Hemp-Fortified Foods & Beverages
By Jennifer Lutz
Vol. 24 No. 8 P. 30
Today’s Dietitian reviews the science on whether they’re safe and beneficial to health.
Clients who shop in grocery stores, online, or through popular delivery apps may have seen marketing messages claiming that foods and beverages made with hemp promote various aspects of health. Specifically, food and beverage companies claim their hemp-containing products help boost immunity, regulate mood, support inflammatory response, promote better digestion, improve respiratory health, and aid sleep. As store shelves and online retailers increasingly boast an array of products fortified with hemp, such as milk, flour, butter, burgers, and hot dogs, it will be important for RDs to learn more about these products, hemp’s health benefits, and how to educate clients.
Today’s Dietitian discusses the health benefits and potential risks of hemp, the foods and beverages that contain it, and strategies for counseling clients.
History of Hemp
Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is an herbaceous plant that belongs to the Cannabaceae family. It’s cultivated throughout Asia, Canada, Europe, Africa, and the United States and can be used for industrial and medicinal purposes.1 Hemp contains cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis derivative, but very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that causes the intoxicating effects people associate with cannabis use.2 Hemp contains more CBD but less THC (0.3%) than cannabis plants and is legal in the United States and US territories.3 Some states, such as Idaho, allow the sale of hemp CBD products only if they contain zero THC. More detailed provisions were added to the 2018 Farm Bill, generating greater interest in hemp research. The 2018 Farm Bill authorized the production of hemp and removed hemp and hemp seeds from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s schedule of Controlled Substances. This has spurred US companies to manufacture hemp-infused water, sports drinks, granola, cookies, and hot dogs.4 Global sales of hemp-fortified foods are projected to reach $212 million in 2022, up from $150 million in 2018. Sales for hemp-derived CBD are projected to reach $1,229 million in 2022, up from $390 million in 2018.5
Historically, hemp has been used to make a wide variety of products, such as paper, fabrics, shoes, bioplastics, insulation, textiles, and more.6 Hemp seeds can be eaten raw or ground into hemp meal, used to make hemp milk, and cold-pressed to make hemp oil, which is high in unsaturated fats. Hemp seeds have a robust nutrient profile associated with health benefits that have spawned the introduction of a wide variety of foods and beverages.
Hemp Products Without CBD
Hemp-fortified products fall into two categories: CBD-containing and CBD-free. Hemp seeds and hemp roots don’t contain CBD. However, both the leaves and flowers of the hemp plant contain CBD.7 Hemp-fortified foods such as hemp flour, hemp seed butter, hemp granola, and hemp hamburgers typically don’t contain CBD. On the other hand, products such as Mad Tasty’s Sparkling Water and Wellness Boost beverages contain 20 mg and 50 mg of CBD per container, respectively.8
Hemp-fortified foods that don’t contain CBD sometimes incorporate hemp seeds, which have been used as a food source since ancient times. The seeds’ nutrition profile is roughly 30% fat, with an optimal linoleic acid (omega-6) to alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) ratio of 3:1. Hemp seeds also contain oleic acid and stearidonic acid with saturated fat accounting for approximately 10% of total fat. They also are high in protein (25%) and insoluble fiber (15%). They contain polyphenols that have antioxidant activity and vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins; magnesium; phosphorus; potassium; vitamins A, C, and E; zinc; and iron.9 Finally, they’re free of gluten, common allergens, and phytoestrogens. When incorporated into a healthful diet, hemp seeds may help decrease inflammation, promote satiety, and support healthy cholesterol levels.9
Moreover, hemp is rich in protein, including all nine essential amino acids. It also has a low carbon footprint. Janice Bissex, MS, RDN, FAND, a holistic cannabis practitioner and founder of Jannabis Wellness, says, “[Hemp is] very sustainable, it can be harvested several times per year. The stalks can be used to make paper, rope, and textiles, while the seeds are used in food products. I think going forward, we will see an increase in the use of hemp.” What’s more, hemp crops are carbon sequestering, absorbing more CO2 per hectare than any other industrial crop.10
Increasingly, hemp is being used to fortify foods and beverages, providing potential health properties to products such as the Kentucky Hemp Dawg from the company Kentucky Dawgs, LLC, makers of hemp-infused beef, hot dogs, and sausage. The company adds crushed hemp hearts and hemp oil to traditional beef bratwursts.11
For clients looking to eat less meat and more plants, the company Goodseed makes hemp seed hamburgers that are vegan-friendly and high in protein, iron, and fiber.12 Hemp also is added to energy bars, brownies, smoothies, and water. But does the addition of hemp significantly boost the health benefits of these products? “It depends on the product,” Bissex says, “but hemp seeds and [hemp] oil have anti-inflammatory properties and are very nutritious.”
Along with hemp seeds, hemp roots also are touted for their health benefits. Historically, the roots have been used to alleviate symptoms of gout, arthritis, and gastrointestinal discomfort.13 Consumers can buy the root dried and use it as an herbal remedy for these conditions.
Hemp Products With CBD
CBD-containing hemp products promise to decrease anxiety and depression, relieve pain, lower inflammation and help treat neurological and metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes.14,15 These products may range from hemp teas, which are made from the plant’s leaves to hemp water infused with CBD oil. “Hemp tea is one potential way to get CBD. You can also take a CBD gummy, a soft gel, tincture, or drink CBD water,” Bissex says. “When I work with clients, I look at their lifestyle and their condition and help them decide which type of administration is best for them.”
What’s important to note is that hemp seeds (hearts) and roots included in foods and beverages offer health benefits based on their own nutrient profile. Hemp leaves and flowers contain varying cannabinoid levels and terpenes, the largest and most diverse group of bioactive compounds shown to have anti-inflammatory, anticancer values, and antioxidant activity.16,17 The range of health benefits the hemp plant provides varies among cultivars, and the bioavailability of the plant’s compounds may change during production and preparation of foods and beverages.
Hemp’s CBD content is one of the reasons for the plant’s popularity among consumers. According to a recent survey, the most common reasons US adults use CBD are anxiety, pain relief, and insomnia.18 Recent studies show CBD may be beneficial for treating anxiety, depression, and neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, as well as chronic pain, arthritis, digestive diseases, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic conditions.14,15 CBD also may help some people with irritable bowel syndrome, ADHD, and other illnesses, Bissex says. However, it’s important for dietitians to inform clients that research is ongoing and that CBD isn’t a panacea.
“I think there are a lot of benefits, but hemp and CBD are not cure-alls,” Bissex says. “When companies say hemp or CBD will cure cancer, for example, that’s not true. Cannabinoids do have antitumor properties, but they’re not a cure by any means.”
While research suggests there are health benefits associated with hemp CBD, there are potential side effects of which clients should be aware. The most common are dizziness, fatigue, tiredness, and diarrhea. 14 More research is needed on CBD’s potential health benefits and adverse effects, as there’s a lack of longitudinal studies. In addition, it’s essential for dietitians to counsel clients on what to look for when purchasing hemp CBD products.
“It’s important to find a good quality product,” Bissex says. “I always encourage people to look for certificates of analysis if they’re going to purchase a CBD product. Whatever they claim on the label, the certificate of analysis will support it or not support it.”
Real World Applications and Implications
Despite the potential health benefits of hemp CBD and its inclusion in foods and beverages, is it OK for everyone to incorporate it in their diet, or are there some individuals who should avoid it? Similar to over-the-counter herbal supplements’ drug interaction with grapefruit juice, CBD is associated with potential food and drug or supplement interactions. CBD may increase drowsiness and dizziness in individuals taking Benadryl or prescription antipsychotics, antidepressants, opioids, and benzodiazepines. Taking CBD with herbal supplements, such as St. John’s Wort and melatonin, also may increase drowsiness, while taking CBD with the stimulant Adderall may decrease appetite. CBD ingestion in those taking the diabetes medication Metformin and certain heartburn drugs such as Prilosec may experience diarrhea. CBD also may compete for the enzymes needed to break down blood thinners and other medications. Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine identified 57 medications whose concentrations can be affected by CBD intake. These included the blood thinner warfarin, the heart rhythm medication amiodarone, the thyroid medication levothyroxine, and several seizure medications.19 However, these effects can be mitigated with proper dosing and timing of these and other drugs. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should consult their doctors before consuming CBD-containing products, as the FDA advises against it.20
In light of this, RDs should discuss all medications and supplements clients are taking to determine potential drug interactions. Drugs.com has a drug-interaction tool that clients can use as a guide. It’s important to know if clients have taken CBD before and if they have a history of adverse reactions to supplements or medications.
In addition, dietitians should advise clients to consider intake method, ie, whether they get CBD through food or beverages. CBD in foods, called edibles, takes longer for the body to absorb, so people won’t immediately experience its health effects, such as a reduction in anxiety or pain. Individuals likely will experience CBD’s health effects more quickly when consuming beverages. It’s also important for clients not to drink CBD-infused water or CBD-containing coffee immediately after ingesting hemp tea to avoid consuming more CBD than intended. Clients also should consider product composition. CBD is fat soluble, so a high-fat product likely will increase its absorption.
Finally, consumers should know that CBD levels vary among foods and beverages and, therefore, should start with a low dose or small serving size to determine how they respond. Bissex reminds her clients to “start low and go slow.”
The good news is that foods and beverages fortified with hemp CBD can offer clients a healthful source of protein, fats, and polyphenols in conveniently packaged products. When working with clients, it’s important to educate them on what the science says about hemp CBD and its potential health benefits, set specific health goals, and explain how hemp-containing products may work for them.
— Jennifer Lutz is a freelance journalist who covers health, politics, and travel. She’s written for consumer and professional medical magazines and popular newspapers and works as a strategy and communications consultant for nonprofit organizations focused on improving community health.
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