Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hempin’ Around:

[Excerpted from my book: "Kitchen Sink Farming - Easily and Cheaply Grow and Ferment Your Own Food for a Healthier Now and Greener Future".
First proposal goes out tomorrow, send your prayers!]

Hemp, the male version of the cannabis plant, has none of the mind-altering chemical that has made this family of weeds so controversial, and so popular with west coast hip-hop artists.  It’s unfortunate for the nutritional field, and therefore everyone that eats, that hemp has such a bad…  rap?  It’s an inexpensive and fast-growing source of what may be the best protein found in any food, and certainly best vegetable source of EFAs like omega-3 and -6.  Expensive, “essential”, and very difficult to find in proper amounts for those that can’t or choose not to eat deep-water fish daily because of a growing concern for our ocean’s toxicity, ethics, preference, or because they’re the 1.4 billion people in the world who live on less than $1 a day.  Actually, I find it strange that anyone would want to eat an animal’s liver, the organ that is full of fat-encased toxic substances so damaging that the body shut them away instead of risk putting them into the bloodstream to get rid of.  Fish, especially the ones not from the frigid waters of the arctic (though them too to a lesser degree) live their lives in constant contact with all sorts of toxins, from heavy metals and industrial waste to agricultural run-off and just plain floating islands of garbage, one patch of which in the Pacific is the size of Texas.  Plants are the best suppliers of vital EFAs (see pg XX) and lucky for us they’re plentiful, cheap, pure, of unsurpassed quality, and quite tasty.

Graph reprinted from Gero Leson and Petra Pless’, "Hemp Foods and Oils for Health," 2002


Hemp protein is the most complete and usable protein in both the vegetable and animal kingdoms.  The reason for this is less the amount than the type of protein offered by hemp.  Hemp protein, comprising about 35% of its total mass, is a complete protein, containing all 8 essential amino acids needed by the body.  It’s also about 65% globular proteins, the highest of any food (this in relation to only about 20% usable protein in beef, and with it a host of problems, like being directly linked to cancer, heart disease, global food shortages and most or all of the top environmental problems).  There are two kinds of proteins: fibrous (or structural), and biologically active (or globular).  Fibrous protein are tissue, like muscle, organs, skin, hooves.  Globular proteins make hormones like insulin, hemoglobin and plasma, antibodies in the immune system (also called immunoglobulins – makes sense now huh?), and enzymes, and are therefore responsible for the hundreds of thousands of reactions occurring within each cell, at every moment.  Though we can make globular proteins out of any protein we eat, it’s much more efficient to take them in in a ready-to-use form.  And unlike fibrous proteins, globular proteins convert to structural tissue (like big biceps) quite easily, the body’s intelligence deciding the best use of each molecule. 
"Qualitatively, it is considered desirable to secure amino acids similar to those of human tissues, both as to kinds and relative quantities of the various kinds." (From the Textbook of Anatomy and Physiology, Kimber, Gray, Stackpole, 1943).  Plasma, the fluid portion of blood which supplies nutrients to tissue, contains three protein types: serum albumen, serum globulin, and fibrinogen, which together compose about 80% of plasma solids. {Gray's Anatomy, 1978)  Hemp protein closely resembles the globulin found in human blood plasma, which is vital to maintaining a healthy immune system.

This fact alone makes hemp one of the most important foods for overall health and world hunger, and unlike whey, dairy, soy, nut, grain, rice, and egg proteins, it’s completely devoid of allergens, making it great for anyone and everyone.  But wait, there's more...

Hemp seed oil comprises 35% of the total seed weight. This oil has the lowest amount of saturated fatty acids at 8% (those bad ones found in animal fats), no trans-fats (the worst ones), and the highest amount of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids at 80% (the good ones), total oil volume.  Flax seed oil comes in second at 72% combined total essential fatty acids (though it and chia are higher in omega-3s, the harder to find EFAs).  Hemp oil is the only whole food source of the 'super' polyunsaturated fatty acids gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA).

Hemp is also high in:

* Inositol, which promotes hair growth, reduces cholesterol levels, prevents artery hardening, and is calming to the nervous system.

* “Plant hormones”, also called phytosterols or phytoestrogens, affect cholesterol absorption, hormone regulation, and cell metabolism.

* Potassium, which supports the nervous system and regular heart rhythm and, with the help of sodium, aids in the body’s balance of water.

* Calcium, essential for a regular heartbeat, strong teeth and bones, and nerve impulses.

* Magnesium, required to store calcium, and deficient in dairy products.  In possibly related news, magnesium deficiency is the #1 mineral deficiency, especially common in athletes.  Magnesium is also needed to transmit the messages throughout the nervous and muscular systems.

* Sulfur, which helps the body resist bacterial invasion and protects it against toxic substances.

* Iron, which facilitates the production of red blood cells and energy.

* Zinc, important for a healthy reproductive system and the prostate gland. It speeds tissue regeneration and strengthens the immune system.
    ·         Scientists are studying the use of hemp seed extracts to boost the immune systems of people suffering from immunosuppressive disorders such as AIDS and cancer.

    ·         Edestin is a highly digestible and complete protein which comprises about 65% of hemp’s total protein.  This extremely vigorous globulin is so compatible with the human digestive system that in 1955 a Czechoslovakian Tuberculosis Nutrition Study found hemp seed to be the only food that successfully treated tuberculosis, a disease in which nutritive processes become impaired and the body wastes away. Edestin is such a perfect protein that Science Magazine complained in 1941 that “the passage of the Marijuana Law of 1937 has placed restrictions on trade in hemp seed that, in effect, amounts to prohibition … It seems clear that the long and important career of the protein is coming to a close in the US.” 

    Again, the use of hemp seeds has absolutely no correlation with marijuana in the body, and won’t cause any adverse reactions in the body or come up on a drug test.  Its astounding nutritional profile makes it an extremely important seed that should be a part of everyone’s diet.  For those in impoverished regions where malnutrition is the norm, the fact that hemp comes from a fast-growing and tenacious plant means that one day its widespread availability could be possible.
    Hemp is only legal today because in the 1930’s, when the anti-hemp insanity began in the US, bird seed companies told congress that songbirds would stop singing without this addition to their seed mixes.  The compromise was that hemp seeds would be sterilized with infrared heat, making minute cracks in the shell and rendering the seed only semi-viable, even though it’s not possible to grow hemp into wacky tobaccy.  What this means to us (in the US), is that whole hemp seeds are available and slightly sproutable.  The whole seed can be soaked and germinated, then sprouted for a day or two and many of the seeds will start to grow a tiny root.  But without the protective integrity of a whole seed, they can start to mold soon after.  Stick ‘em in the fridge when you see the first tiny tails and enjoy their crunchy benevolence in a myriad of ways.
    The seed is also available with the shell removed, called hulled hemp or hemp hearts, and it’s automatically sterile.  These seeds haven’t been heated in any way and therefore all the wonderful oils are still fresh.  Though most of the enzyme inhibitors will have been removed with the shell, these seeds also benefit from a two-hour soak.  The available enzymes will be activated and in turn the vitamin and mineral content will increase.  This is evidenced by the cloudy soak water and change in taste.  Until I find a source of organic, unsterilized whole hemp seeds, I use hulled seeds, which I keep in the freezer to preserve the delicate EFAs.  Hemp seeds are absolutely delicious, and even if they weren’t ridiculously nourishing I would still eat them every day on their fresh and nutty flavor and creamy texture alone.  They’re very small, soft, off-white disks, and sprinkled on salads or easily ground into a rich nut butter, hemp’s tastiness makes it easy to enjoy this powerhouse of nutrition and vital life force.

    The best source I've found is amazon, who sells Nutiva organic shelled hempseeds for around $9 a pound, in 3 pound bags with a subscription.  It's also available with the shell (sterilized) from various places, bird seed companies in Canada seem to be the best source, but I question the quality of the products I've sampled.  Plus, it only sprouts for a minute then shrivels up like a vampire in the sun because of the legally-required sterilization so I'm happy with the shelled stuff from amazon, which you can find here.  Hemp it up for health!

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