Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ever tried hemp protein in your smoothie?

I’m happy to report (in a healthy way) that in the past two months, my experience with hemp protein has been a good one. I first learned about the nutritional benefits of hemp in an article I read from Runners World. Up until a few months ago, I’d always associated hemp with the eclectic people I would encounter when I walked through parks in Moscow, ID while attending school down there. I still think about those guys, and the word “hippie” comes to mind.

Yet when I read about the nutritional benefits of hemp, I thought it would be kind of fun to try. After all, I’d already embarked on a new diet emphasis that aligns with the Paleo diet (minus the pieces of dark chocolate I regularly enjoy, which I’m sure no caveman would EVER have been so lucky to come upon while ambling through the woods). Speaking of Paleo, in addition to adding hemp protein to my diet, I’ve developed a huge appreciation for the oh-so-versatile sweet potato. I used to have oatmeal every morning, but because Paleo’s stomach doesn’t agree with grains, I’ve substituted sweet potato, nuts, and dried fruit for it. Apparently, my dermatologist noticed. He took one look at my hands and thought I had an orange hue. (Maybe a new tanning technique?)

Back to hemp: I did some research online about the nutritional benefits compared to other protein and healthy fat sources. Interestingly enough, the hemp nut contains mainly oil (44%), carbohydrates (12%), and vitamins, specifically those of the Vitamin E complex.1 What makes hemp so nutritionally beneficial is the composition of its oil (or its fatty acid profile) and its protein, which contains all the essential amino acids in nutritionally significant amounts.

First, looking at the fatty acid composition of hemp: Humans should ingest essential fatty acids (EFAs) in an omega-6 / omega-3 ratio of 4:1.1 Did you know the average Western diet has a ratio of 10:1 or more? The overall message is that we are far too deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. What hemp offers that other nut and seeds don’t is an omega-6 / omega-3 ratio of 3:1 or less, depending on the plant variety. In addition, hemp provides significant amounts of the more rare polyunsaturated fatty acids, notably gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA).1

The bottom line is that, hemp contains all of the essential amino acids in a more nutritionally significant amount and at a ratio closer to “complete” sources of protein, like meat, milk, and eggs. This comes as good news to me, as I have had trouble tolerating other supplemental sources of protein in the past. (I must add, however, that my re-introduction of meat into my diet—thanks to Paleo—has been a HUGE deal. Steak and pork chops have never tasted so good after a long bike ride!)

Finally, the next thought on your minds (I’m sure) is that I’m essentially consuming cannabis. I had to do some research on this because, quite frankly, my entire professional and racing career depends on a clean background check. Here’s what I found:

The two cannabinoids most preponderant in cannabis are THC (the psychoactive ingredient) and CBD (an antipsychoactive ingredient).2 Marijuana is high in THC and low in CBD, yet industrial hemp is low in THC and high in CBD (the opposite of marijuana). Marijuana has a potency of 3-20% by dry weight of THC (psychoactive ingredient), yet hemp has a potency of less than 1%, and the normal range is under 0.5%.2 Therefore, don’t get any ideas that I’m over here at home sniffing my protein powder. I couldn’t possibly get high off it, and believe me, it tastes so good I wouldn’t think of ingesting it in any other way.

Like I noted before, hemp is low in THC (the psychoactive ingredient), but relatively high in CBD (the antipsychoactive ingredient). 

As I approach my first race of the season, St. George 70.3, I continue to eat my sweet potatoes, snack on carrots and broccoli embellished with almonds and raisins, and recover from hard workouts with meals that most closely resemble that of a caveman: meat, vegetables, tubers. I’m not sure Paleo would be impressed by my addition of hemp protein smoothies to his menu, but they sure do make for a delicious, healthy “dessert.”

1.  Leson, Gero. Nutritional Profile and Benefits of Hemp Seed, Nut and Oil. Article accessed April 16, 2013.  Original article taken from The Vote Hemp Report. 2002/2003. <http://www.votehemp.com>

2. Hemp vs. Marijuana. Arizona Industrial Hemp Council. 2001. Article accessed April 20, 2013. <http://www.azhemp.org/Archive/Package/Legal/legal.html>

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