This might sound very obvious, but sometimes solid truths have a way of escaping us: diet has the greatest external effect on our gut health.[i] Hearing that may make you wince, as it might bring to mind the donut you ate at work or that one slice of cheesecake that was, in reality, the size of three; but the reason you winced, and the reason you ate those things in the first place, is why diet is so important: the bad bacteria living in your gut want you to eat junk food.[ii] Your vast and varied collection of gut bacteria - the microbiome - can impact cravings and mood so much that who’s ever in charge down there might be in charge up there, too!You can make sure you’re thinking smart from your head all the way down to your digestive tract with a simple, gut-changing ingredient: hemp seeds.
We know, we know, the reputation of hemp is that it's going to make you want more junk food, not less, but don't worry: there’s no THC or any psychoactive ingredients in their seeds. Instead, what you get is fibre and essential fatty acids, and these could make a crucial difference to your gut health!
Omega-3 fatty acids are all the rage, but the topic is a bit more complicated than you might think. Fatty acids - not just omega-3s - are an important nutritional and energy source for the body. There are two types of essential fatty acid that medical studies say you should be getting in your diet, because your body cannot create them:
There are two more main types of omega-3s, which can be synthesized into a long-chain form from ALA, but due to the body’s inefficiency at performing this synthesis, it’s important to get them from fish or fish oil supplements.[iii] Cold-water fish like salmon are full of omega-3s because of their diet, environment, and physical characteristics promote the production of long-chain fatty acids.[iv]
These two types are:
So it's quite obvious that fatty acids are super important! We’re here to discuss how they impact our gut health, though, and for that, we return to the SCFAs.
The microbiome plays a number of key roles for us, the host, and thus it’s important to keep it “happy”: it’s responsible for immune system maturation, digestion, detoxification, drug metabolism, and the production of vitamins.[vii] It also is responsible for the creation of SCFAs, and this requires the right food feeding the right bacteria.
Hemp seeds provide SCFAs on two fronts. Plant-based, fibre-rich foods promote the production of SCFAs as they ferment in the colon.[viii] Pumping out short-chain fatty acids does a lot of great things for your body. The three main SCFAs - acetate, butyrate, and propionate - can control intestinal inflammation, strengthen colon cells, and kill cancer cells.[ix] [x] Reduced inflammation can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.[xi]
Hemp seeds contain both fibre that helps make SCFAs andthe actual ALA and LA SCFAs in their protein (these are the only acronyms we'll use, promise!). It's one of the few plant-based sources of omega-3s and a rarer form of omega-6 called gamma linoleic acid. It's just one of hemp seeds many benefits!
So, with the amount of plant fibre in them - 1.6 grams per tablespoon - hemp seeds are a good addition to your gut health regimen. But if you’re looking for a food for its balance of omega-3s and 6s [xii], there are few products more amazing than hemp seeds. The aforementioned gamma linoleic form of omega-6 is one the body converts into a new form that helps reduce inflammation.[xiii] The omega-3s and 6s work with your diet and exercise plans to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's, and other degenerative diseases caused by inflammation.[xiv] Fatty acids are good for brain health, with omega-3s concentrating in the brain and strengthening memory and cognition. They also strengthen eyesight, promote high levels of good cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.
In addition to all that, they're packed with proteins (almost as much as soy!),[xv] magnesium, vitamin E, phosphorous, potassium, and a bevy of other nutrients that promote overall health.[xvi] The amino acid arginine found in hemp helps the body produce nitric oxide in the body, and this relaxes the blood vessels and reduces the risk of heart disease.
A word of caution: while omega-3 can reduce inflammation, too much of certain kinds of omega-6 can promote inflammation, and we get a lot more of the latter than the former because of the ubiquity of vegetable oils. Hemp seeds provide a much-needed balance. Chronic low grade inflammation is often caused by gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in the microbial system that can be exacerbated by too many types of omega-6. A focus on a health balance of fatty acids – more omega-3 and reduced omega-6 – can reduce this inflammation.[xvii] This is why you should focus on getting hemp seeds in your diet, as they have a good balance of the two and much of the omega-6 is healthy gamma linoleic acid, while at the same time cutting down on the amount of vegetable oils in your diet.
If you're looking for hemp seeds and aren't finding anything but hemp hearts, don't be alarmed! Hemp hearts are just hulled hemp seeds, bringing out the nutty insides to make a great-tasting snack. So go ahead and make hemp seeds a part of your daily routine. Whether it's for snacking, breakfast, or a topper for your favourite salad, your gut - not to mention the rest of your body - will thank you for it!