Are Hemp Hearts Paleo?
When people hear the word “hemp,” the first thing that usually comes to their minds has something to do with smoke and a strong smell.
The hemp we’re talking about isn’t the marijuana plant but rather an innocent cousin of hemp and the seeds it produces hemp hearts, or shelled hemp seeds.
What to Know About Hemp Hearts
The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in interest surrounding hemp, and alongside its medicinal uses, people have started turning to it for oil, seeds, and other products (hemp milk, anyone?). Hemp is a bit of a tricky plant to harvest, as the seeds are indeterminate—that means that when the plant processed after picking, both ripe and immature seeds can be found on the same branch. When the shells around the seeds begin to crack, the hearts are brought in and preserved. After that, the rest is history (or dinner).
The benefits of hemp hearts have been touted far and wide lately, mostly for their impressive protein content (some evaluations put the value at 33% of your daily protein needs per serving). Aside from protein, hemp hearts are also full of fiber, vitamin E complex, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (somewhere around 80%—now that’s a number worth noticing!). These fatty acids do, however, make these seeds prone to going bad quickly.
In addition, while hemp hearts do have a more favorable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio than other things, it’s still not the preferred 1:1. Because there are both good and bad qualities to hemp hearts, it’s hard to tell where they might fit on the Paleo spectrum. Generally, Paleo experts agree that this case is tougher than others: while nutrients abound (bringing with them multiple health benefits, studies show), we do need to keep some things in mind before covering every meal for the rest of the year in mounds of hemp hearts.
What do other Paleo gurus say?
Mark Sisson says: “As to whether hemp is Primal or not, I’d put it (like other seeds) in a supporting role. It’s not main Primal fare, but – when eaten in its healthiest (fresh) state – it can complement a good Primal eating plan.”
Cole Bradburn says: “There are concerns, primarily processing and rancidity, but I see no problem with unprocessed hemp seeds and cold-pressed oil. There are legitimate health benefits to its consumption, and unlike many seeds there’s no need to soak hemp to get rid of phytic acid (win!).”
So are hemp hearts Paleo?
The nutritional benefit of hemp hearts far outweigh issues such as spoilage, but be careful to buy quality seeds and avoid processed products (but you knew that already, right?). And don’t worry—because hemp hearts aren’t the same as marijuana hemp, there are no psychoactive effects associated with consuming the seeds.
Are Hemp Hearts Paleo? Read this article to find out whether hemp hearts are Paleo or even healthy – includes what various Paleo experts think about hemp hearts.
Dear Mark: How Primal is Hemp?
As I’ve always said, part of the Primal Blueprint’s power is its continuing evaluation and evolution. As a broad lens defined by tried and true physiological principles, the PB can effectively assess and (when appropriate) seamlessly accommodate “new”/rediscovered practices and foods. Readers send me questions all the time that help redefine or further confirm the Blueprint’s existing range. Here’s one such inquiry.
I’ve been seeing more hemp products in the stores these days and have friends who call themselves hemp converts. They say it’s a good protein source. What do you think of hemp? Do you consider it Primal?
Hemp products have indeed exploded onto the marketplace in the last few years. Consumers appear to have waved off past alarm about drug associations. Up until the late 1990s, a large portion of the U.S. hemp imports came from China, where industry practices often left measureable levels of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Since Canada legalized industrial hemp in 1998, the import picture has shifted. Today most hemp products come from Canada and are essentially free from THC contamination. (The U.S. doesn’t allow cultivation within its borders.)
If you look at the nutrition, there are some reasons to recommend hemp. As seeds go, they’re a good source of protein. (Industry sources sometimes say 33% protein. Other sources, including a university nutritional overview concluded 25%.) For a plant source, it’s a thoroughly respectably source of usable protein (albumin and edestine being the primary forms) and offers all the essential amino acids. Hemp also contains a healthy dose of fiber, vitamin E complex, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Then there’s the fatty acid content. Hemp is very high in PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) to the tune of 80% or so. Although the prevailing CW would fall down and worship the very acronym on the page, there’s more to the picture as Primal types know. Yes, hemp has a good amount of omega-3 to its name, and it also has plenty of omega-6. The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio comes out around 3:1, which is considerably better than soy but still falls short of the PB-recommended 1:1. (The omega-3 is also in the form of ALA rather than the preferred DHA and EPA.) To its credit, the omega-6 content does include the healthier gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SA), both of which are believed to be anti-inflammatory in nature. Nonetheless, the very high PUFA content makes the seeds and oil prone to rancidity.
I think we’ll see more research coming out in the next few years exploring the particular health benefits of hemp now that the drug-associated fervor has died down and the public understands that these products don’t pose a psychoactive risk. Traditional practice supports hemp’s anti-inflammatory action. Specifically, the GLA and SA in hemp are credited with effectively treating skin disorders, particularly eczema. Some recent studies also point to hemp’s positive influence on immune function, and its prevention of unhealthy blood platelet aggregation (clumping), which researchers attribute partly to the GLA content. Finally, other researchers have explored hemp’s apparent stimulation of the brain enzyme calcineurin, which helps support both cardiac and neurological functioning.
In terms of palatability, the shelled seeds have a fairly nutty, mild flavor. I’ve enjoyed the seeds in salads and have seen people add them to homemade protein bars. Some folks liken them to sunflower seeds or pine nuts – fitting comparisons, I think. Although hemp seems to be fairly well tolerated and don’t contain the same anti-nutrients that soy does, those who are more sensitive to other seeds might find the same digestive reaction with hemp.
I can’t personally speak to the oil’s taste, but I’ve heard it can vary considerably by brand. (Hemp eaters, what say you?) If you purchase the oil, it’s of course important to look for cold-pressed and store it in a dark container in the refrigerator. As for hemp protein shakes, I’d say they’re reasonable secondary alternatives for those who can’t/won’t eat whey-based. I’d definitely put hemp above soy in the #2 spot. That said, I’d do a little homework into the processing of the brand, given the high PUFA content and its rancidity risk. Look for cold pressing (for initial oil removal) and cold milling (for powder production).
Finally, as to whether hemp is Primal or not, I’d put it (like other seeds) in a supporting role. It’s not main Primal fare, but – when eaten in its healthiest (fresh) state – it can complement a good Primal eating plan.
Let me know what you think. As always, thanks for the questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming!
Is hemp paleo? Is hemp Primal? Learn the nutritional merits of hemp seeds, oil and protein powder.