What is Hemp?
The Latin name for hemp is cannabis sativa. It grows in moderate climates. Both the fibre and the seed have been used by people around the world for thousands of years, as it is very easily grown, and has many benefits.
There are about 500 different varieties of cannabis sativa, and they can roughly be divided into 3 categories:
Different parts of the plant are used depending on what you want to do with it. If you are growing a fibre variety, you will use the stalk. It has thousands of used from car parts (in the form of non-wovens or compressed into polymers) to wedding dresses (in the form of a hemp-silk blend). If you are growing a food and/or oil variety, you will use the seed. If you are growing a drug variety, you will use the bud and perhaps the leaves.
Are Hemp Products legal in Canada?
Yes. In April, 1998, Health Canada amended the Controlled Drugs and Subtances Act by adding regulations to make it legal to grow hemp in Canada. In order to grow hemp, you must obtain a licence from Health Canada.
What’s the Difference between hemp and marijuana?
Many people confuse hemp with marijuana, but hemp is not psychoactive. The psychoactive element of marijuana, THC, exists in hemp, but in amounts so small as to be insignificant. Whereas beer contains about 10 times the alcohol of de-alcoholized beer, marijuana contains about 60 times more THC than hemp.
Can you get high from eating hemp products?
Not a chance. In compliance with government regulation, our hemp is tested in the field, and our hemp seed, oil, hempnut and hempmeal are tested before being added to our products. We are required to have less than 10 ppm THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) in our hemp products, but in actual fact, NO THC can be detected in our products.
What are the Benefits of Eating Hemp Products?
The inside of the hemp seed, also known as the hempnut, is rich in both protein and oil. And the oil is one of the richest sources of essential fatty acids (EFAs). You may choose to eat the entire seed, or only the hempnut, or to press the oil out of the seed and use the oil and the meal (the rest) separately.
Hemp is a great source of protein. Although it does not have as much protein as soy, the spectrum of amino acids in it makes it a more digestible source of vegetable protein. As well, hemp is not genetically modified, unlike most soy.
Hemp oil is equally remarkable. It contains approximately 56% Omega 6 or Linoleic Acid (LA), 20% Omega 3 or Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) and 3% gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Hemp is one of only two plants known to contain all three of these vital nutrients.
Do hemp and flax provide the same benefits?
No. While they both contain both Omega 6 and Omega 3, they do so in inverse proportions. In other words, the Omega 6:Omega 3 ratio in hemp is roughly 3:1, while in flax its 1:3. In addition, flax contains no GLA.
Why have I heard that Hemp is a perfectly balanced oil?
Health Canada (and many nutritionists) recommends that for optimal health, one’s intake of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids should be in a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1. This is approximately the same ratio found in hemp oil, and hemp is one of the only oilseeds that can make this claim. In this sense, hemp is perfectly balanced.
The concept that hemp oil is therefore ideal for human nutrition, however, omits the important fact that in North America, our diet has an overabundance of Omega 6 already. So whereas hemp may be a perfectly balanced oil in isolation, in the context of our diets, it is simply a very good nutrient.
What are fatty acids?
A fatty acid is a molecule consisting of a chain of carbon atoms with an organic acid group at one end.
The number of carbon atoms can vary from 4 to 24, and each is surrounded by hydrogen atoms. Each carbon atom is normally joined to the next one by two electrons, in what is known as a single bond. If the carbon atoms are all linked by single bonds, the fatty acid is known as "saturated". Saturated fatty acids are very stable, meaning their structure is difficult to disrupt through light, heat or oxygen, so manufacturers like to use them for food because of their long shelf lives. But depending on their length, saturated fatty acids may not be easily digestible, and can lead to poor health.
Sometimes one of the hydrogen atoms is replaced by another bond, so that now, some carbon atoms is joined by a double bond. Fatty acids containing double bonds are known as "unsaturated". If more than one double bond exists in a fatty acid molecule, it is known as "poly-unsaturated". These polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are often referred to as "good fats", because these double bonds contain some unique, health-giving properties. However, they are quite delicate and can be easily destroyed by light, heat and oxygen.
The naming system for fatty acids reflect all of these things: the number of carbon atoms in the chain, the number of double bonds it contains, and the position of the first one. Hence, 18:3n-6 means that a fatty acid contains 18 carbon atoms, with 3 double-bonds, with the first one after the 6th carbon atom.
Although plants, animals and humans can metabolize specific PUFAs from saturated fatty acids, there are two very important PUFAs that humans must get from plants. These are Linoleic Acid (18:2n-6) LA (part of the Omega 6 family of fatty acids) and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (18:3n-6) ALA (part of the Omega 3 family). Because these two fatty acids are indispensable to our health, and we cannot make them ourselves, they are known as Essential Fatty Acids, or EFAs.
Enzymes within our bodies lengthen the EFAs to insert more double bonds and create new, more highly unsaturated fatty acids. These attract oxygen and help transform light into electrical energy and then to nerve impulses.
This latter group of fatty acids includes gamma-linolenic acid or GLA, which our body derives from Linoleic Acid and from a very few plant sources. The body of literature on GLA is already significant: we know that GLA helps in cases of rheumatoid arthritis, skin disorders, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. The enzyme necessary to make GLA from Omega 6 is absent in about 30% of the population, therefore GLA supplementation is necessary. The most common sources of GLA in food are Evening Primrose oil and Borage oil.
Stearidonic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are fatty acids that we obtain from a few nutrient sources and which our bodies can metabolize from Alpha-linolenic Acid. Health professionals recognize the necessity of these fatty acids for lowering the risk of heart disease and anti-thrombotic properties.
Why do we need Essential Fatty Acids?
Essential Fatty Acids ensure healthy and fluid cell membranes. A fluid cell membrane is critical for the effective exchange of nutrients, oxygen and waste products. EFAs are also necessary for maintaining the water barrier of our skin. A vast body of literature exists on the benefits of EFAs to our health.
"EFAs are involved with producing life energy in our body from food substances and moving that energy throughout our systems. They govern growth , vitality and mental state. They hook up oxygen, electron transport, and energy in the process of oxidation."
Why do we need Omega 3?
The health effects of the Omega 3 family of fatty acids (primarily alpha-linolenic, EPA and DHA) have been studied extensively, and are perhaps best described by the symptoms of Omega 3 deficiency. These include dry and/or scaly skin, weak immune system, poor motor co-ordination, high blood pressure and low metabolic rate.
Common foods do not contain much (if any) Omega 3. In recent years, health conscious people have started taking flax and fish oils for this important EFA. However, too much of a good thing is bad and that holds true for this as well.
Why do we need Omega 6?
The Omega 6 family of polyunsaturates comprises several different fatty acids, which we can get on their own from food sources, or which our bodies can metabolize from Omega 6. The only one that cannot be metabolized is Linoleic acid (LA).
Some of the Omega 6 fatty acids (notably linoleic and gamma-linolenic) have been the source of many studies. They have been used to treat and prevent many disease states such as eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, circulatory problems, and PMS.
Like any other substance, an overabundance of Omega 6 can also be harmful, and many of the diseases we see in North America today come from the overload of Omega 6 in our diet, as it is found in many common foods.
Where can I get more information on Fats, Oils and EFA’s?
There are many books on the market to choose from, many of which have different slants. I recommend "Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill", by Udo Erasmus. It conveys an enormous amount of information in understandable form.
Written by: Ruth Shamai
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