Koslo's Nutrition Solutions

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Health Benefits of Hemp

I am a huge fan of hemp products and since they are gaining in popularity I thought I would dispel some myths, state some facts and share my personal experiences. I first got turned on to hemp products over a year ago when I was searching for another vegan alternative to soy protein powder. I wanted a product that was organic and free of harsh chemicals like the hexane that is used when processing soy. And if the products were produced in a way that was good for the environment, that would be fantastic! Enter hemp!


For many people when they hear the word “hemp” they automatically conjure up images of magical brownies or think that hemp is something that needs to be stashed somewhere inconspicuous. Hemp, or industrial hemp, is from the same plant as cannabis sativa however, hemp manufacturers eliminate all but traces of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). I guess that can be taken as good or bad news depending on your preferences. Because of this image problem, Canada has really taken the lead in this market capturing a good part of the US market share.

So what’s so great about hemp?

There are lots of things that are great about hemp including the nutritional content, the low environmental impact, its versatility and taste. I have tried just about all of the different hemp products available including the hemp butter, hemp oil, hemp seed, the high fiber hemp powder, the regular hemp protein powder, the high protein hemp powder, hemp beverage and several varieties of the shakes. So in terms of nutrition, hemp has many things going for it: it is vegan, gluten free, soy free, high in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids which are essential to health and need to be consumed through diet, and is a good source of highly digestible protein. The fats are in a 4:1 ratio which is thought to be ideal for health. Hemp also has two other omega fats, stearodonic acid (SDA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA) that are absent from many other foods. In addition, most manufacturers certify that their products are organic which means no harsh chemicals or genetically modified organisms. The one thing you have to keep in mind is that hemp oil and butter should not be used for cooking and when baking with the powder the oven temperature should not exceed 350⁰F. High temperatures degrade hemps properties.

Looks good on paper, what about taste?

Personally I love the taste which is earthy and somewhat nutty and don’t mind the green color one bit. For me and for many people, hemp is easier to digest then soy or animal proteins like whey or casein. Hemp is high in fiber too so it digests slowly making it a good food for keeping blood sugar in check. Manitoba Harvest http://www.manitobaharvest.com/ is one brand of hemp products that I use and I was recently given the opportunity to sample their chocolate and vanilla hemp protein powders http://manitobaharvest.com/category/16/Hemp-Protein-Powder.html#trail as well as their hemp hearts http://manitobaharvest.com/category/13/Hemp-Hearts.html#trail (aka hemp seeds). I make smoothies every afternoon and hemp powder is one of the main ingredients. Both the vanilla and chocolate shakes have authentic tastes and they don’t contain any type of artificial ingredients. They contain real sugar which you may think is a bad thing, but it keeps the product wholesome while keeping the calories per serving in check. Each serving has over a quarter of the recommended intake level of fiber and contains as much protein as an egg. Personally, I like my smoothies thick so I add frozen fruit and ice. To make smoothies even thicker, the hemp hearts can be added to a small amount of water and blended into a paste before the powder and fruit, etc are added. You may also want to add some type of alternative “milk” or even peanut butter depending on your calorie needs and goals. Mixed with the High Pro 70 it makes a great exercise recovery drink because the sugar in the flavored powder can help with the uptake of the carbohydrates and protein into the muscles. And the hemp hearts (seeds) are so versatile. I use them in my muffins, on salads, on my dinner, in shakes, on hot cereal, etc. Each serving has a whopping 10 grams of protein and a good dose of those omega fats I was discussing.

I use the high fiber hemp powder for baking. I must have created about a dozen original muffin recipes at this point. I substitute it for about ¼ of the flour. My creations have all been super yummy and nutritious and I have become hooked on creating new recipes just about every week. My plan is to write a cookbook one day and as I was typing this I was thinking that a whole cookbook could be written just using hemp products for each of the different categories of recipes. So you will have to stay tuned for my recipes when/if I find someone to back my venture!

Bottom Line

While some researchers argue that the plant form of the omega fats found in hemp are not converted efficiently in the human body and that it should not be overlooked that the oil, nuts, and butter are nutrient dense (i.e. high in calories), hemp still stands head and shoulders above the many processed foods that crowd our plates. It is an antioxidant powerhouse, allergen free, contains highly digestible protein, is high in fiber, is produced using sustainable agriculture, does not contain harsh chemicals or is organic and is extremely versatile. Have fun exploring hemp and post a comment on which product is your favorite.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Facts About Fermented Foods

I read an article the other day in one of my dietetics magazines about fermented foods which reminded me of the tub of miso that has been in my fridge for several years. Yes I did say years and yes surprisingly it is still safe to eat. I am one who takes food safety pretty seriously so you can trust me on that one. Anyway, for me fermented foods held absolutely no appeal when I was growing up as I did in a PA Dutch and Ukrainian family. Think sauerkraut, pickled cauliflower, carrots, green beans, peppers, etc. They look so pretty in the jar and so enticing until you take a bite. Then you realize that it was all a ruse as your mouth puckers at the sour taste. Ick. But of course I am a sucker for anything with health benefits so when I became a vegetarian and started doing my own cooking I discovered another class of fermented foods more to my liking: soy products like miso and tempeh.

It turns out that pickled and fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt and cheese have been around for many, many years. The earliest record of fermentation dates back as far as 6000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent and just about every civilization has at least one fermented food in its culinary lineage. Fermentation was originally developed as a way to preserve foods but interest and research has grown in recent years due to their probiotic content. Home fermentation or lactic acid fermentation is one of the easiest and most common home methods. It is an anaerobic process in which lactic acid bacteria, mainly Lactobacillus, convert sugar to lactic acid which acts as a preservative. Salt is a necessary component as it helps the bacteria to grow which in turn prevent the growth of pathogenic microorganisms. The salt also pulls water and nutrients from the food and adds flavor.

Interestingly I had just been eyeing a package of kimchi at my local Trader Joe’s and debating the pros and cons of trying it. I am one of those people who aren’t very impulsive, so I decided I would mull it over. Then I read the article on fermented foods and wouldn’t you know that kimchi was discussed as one of several fermented foods from Korea. Other examples included Japanese natto (soybeans), Vietnamese ma’m (seafood), Chinese douche (black beans) and Lao pa deek (fish sauce). The article also discussed garri which is fermented cassava root native to West African countries. Because I lived in Sierra Leone, West Africa, the mention of cassava root conjured up a few memories of some of the less than delectable meals I ate while serving there. Guess I didn’t realize how healthy it was at the time and maybe I should have appreciated it more.

In terms of science, research, and health benefits, the bulk of research to date has focused on the probiotics in dairy foods. However, links between other types of fermented foods and health can be traced back as far as ancient Rome and China. Evidence-based reviews indicate that certain strains of probiotics contribute to the microbial balance of the gastrointestinal tract. This is important because our intestines are our first line of defense in our immune system so keeping them healthy can go a long way towards preventing and reducing inflammation of the gut. Inflammation in the intestines can lead to diarrhea, gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and even cancer.

As with all things, modernization of our food supply has taken small scale fermentation to large batch production. What this means is that your pickles are produced different so that very little if any beneficial bacteria are present and the number of actual live bacteria in your yogurt may be suspect. So if you seek the health benefits of lacto-fermented foods, check for ones that were produced in small batches and sold in gourmet health foods stores, farmers markets and Asian shops. Or you may want to give home fermentation or pickling a try.