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January 11 2010

Dear Mark: How Primal is Hemp?

By Mark Sisson
41 Comments

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.

Dear Mark,

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!

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41 thoughts on “Dear Mark: How Primal is Hemp?”

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  1. I do miss my summertime hemp milk/mango smoothies. Half a cup of hemp milk, a mango, and frozen green tea cubes sure hit the spot when the weather is hot.

    I really like Hemp Dream, but it’s definitely not to everyone’s taste; I’ve heard complaints that it tastes like wet rope, but to me it has a nice earthy, seedlike flavor.

  2. I’ve been considering switching to hemp protein for my occasional shakes. Seems like it would be less processed than the dairy proteins.

    Superheated, dried protein from who knows how sick cows, can’t be better can it?

  3. Haha hemp dream may be more described as woody/cardboardy/ropey lol.

    BUT mixed with other things, its actually quite nice and the flavors really take a nice turn away from cardboard and more to seedy. 🙂

    1. that would be chia over 3x’s the omega 3 than 6. although the overall pufa’s are very high, so while your getting a good ratio it’s still a lot of 6 along with it. i mean does 3 cancel out 6 idk…?

  4. I’m concerned about the polyunsaturated oils being rancid since all the hemp products in the US are made from ground seeds. In Sweden I did buy the whole seeds and ground them myself for protein shakes, but those are illegal in the US.

    1. You can buy the whole seeds (shelled) which are nitrogen-flushed. I haven’t had any rancidity issues with them (I refirigerate them after opening).

    2. I live in California and just ordered 5 lb. unhulled whole seeds from nuts.com. I heard good things. I hope to find they’re true!

  5. hemp oil is REALLY nice…try to find the brand Manitoba Harvest. it is a really nice nutty taste. the hemp milk does tend to taste like butt. the meal is quite okay.

  6. I hadn’t had any reason to try hemp up until now, but that shake dragonmamma described sounds delish! Can’t wait for a hot day to whip one up.

  7. I picked up some hemp protein powder on a whim several months ago. Most of that bag is still sitting in my cupboard because I can’t stand the texture it gives to foods. I’ve tried it mixed with yogurt and mixed with almond flour as batter for deep fried shrimp. I almost want to call it gritty, but the texture is very fine. It kind of feels like it creates more friction between my teeth.

  8. I guess I’m not seeing the point of hemp. Especially for someone who can tolerate lactose and dairy, hemp food products seem like a solution in desperate search of a problem. Further, all of the proposed problems solved by processed hemp are only really problems if you think satfat and whole foods like eggs, red meat, etc. are artery clogging and unhealthy.

    I think hemp makes great clothing, cordage, etc. Eating the seeds of a plant, which comes along with the processing needed to work around the natural defenses of that plant, feels way too much like “Eat healthy whole wheat!” to me.

  9. “Hemps protein is complete, containing all 10 essential amino acids, making it superior to other sources of protein”…”Since hemp protein is raw, its naturally occuring digestive enzymes remain intact, allowing the body to utilize it with the greatest of ease”

    From The Thrive Diet by Brendan Brazier

    1. Um, so plant seeds are now contributing the enzymes needed to digest them now? The enzyme argument of raw-foodists is one of the strangest of their arguments, and probably the argument farthest from any evidence to support it.

      If you’re eating hemp raw, you might as well be eating wheat or soy raw. In a survival situation, it will provide some calories and moisture. But for day to day consumption? Stay far, far away.

      1. Since hemp is a seed like sunflower or sesame, I wouldn’t compare it to eating raw to wheat or soy, which are totally different types of foods. But I do agree with the arguement of the raw food enzyme theory being rather weak (and I used to be a raw foodist!)

        As far as the seed vs. the protein, I (and a number of people I know) find it way easier to digest the seeds than the protein, which is very gritty and very high fiber (hard on some people’s digestive tracts).

        The seeds blend nicely into smoothies and have enough protein that I don’t see why anyone would even use the powder (unless they were, for some reason, wanting to eat a lower fat hemp product).

      2. Unlike soy or whey (and, btw, unlike sunflower and especially sesame seeds, which are full of phytates and oxalates,), hemp doesn’t contain any antinutrients.
        Hemp can provide much more nutrition than “some calories and moisture”. I’ll skip the details cause it’s not the info that is hard to find – if you’re intrested, of course.
        For me, it’s one of the best – perfectly balanced and easy digestable – things to eat on a daily basis.. well, it could be – here, in russia, hemp products (and seeds too) are really hard to find and the prices for all “unuasual” products are unjustifiable high. Ironically, “exotic” hemp had been using here for centuries for food and many other purposes too. As far as I know, hemp oil was traditional and most common oil untill the middle of the 19th century when it was replaced by sunflower oil, which is most common plant oil in russia & ukraine till today.

        1. It is untrue that hemp does not contain any anti-nutrients. Hemp has A LOT of oxalates in it.

          http://www.glutenfreeandbeyond.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1920

          There’s a post just past half-way down the page that shows the oxalate concentration of hemp.

          I ate a serving or two of hemp daily for nearly a year, and began passing blood clots in my urine. The doctor determined that I was excreting a large amount of oxalate and that it was damaging my kidneys. Stopped eating hemp and the blood clots disappeared.

  10. I just had to read this post after seeing the title :). I agree with you though. It’s not necessarily primal its kind of secondary to it but still pretty close.

  11. i’ve wonderd if they use them to up the omega-3 content of “omega-3 eggs”.

  12. I use hemp seeds on a salad from time to time. I’ve used hemp oil also on my salads in a blend of olive and walnut oil. Tastes like a nutty oil to me. Glad to hear they get the primal stamp, but I do love my nuts and seeds so this is just one more for variety.

    I also store them in the fridge, btw.

  13. I’m so glad you’ve addressed this topic, Mark! I’m a long time hemp advocate, and I’ve wondered for years if it was ok as a protein source; as a former Zoner, I avoided it because of the high ratio of omega 6 to 3 fatty acids. But since this type of omega 6 is ‘better’, I might start stocking up on hemp seeds again!

    Hemp seeds are really tasty; I once tried hemp butter, and it was a little bitter. Probably varies by brand.

    Hemp for clothing, paper, oil, fuel, you name it. Hemp may one day save the planet! (Ok, maybe not)

  14. I enjoy hemp on a regular basis, usually a little at a time. I love them in smoothies and also enjoy sprinkling them on salads, fruit bowls, or even adding them in things like omelets.

    Eating them everyday may be fine, I enjoy them 3-5 times a week and usually 2-3 T at a time.

  15. Unsweetened hemp milk is nice for dairy-free baking or savory stovetop goods where you want to thicken a bit without coconut milk.

    But drinking it plain? I don’t do that.

  16. It’s also a great stuff for those who have Coeliac/Crohn’s/IBS/LGS.

  17. Hemp products, especially hemp oil, is the best way to to feed one’s own cannabinoid system. Evereything with a vertebrae has a cannabinoid system. This system modulates and regulates all other systems os the body. Science has know this for years. Just look up “cannabinoids” on PubMED.

    For more information: Download for free the book, “The Cannabis Papers – a citizen’s guide to cannabinoids” at Lulu.com.

  18. Hi Mark,

    I’ve been enjoying your posts for some time. I’ve been making hemp a main part of my diet. I feel like a million bucks and have unending energy. I eat 4-12 tbsp with 3 servings fruit in a smoothie daily. I supplement with large vegetable dishes as well as honey and vinegar twice a day. Sometimes I include other seeds, nuts, and occasionally yogurt or fermented cheese, very rarely meat.

    What would you say in response to making hemp my main source of protein and fat? I am dairy and gluten intolerant so whey is out of the question for me.

    Would you suggest balancing hemp with a certain type of food besides just a wide array of fruits and veggies? I enjoy chia, cacao, nuts, coconut, and other sources of protein as well.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi K Cody — Did you ever get an answer to this question? I’m a busy college student who’s constantly on the go, and have been thinking about making hemp seeds my primary protein source, as they are so portable.
      Thanks!

  19. I love hemp oil.I use it as the required 2 tsp of oil for Weight Watcher. I have been looking for comments or research to support it for a long time.I know how it makes me feel and it is good. I use Manitoba Harvest.The bottle is well done, as in flip/squirt top,no waste. The powder is an acquired taste. As for the seeds, they are great too. Just be sure to store all in the fridge and they will keep for a long time,as in MANY months.(seeds still good from last summer).
    thanks for covering hemp.

  20. I understand that puree’d hemp, like nutritional yeast, can be used to make a sauce like cheese sauce. I am lactose-intolerant, but I still eat hard cheeses. Around here, you cannot get raw, unpasturized anything. You can’t even get full-fat yogurt. So I wonder if sprinkling ground hemp on my “meatza” is better than regular mozzarella?

  21. I had too much hemp seed oil on hand so I started adding a tablespoon to my dogs’ dinner. After a month or so I noticed a difference in the 8 year old goldie’s energy level: She became positively bouncy! She also lost about 5-10 lbs over 3-4 months – nothing else changed about her diet or routine. This was a dog who huffed and puffed hard after a normal trip to the park. The benefits have continued now for 6 months. Next I’m going to try them with hemp seed butter.

  22. Hey all. There is a new hemp product out there that is great. It is a hemp milk and it taste amazing and has no additives or fillers. It is a great way to get tons of protein and omegas everyday. It is called Simply Hemp Milk.

  23. Is it possible that two tablespoons a day of Hemp Seed Oil are causing me to gain quite a lot of weight. I have been using it for a few months and my weight is rising all the time. I am not eating more or differently than usual. I also take two omega 3 capsules each day. I am female and 69 years if age

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  25. I’ve been using ATH Organics Hemp Gold for awhile and haven’t had any issues of rancidity as long as you use it within a reasonable time period (1-2 months). It does dry out after long exposure to oxygen so I leave it in the refrigerator after opening.

  26. One person says hemp doesn’t have oxalates, and another says it does. Is there any scientific evidence for either opinion.

  27. Hi Mark,

    I am an orthopedic and sports medicine physician in Bloomington,IN. I have been “Primal” for 6 years. I am a lifelong athlete and fitness enthusiast and have always been into all things healthy. Your contribution to the health and fitness world ha been nothing short of phenomenal in my humble opinion. I cannot tell you how many patients I have turned on to the “Primal Blueprint” and your website who have literally transformed their lives for the better.

    I have been helping patients over the past year with full spectrum hemp oil. Initially the skeptic, I dug deeply into the research and concluded it is the real deal once I fully understood the Endocannabinoid system and physiology (I started med school in 1983, the ECS was not discovered).
    until 1992)

    I would like the opportunity to share my clinical experience with you so that you can share the research with your readers. I would be happy to talk/correspond at your convenience.

    It is about as “primal” as it gets!!!!

    Rick Weidenbener, MD

  28. You know, In the last few years, Hemp product market is growing rapidly. China and America are at the forefront of hemp import & export. Today most hemp products come from Canada and are essentially free from THC contamination. 🙂

  29. Hey,Stockholm is gorgeous! I see so many posts on Denmark and Norway but rarely ever any on Sweden. So thanks! I need a pic in front of that rainbow wall at the metro! But my favorite is def that Vasa ship!! By far! That is so freaking cool!!! <3