A couple of weeks ago, Nutiva discovered this site. A few days later, an unexpected box of Nutiva’s food arrived in my mail. I was most excited about the free coconut oil. The rest of the box contained a food I’d never eaten before — hemp. Hemp oil. Hemp seeds. Hemp protein powder. Hemp seed snack bars.
Naturally I wondered, is this food safe?
I began by scouring Nutiva’s own literature and website. I even went so far as to hunt down and read the sources they were citing in their research. Then I went to the web. Here’s what I discovered.
Hemp oil is not a traditional oil and relatively new to the human diet (that alone should tell you how I come down on this issue!). It contains 70% polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), roughly 55% in the form of Omega-6 linoleic acid. As I wrote earlier, PUFAs are highly unstable and unsuitable for heating or cooking. They also lead to excessive weight gain, a weakened immune system, and depressed thyroid functioning. Ideally, only about 4% of our intake of fats should be PUFAs.
And, unfortunately for us, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is just saturated with an excess of Omega-6 fats thanks to our over-abundant supply of subsidized corn & soy. As I pointed out in the video Good Fats Bad Fats, this Omega-6 overload hits us even in our animal product consumption because of the corn & soy based diets of most industrially raised animals. Here’s a screen from that video:
A good ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats is less than 4:1. Anything over that, and our bodies protest with all sorts of health problems including obesity, depression, mood swings, inflammation, heart disease, weakened immune systems, etc.
While it’s true that the balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats in Hemp Oil rests right at 4:1, I still can’t recommend the oil.
Why? Because our diets are already unnaturally high in Omega-6 fatty acids thanks to the industrialized sources of our foods. Perhaps, perhaps, if you were very judicious with the sourcing of the rest of the Omega 3 and 6 fats in your diet and only ate pastured/wild/grass-fed animal products and only consumed good fats like coconut oil, butter, and lard in your cooking, perhaps cold-pressed hemp oil would be fine in small quantities so long as you didn’t heat it.
But even then, it’s still not a traditionally used cooking oil, so it doesn’t pass my Real Food test. It’s neither old, nor traditional, and your great grandmother would not have recognized it as food.
Hemp seeds, though, seem to be a different matter altogether. They contain all the essential amino acids — those building blocks of protein which our body can not manufacture on its own. Flax seed also contains all the essential amino acids, but unlike flax seed, 65% of the protein found in hemp seeds is globulin edistin.
What is globulin edistin? It’s a simple protein that our bodies need to build the immunoglobulins necessary to repel infection. The best way to ensure your body has enough amino acid materials to build these globulins is to eat foods high in globulin proteins.
They’re most readily available in animal blood plasma (another reason not to avoid red meats!), but hemp seeds offer a surprising source for these proteins by offering them in a form similar to blood plasma. According to some, “eating hemp seeds could aid, if not heal, people suffering from immune deficiency diseases. This conclusion is supported by the fact that hemp seed was used to treat nutritional deficiencies brought on by tuberculosis, a severe nutrition blocking disease that causes the body to waste away [Czechoslovakia Tubercular Nutritional Study, 1955].” (source)
On top of that, they are a traditional food, eaten in China for thousands of years. Some have argued that because they were only eaten in times of famine or poverty, they’re not truly “traditional.” In times of abundance, the ancient Chinese mostly used hemp as a source of fiber to make clothing, canvas, and paper. Nevertheless, the fact that the food has been around for so long certainly counts in its favor. I have no problem consuming it.
A Note on Hemp & Drug Testing
If you choose to eat hemp seeds, it is very important that you consume them from well-sourced plants that don\’t contain high levels of THC (the psychoactive element in marijuana). According to Nutiva, the hemp they buy comes from Canada, where hemp food farmers have pledged to limit THC concentrations in plants to where they can not result in positive drug tests.
In the mid 90s, a series of studies done in the U.S. showed that eating hemp foods may cause positive urine tests for THC. For this reason, the Weston A. Price foundation does not recommend eating hemp. But according to the Test Pledge Program (which did their own series of studies in the year 2000 on the interference of hemp foods with THC levels in drug testing), these studies involved the consumption of products from seeds with considerably higher THC levels—often more than 100 micrograms per gram (µg/g) or parts per million (ppm)—than are now commonly found in commercial hemp seeds in North America. Thus, they argue the earlier studies do not allow a realistic assessment of the potential impact of such foods on the outcome of employee drug tests.
While I wouldn’t eat hemp seeds to replace animal proteins — particularly because of the abundance of nourishing fat soluble vitamins only found in wild/pastured/grass-fed meats, I do think they’re safe to consume and arguably more nutritious than many other seeds we might turn to for snacks.
(photo by bartpogoda)