nutrition • RD, RDN by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
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