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Maligned hemp seed has a raft of health, environmental benefits

In the past, hemp has gotten a bad rap because of its close relative, marijuana. Both plants are in the cannabis family, but they’re very different.

Unlike marijuana, hemp seeds contain only 0.001 percent of the active compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), thus hemp does not cause a psychoactive effect, and is completely safe. In fact, hemp has some distinct health and environmental benefits.

GROWING HEMP

Since 1937, growing hemp has been prohibited in the U.S. because of confusion over its relationship to marijuana, although it can be sold here. In fact, hemp is a historic crop, used for a multitude of functions beyond food, such as textiles, paper, building supplies and rope. The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. Today, most hemp is grown in Canada.

Interest in hemp cultivation is rising, partially because it’s very sustainable compared to other seed crops. Hemp is quick-growing, vigorous and resistant to disease and insects, requiring lower inputs of fertilizers, water and pesticides. And, unlike many seed crops, the hemp stalk can be used for its rich fiber source in products like textiles and building supplies.

CONCENTRATED NUTRITION

Another reason hemp is on the rise is because of its unique nutrient profile. Hemp seeds provide 10 grams of protein per ounce, as well as 10 grams of heart-healthy, plant-based omega-3 and -6 fats, 3 grams of fiber, and is a rich source of iron, thiamin, magnesium, zinc and manganese.

Hemp oil, which is cold-pressed and unrefined, has a fat profile similar to the seed, containing only 1 gram of saturated fat per tablespoon; most of the fat content is the healthy kind, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, with an impressive 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per serving. When hemp is pressed into oil, powder or “butter,” a unique emerald green color is released, signaling its rich chlorophyll compounds.

While the research on hemp is still in the early stages, there’s a lot to love about the nutritional value of this plant food. You can purchase hemp products at many natural food stores.

Sprinkle hemp seeds over cereal and yogurt, stir them into homemade granola, toss them into salads and mix them into baked goods. Use hemp oil in place of extra virgin olive oil in pesto, salad dressings and pasta. Do not cook with this delicate oil; its smoking point is 350 degrees. Whiz hemp powder and hemp milk into smoothies to increase their protein and nutrient value. And use hemp butter in place of peanut butter on sandwiches, toast and in baking.

Sharon Palmer is a registered dietitian.