Textile hemp plant photo by Eric Martinez @ flickr.
Quick, what do you picture when you see the word "hemp" - old-fashioned hippies in rope sandals and scratchy shirts? Or do you go right to the 'evil weed' cannabis-hemp connection? Whatever you imagine, you are probably not alone, influenced by decades of government's viewpoint equating the industrial hemp plant with its close cannabis-genus cousin marijuana (the U.S. forbids domestic hemp crops, though two North Dakota farmers are fighting in court for the right to do so). But the sturdy, fast-growing and pesticide-resistant hemp plant has made its way into many, many eco-friendly imports - clothing, insulation, biodiesel, biodegradable packaging, and even foods such as granola bars and vegan milk. Hemp is great. Now a well-known hemp grower wants you to drink hemp seed oil daily to get your essential fatty acids, but is this a good idea?
Well, famous health food guru Dr. Andrew Weil says yes.
"If Americans ate more hemp I think it would correct the imbalance of fatty acids in the diet. I think we'd see a decrease in inflammatory diseases and...heart disease,"
Weil commented on a You Tube paen to hemp's promise on the hemp.org web site.
What Weil says is based on the fact that Americans eat a lot more Omega 6 fatty acids compared to their intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, to our health detriment, according to most researchers. Evolutionarily, humans might have had about a 1-to-1 balance of 6's to 3's. Today, the ration can be someplace around 15-to-1! That's because so many of the processed foods we eat contain polyunsaturated fatty acids in vegetable oils like corn oil.
Just shy of greenwash?
Some mainstream health sources say to maintain a 4-to-1 ration of Omega 6 to Omega 3, with others recommend something nearer to 2-to-1. Manitoba Harvest said its hemp seed oil (available in either no-pesticide or organic versions) is a healthy choice - it has a ratio of 3.75 to 1. They suggest using the oil in salad dressings, sauces (though not as a cooking oil) and even drinking it directly up to 1 to 2 tablespoons each day. Manitoba also says hemp seed oil is a good "beauty" oil because an Omega imbalance has been indicated in skin conditions such as excema.
While Manitoba's claims might not rile a normal greenwash meter, it bears saying that flax seed oil might be a preferable diet supplement if you are in any way trying to even out your Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. Flax oil has a 1-to-4 Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. (Manitoba Harvest thinks hemp seed oil tastes better and compares it to flax seed oil here). And, good old cod liver oil might be even better because it also contains Vitamin D, which most health professionals agree is needed, especially in winter, and is possibly more efficiently converted than plant-based Omega sources.