Food and Beverage

Hemp in the Nutritional Segment

Written by Lydia Kariuki

For many years, the cultivation of hemp was illegal across different parts of the world. However, this has changed in the last couple of years and many countries have relaxed their laws on hemp production. This has contributed to positive growth in economies; in the US the sale of hemp based products is projected to reach 2.61 billion dollars by 2022. The nutritional segment is one facet of the hemp industry that represents unexploited potential.

Hemp is derived from cannabis sativa cultivars that have very low levels of the psychoactive cannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The European Union defines hemp as cannabis cultivars that contain less than 0.2% (THC) while in the US the threshold is set at 0.3% THC.

Hemp is a crop with diverse applications in industries such as medicine, manufacturing, cosmetics, and the food segment among others. This is geared towards the production of textiles, biodegradable plastics, paper, paint, animal feed, medicine, as well as ingredients for nutritional supplements.

Hemp Bioactive Compounds

Hemp inflorescence is packed with biologically active cannabinoids such as the popular cannabidiol (CBD), which offers significant therapeutic benefits including anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, and spasmolytic benefits. (1)

While CBD is mostly marketed as a therapeutic agent in states where medicinal cannabis has been legalized, it can also be sold as a food supplement.

Is this legal?

In the US it is illegal to market CBD as a dietary supplement because it contains bioactive ingredients which are used in the manufacture of FDA approved drugs (Epidiolex).

Things are different in the UK; CBD is sold legally in shops, cafes, and online as well. CBD sold as food supplements may be in the form of capsules and gels, tinctures, sweets and confectioneries, drinks, or oils.

Hemp as Food

Hemp has been consumed as food for thousands of years. In China for example, hemp seeds can be easily bought off the streets where they are sold as snacks. Hemp leaves, sprouts, and flowers are used to make juices and green salads for nutritional benefits.

As hemp is becoming mainstream the nutritional segment is carving out a niche aside from the industrial and therapeutic segments.

Hemp seeds are a rich source of amino acids including methionine, cystine, and arginine. They are also loaded with fiber, minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids. This can be used to fortify foods and increase their nutritional value. [1]

Hemp seeds are also rich in digestible proteins edestin and albumin. They can be used to make protein powder which has antihypertensive benefits.

Hemp Seeds are also used to make flour which is rich in moisture, protein, and carbohydrates.

Hemp Seed oil is used in cooking as a substitute for olive oil. Hemp seed oil has been shown to improve total cholesterol to HDL (high density lipoprotein) and offers cardioprotective benefits. [1]

Hemp sprouts are rich in polyphenols, flavonoids, and flavonols.

Due to all the above mentioned nutritional benefits hemp qualifies to be classified as a superfood and has the potential to revolutionize the nutritional industry.

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  1. Pellegrino Cerino et al.  A Review of Hemp As Food and Nutritional Supplement. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research 2020; ahead of print.

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Lydia Kariuki

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