7 Healthy Hemp Foods to Try

I have a wallet made of hemp. Although I’ve seen some very fashionable hemp accessories, mine’s really old and not very cute, but I can’t justify buying a new one until it wears out. I guess I’ve learned firsthand that hemp fiber is strong, durable, and long-lasting. But I learned something new about hemp recently. It’s edible, too. No, I can’t eat my wallet, although maybe I could talk my dog into munching on it…

Hemp use dates back to the Stone Age. Imprints of hemp fibers have been found in 10,000-year-old pottery shards in Asia. Clothing, shoes, ropes, paper, and, probably, wallets, were all made from these fibers. Later, in medieval Germany and Italy, hemp was a common ingredient in recipes like pies and soups.

What about THC?
Today, hemp is cultivated in almost every part of the world and used in the production of a variety of products, including paper, fabric, food, fuel, and even plastic. Due to legislation intended to prevent the cultivation of cannabis, a subspecies of hemp that contains large amounts (20%-30%) of the psychoactive substance THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), it is illegal to grow hemp in most parts of the United States. But the type of hemp cultivated for consumer products and food contains such a miniscule amount of THC (0.3%) that it produces no intoxicating effect, even in significant quantities. It is legal, however, to import products made from these plants into the U.S.

Besides having an abundance of uses, hemp is also easy on the eco-system. It requires little to no pesticides while cotton, for example, is one of the most heavily-sprayed crops in the world. Hemp also replenishes the soil with nutrients, controls erosion, and produces oxygen. Just as growing hemp is a boon to the environment, eating it is a boon to your health.

Although the leaves of the hemp plant can be eaten, the part of the plant best known for nutritional value is the seeds. These small seeds are highly nutritious, containing essential fatty acids, amino acids, and minerals. About a third of the weight of the seed is made up of oil, and most of that oil is the healthy variety: ALA (alpha-linoleic acid, a type of Omega-3 fat) and linoleic acid. These essential fatty acids (EFA's for short) can benefit your health in many ways. Hemp seeds also contain complete, high-quality protein and all eight essential amino acids.

Because of U.S. regulations, you won’t be able to grow your own hemp plants or buy them at your local farmers market, but you can still reap the benefits of this amazing plant thanks to a growing number of food products at your local grocery store and online. Hempseed and its oil have a unique, nutty flavor, similar to flaxseed.

A continually expanding variety of other hemp food products, like granola, snack bars, protein powders, waffles, and even hemp milk, hemp tofu, and hemp butter are available these days, usually at natural foods stores and online retailers. Keep in mind that the least processed products will be the most affordable, so if you're itching to add the healthfulness of hemp to your diet, try plain hemp seeds and create your own recipes. Here are just a few examples of what you'll find at the grocery these days.

Hempseeds can be eaten raw, added to smoothies, cereals and other recipes, and used in baked goods like muffins, breads and granola bars. You can find shelled/hulled hempseeds in the bulk foods section of natural foods stores, online, and sometimes packaged in the baking aisle of the supermarket. Because they contain primarily unsaturated fat, hemp seeds should be stored away from light and heat, preferably in the refrigerator.

Hemp Oil is used mainly as a supplement and has a fairly strong nutty flavor. It's nutritionally superior to both olive and flaxseed oils and can be used in salad dressings, smoothies and other recipes but shouldn't be heated or cooked. You'll find it in opaque bottles, in the section of refrigerated supplements in natural foods stores. When buying, look for an organic, cold-pressed and raw variety, such as Nutiva's Organic Cold-Pressed Hemp Oil, and always store hemp oil in dark-colored bottles in the refrigerator to maintain its chemical stability and freshness.

Hemp Milk is a dairy-free alternative to milk that is widely available in natural food stores, and comes in original (plain), vanilla, and chocolate flavors. You'll find it on the grocery shelf with other shelf-stable milk alternatives (like soy milk, rice milk, etc.).Although all flavors are nutty and delicious from a cup, in recipes, and on cereal, Living Harvest's Chocolate Hemp Milk tastes especially smooth and decadent, and is soy, dairy and gluten free.

Hemp Granola is a tasty and nutritious breakfast. Nature's Path Hemp Plus Granola has a nutty flavor, crunchy texture and a boost of nutrition, thanks to the hemp: omega-3's, omega-6's, fiber, and protein. The same brand also makes tasty hemp-enhanced instant oatmeal, granola bars and more. You'll find such products in the breakfast aisle of your natural foods store.

Hemp Protein Powder can make a quick, high-protein meal on the go. Just add it a scoop to your favorite smoothie combination, or mix it into juice, milk, yogurt or other liquids. You'll find hemp protein powder in the protein supplement section of natural foods stores. Unlike the whole hempseeds and oils, the protein has been isolated, so these powders are fat-free. Try Nutiva’s Organic Hemp Protein Powder, to which no flavors or sweeteners have been added. Just two scoops add 11 grams of high-quality protein and 3 grams of fiber for 120 calories. Also try Nutiva's Hemp Shake mixes, which boast flavors like Berry Pomegranate and Chocolate.

Hemp Seed Butter can be used like peanut butter. Spread it on crackers or bread; use it as a dip for apple slices; or replace it for any nut butter a recipe might call for. It's a rich source of healthy fatty acids and protein, too. Manitoba Harvest's Hemp Seed Nut Butter is a great choice. Like natural peanut butter, which has no additives, you should stir it to mix the oils and store it in the refrigerator to prolong shelf life and prevent oil separation.

Hemp Nuts are a deliciously crunchy snack when eaten plain but can also be added to your favorite trail mix, cereals or salads. Living Harvest's Organic Hemp Nuts come conveniently packaged, but you might also find Hemp Nuts in the bulk foods or natural snacks section of the grocery.

The hemp food products above were researched and written about by Nicole Nichols, SparkPeople Resident Expert and Health Educator. This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian