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Hemp seeds are good for you!

Q: What are hemp seeds? Are they good for me, and if so, why?

Hemp seeds are a wonderful new addition to the health food aisles at your grocery store. Not to be confused with their cousin, the "other" hemp seeds used to grow marijuana for psychoactive use, legal hemp seeds have a nutty, smooth flavor and are used to make a variety of food products - from hemp flour and hemp protein powder to hemp oil and hemp milk. They are also used to grow industrial hemp, which is found in a wide range of products including clothing, textiles, papers, and biodegradable materials, and used as an alternative fuel source.

Eating hemp seeds can benefit your health in a number of ways. They are rich in essential fatty acids - fats that you need, but have to ingest because your body can't make them - including omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fats can promote the formation of anti-inflammatory hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which can help people lose weight and assist in recovery from many types of disorders. Not readily found in the standard American diet, omega 3 fats are found in flax seeds, but high doses of flax seeds are required for sufficient intake. Fish contains omega 3 fats, but many types of fish are contaminated with heavy metals like mercury and arsenic. The amount of omega 3 fats found in hemp seeds is unusually high - even more than is found in flax seeds. Eating hemp seeds is an easy, enjoyable, and safe way to increase your omega 3 fat intake.

Hemp seeds are also rich in another essential fatty acid - the omega 6 fat known as gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Numerous studies have shown that GLA has far-reaching health benefits: it helps to decrease inflammation and can help in the treatment of osteoporosis, premenstrual syndrome, menopausal hot flashes, arthritis, attention deficit disorder, and skin conditions like eczema. A study published in April 2008 in the Canadian Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology found that the high content of GLA in hemp seeds contributed to its ability to reduce heart disease.

In addition to beneficial fats, hemp seeds contain all of the essential amino acids (proteins), are high in vitamins and minerals, and don't have the high levels of undesirable digestive enzyme inhibitors that soy does. And since hemp seed milk is often less sweet than rice milk, soy milk, or almond milk, it can be a better choice for stabilizing your blood sugar level.

Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of the new book Natural Choices for Women's Health, published by Random House. You can reach her and read her past columns at www.DrSteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.

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