Hop on the hemp wagon during National Nutrition Month – guest expert Camey Demmitt, RD & APD

About a month ago, I was tweeting about the Manitoba Harvest hemp food samples sent to me from the USA. Our guest expert was the first  to reply and say that she had always wanted to try hemp foods and so I offered to share my “stash” .  As dietitians celebrate National Nutrition Month (USA) and how to Eat Right with Color, hemp food products are a great example of turning the focus on foods that are naturally, nutrient rich.

About our expert:

Camey Demmitt is a Registered Dietitian and Accredited Practising Dietitian, who completed her training in the United States. She is also a Board Certified Specialist in Gerontology Nutrition and is working on a Masters Degree in Gerontology. In 2007, she moved with her daughter to Australia and is a senior dietitian with Health Management in Cairns and is one of the Nutrition Gurus team. Camey enjoys working with the elderly/aged care, eating disorders, bariatrics, and those recovering from substance abuse.

So let me start off by asking you this…when you hear the word hemp what comes to mind? Does it conjure up images of hippies, Grateful Dead concerts, Cheech & Chong movies, Nimbin, or that funky ol’ Professor Johnson from your university days? (Every uni has got that token professor, you know that one  who wore those funky headbands and was ahem shall we say a wee bit alternative). Sadly hemp hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, as many people automatically associate hemp with the drug marijuana. But the two have some very distinct differences.

Hemp vs. marijuana

While hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, Cannabis sativa, they are actually different varieties. The cannabis variety that is cultivated for use as marijuana has significant amounts of a substance called tetrahydrocannabinol or THC for short. THC is the psychoactive substance or the actual “drug”. However, hemp also referred to as industrial hemp, contains virtually no THC, and therefore a person will not get “high” from ingesting hemp seeds/foods.

Hemp’s history

Hemp is an extremely versatile plant and it has been cultivated worldwide for thousands of years. Throughout history it has been used as a source for fibre, rope, oil, paper and yes, even food. From about 1600’s to the mid 1850’s hemp was a key crop grown in the United States. And believe it or not, even some very remarkable Americans, such as George Washington and Henry Ford grew hemp. In 1788 Sir Joseph Banks sent hemp seeds over on the First Fleet’s voyage to Australia in an effort to help boost Britain’s production of hemp. During those days hemp was a vital resource for the British economy. The production of hemp all but came to a screeching halt in the 1930’s when the U.S. government lumped hemp and marijuana together, essentially making hemp illegal. Other countries  including Australia followed suit and it had seemed that hemp’s glory days were over.

Current hemp happenings

Hold on to your patchouli oil and tie dye shirts my friends, because this is a new millennium, and with more and more of us interested in our health, the environment, and sustainable farming, hemp may just end up being the comeback kid! Hemp foods in particular, are a burgeoning market in the natural foods industry. In North America alone, it’s estimated that the hemp food industry is worth over $100 million. Great news for North Americans, but not so much for Aussies.

Unfortunately in Australia, it is illegal to sell hemp for human consumption, but we can grow it. On the flipside in America, it is illegal to grow hemp, but hemp seeds and other hemp food products can be imported, manufactured, and sold. Whew! It’s enough to make you go cross-eyed working that one out! Ah but the story for Australia doesn’t end here folks! At this very moment I’m typing, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) is in the process of reviewing an application to overturn the hemp foods ban. So stay tuned!

The hemp food hype

Hemp seed is the basis for wide range of foods. Everything from oils and spreads, cereals, protein bars, flour and even milk are currently being sold in North America. So is the hemp hype all what it’s cracked up to be? Well nutritionally speaking hemp could be considered a “superfood”. It’s an excellent source of highly digestible vegetarian protein and contains all the essential amino acids, a rare characteristic amongst plant foods. In addition to this, hemp is chock-full with “good” fats. It has an excellent ratio of Omega-3’s to Omega-6’s fatty acids, as well as the elusive fatty acid GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid) rarely naturally found in other foods. Some research on GLA suggests it may be useful for such health conditions as high cholesterol, eczema, allergies and rheumatoid arthritis. Hemp has both soluble and insoluble fibre and it’s a great source of vitamin E and B vitamins. Hemp seeds are gluten free and can be used in vegan diets. So far I’m sold!

Taste testing hemp foods

Now the really fun bit…getting to taste the samples! Now because I work with the Nutrition Gurus, I thought I’d play nice and pay the “love” forward so to speak, so myself and the other Gurus gave the products a whirl.

Shelled hemp seeds:

We loved the seeds! The taste reminded us of pine nuts. It was a subtle nutty flavour that we thought would be fantastic as an addition to salads, yoghurts, and breakfast cereals or simply just a snack on their own. Now the taste alone was a winner in our books, but with a dose of 11 grams of vegetarian protein and 2000mg of omega 3’s per serve, we were in absolute nutrition geek/foodie heaven!

Hemp protein powder (vanilla & dark chocolate):

We trialled the protein powders in raspberry banana smoothies. All the Gurus rather enjoyed the smoothies with the protein powder, with one Guru going so far as to getting out a spoon to scrape the sides of her glass. The taste again was subtle but nice for both flavours. With each serve of protein powder providing 8-9 grams of protein, this is a great option for everyone from athletes to the elderly.

Hemp protein fibre:

We again trialled the hemp protein fibre powder in smoothies and for lack of a better word to describe it, it tasted um well…a bit grassy (pardon the pun). Obviously this might have something to do with the fact that each serve provides 14 grams of fibre! To offset the grassy taste, I added a drizzle of honey and it was perfect. Something else I discovered with this product, is that unlike psyllium husk, it doesn’t go gluggy. This would be a great option for those looking for a way to boost fibre intake. It also contains 11 grams of protein and 600mg of omega 3’s per serve.

Editor’s comment:

Wow that sounds like an overall “thumbs up” consensus on the hemp food products from the Nutrition Gurus and Camey. Hemp products certainly pack one heck of a nutrition punch and that’s the gist of what many of us dietitians are writing about this National Nutrition Month (USA).  How to enrich your diet.  Not what to ditch from your diet.  Remember that there is no single, super food, but plenty of ways to enrich a super diet.  I’ll be posting links to all articles from National Nutrition Month shortly. So come on FSANZ, let us have our hemp and eat it too! To all those happy hempsters out there in North America love to hear more of your tips below.  Or perhaps our RD colleagues have some views to share? And if you haven’t tried hemp yet, check out Manitoba Harvest.   A big thank you for the samples courtesy of Ashley Koff RD.

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