Ask the Diet Doctor: What's Up with the Hemp Seeds Hype?


Q: Is hemp as healthy as it seems?

A: Yes, hemp seeds provide a solid nutritional punch akin to flaxseeds. They won't revolutionize your health, but they will provide you key nutritional support, especially if you eat a diet exclusively or primarily from plants.

You can take advantage of the nutritional properties of hemp in three different ways: hemp seeds, hemp oil, and hemp protein.

Hemp seeds: These little seeds give you the complete nutritional power of hemp with their blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, high fiber content, and quality amino acid profile. Hemp seeds are also high in magnesium, a mineral that helps with relaxation, blood sugar control, blood pressure, and potentially osteoporosis, and that is generally low in women. Three tablespoons of hulled hemp seeds gives you 10 grams (g) of protein, 14g fat (mostly coming from omega-3 and omega-6 fats), and 2g fiber.

Best uses: Hemp seeds are very versatile and can be sprinkled on salad, mixed in with yogurt, or added to a smoothie. [Tweet this tip!]

Hemp oil: Found in many skin beauty products, hemp oil also can be used in the kitchen. However because its polyunsaturated fats can oxidize at high temperatures, it is not recommended for high-heat cooking. (Its smoke point-the temperature at which the fats start to break down-is above that of flax oil but below that of olive oil.) To further prevent the oxidation of the fats, keep hemp oil in the refrigerator.

Best uses: Hemp oil has a nutty flavor that makes it a great option for salad dressings.

Hemp protein powder: If you do not eat very much or any animal protein, hemp protein is a valuable ally to you. It is almost a complete protein except that it is low in the amino acid lysine. Hemp protein supplements are unlike a traditional whey protein shake, as they contain an appreciable amount of carbohydrates (9g) and fiber (8g), making them more of a base for a meal replacement shake or snack than a pure protein shake. Hemp protein also affords you a lot of the great nutrients found in hemp seeds such as magnesium, iron, and vitamin E.

Best uses: Create this delicious nutrient-packed smoothie: Blend 1/4 cup hemp protein powder, 1 1/2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 1/2 cup blueberries, and 2 to 3 ice cubes until smooth.

Nutritional Negatives

While hemp does contain a lot of nutritional benefits, there are two things that you should keep in the back of your mind when incorporating it in your diet.

1. Calories can add up: When we talk about "superfoods," we often focus a lot on their nutrient perks but forget that they still do contain calories. Hemp seeds are about 45 percent fat, and two tablespoons contains around 9g fat and 100 calories. If you start adding hemp seeds to your salads, smoothies, and morning Greek yogurt and berries, the unsuspecting calories can add up.

2. It lacks leucine: Leucine is the amino acid that is responsible for signaling our bodies to start up the muscle-building machinery. To build and maintain your lean athletic body, it is important to have leucine flip this cellular switch throughout the day. Research shows you need about 3g leucine in a given meal to do this (maybe less if you are a smaller build). [Tweet this fact!] Despite hemp protein's diverse amino acid profile, it has only 0.6g leucine per 15g protein, so don't rely too heavily on hemp to provide your protein base.

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