Hemp seeds are arguably the most controversial superfood currently on the Australian market. By current, we mean only just. They have only legally been a food substance in Australia for mere months. The reason that this little seed has not been allowed to be sold as food before now was that the authorities were having difficulty establishing whether or not it would have any sort of affect on the consumer. However, since it has been established to the satisfaction of both police and agricultural departments that the seed is not a narcotic, it is now on sale across Australia.

Hemp is a cannabis plant species but does not contain any of the active ingredient (THC) that qualifies cannabis as a narcotic or drug. It has been grown for many years as a sustainable and natural alternative to cotton and polyester with which to make clothes under very strict supervision. Australian farmers have already started growing hemp crops for what was just the clothing industry but now is the food industry as well.

Hemp seeds

NOW AVAILABLE: Hemp seed. PICTURE: ElinorD/licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0

 

"People choosing to eat less meat, in particular, have long had a love for the hemp seed as it contains most of the essential amino acids, making it an excellent alternative source of protein. Compared to other seeds, hemp seeds contain as much as four times the amount of protein per gram."

The two key nutritional reasons that there was so much pressure on the relevant departments to legalise the sale of hemp for consumption was its protein content and its essential fatty acid content. People choosing to eat less meat, in particular, have long had a love for the hemp seed as it contains most of the essential amino acids, making it an excellent alternative source of protein. Compared to other seeds, hemp seeds contain as much as four times the amount of protein per gram.

On top of the macronutrients that hemp seeds contain, they also contain a variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). The seeds contain iron which is essential for the oxygen carrying capacity of our blood and for fighting infection, magnesium for muscle contraction, neurotransmission and  bone health. These seeds also contain zinc which is a key nutrient for our immune system, hair, skin and nails as well as phosphorus, another nutrient necessary for bone development and integrity.

Around one tablespoon of hemp seed oil contains our daily recommended intake of vitamin E, a nutrient especially important because of its antioxidant quality. Antioxidants protect our cells from the oxidative damage we are constantly subject to just from living. Keeping up a steady stream of antioxidants is the only way we can ensure that our cells continue to rejuvenate correctly.

You may notice the green tinge to unprocessed hemp seeds and hemp seed oil that has not oxidized – this is due to the chlorophyll content of the seeds. Chlorophyll has incredibly nutritional value and actually has positive effects on our cells and the way they are made, which may help to prevent illness and disease.

Hemp seed oil contains the perfect ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 essential fatty acids of 3:1. The standard Australian diet is notorious for throwing this ratio out with our love for processed foods so bringing balance back to our fat consumption with the healthy omega 3s found in hemp seed oil is particularly attractive. These good fats protect our heart, reduce inflammation, improve our brain health and aid in foetal development along with a range of other health benefits. Due to the ability of omega 3 essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation, it is the ideal nutrient for many conditions which feed on inflammation such as auto immune conditions and skin conditions.

Small in size but with a surprisingly powerful nutritional value, hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are a valuable addition to the Australian food market offering a new alternative for protein, essential fatty acids (the good fats) and even acting as a nutritional supplement with their content of vitamins and minerals. With time and the cropping of this seed in Australia, it will become a more economical choice and could justifiably become as popular as the chia seed.

Bridie Kersten is a registered nutritionist with an advanced diploma in nutrition and a Bachelor of Health Science (biochemistry and nutritional medicine). This information is of a general nature only and may not be suitable for you; please seek your healthcare professional's advice before making alterations to your diet.