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By Dan Nosowitz

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has, perhaps unexpectedly to those who find themselves agreeing with only this one position of his, been a major force for legalizing industrial hemp. Industrial hemp differs from marijuana in that it's bred specifically to have extremely low concentrations of THC, the primary psychoactive chemical in marijuana; smoke industrial hemp all you want, it'll just give you sore lungs.

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With low grain prices and the loss of the soybean exports to China because of a trade war, Iowa's farmers face dark times. But one Iowa farmer sees a light of hope with a crop that fell out of favor, but may be poised for a big comeback. Ethan Vorhes, a farmer in Charles City, Iowa sees great potential for growing industrial hemp.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

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By Dan Nosowitz

The legalization of hemp as a crop may sound minor, even quaintly of the 1990s, in the wake of the massive economic, environmental and political ramifications of the next farm bill. But it deserves a look.

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By Bibi Farber

We have a whole world of plastic that needs to be replaced with other biodegradable materials. We have come to rely on this indestructible modern material for every single facet of daily life.

The food you ate today was probably sold in plastic packaging, the vehicle you transport yourself in has plastic components, be that a car, bus, bike, train, plane, boat, kayak ... the computer you are reading this article on, even the charger and the wall socket protector … just look around.

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Ocean plastic has reached the northernmost ends of the earth. The remote and icy waters of the Arctic Ocean are also being inundated by this form of non-biodegradable pollution.

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"Dr. Hyman, you often talk about superfoods and their benefits," writes this week's house call. "Can you share some of your favorites?"

I realize "superfood" carries a certain hype, but some foods do earn that status. Food is medicine. And some foods are more powerful medicines than others! Food is the most powerful tool to create optimal health. Food is the first and most powerful drug in my arsenal to treat patients.

I've discussed numerous superfoods and you how to get them into your diet in The 10- Day Detox, Eat Fat, Get Thin and my other programs.

Here, I share five superfoods I frequently enjoy that you should also incorporate into your eating plan.

1. Seeds

My three favorite seeds are chia, hemp and flaxseeds. You can add all three super seeds to smoothies, puddings or on top of coconut yogurt with berries. Let's look at their benefits.

  • Chia seeds provide an excellent source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids that have numerous benefits, including glowing skin and mental clarity. Just one ounce of chia seeds packs a whopping 10 grams of fiber. Its insoluble fiber acts as a prebiotic that feeds friendly gut bacteria and ferments into short-chain fatty acids to support gut health. Chia seeds also contain more protein than most plant foods. And they contain more calcium than milk.
  • Hemp seeds provide healthy omega-3 fats, protein, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and iron.
  • Flaxseeds are another great source of omega-3 fats, dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Flaxseeds have powerful, anti-cancer, hormone-balancing phytonutrients called lignans. Freshly ground flaxseed sprinkled into a smoothie is an excellent way to ease constipation.

2. MCT Oil

Medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs are a special type of fatty acid derived from coconut oil. You can get them in coconut oil or as a stand-alone oil. I've written about how studies show MCT oil can help with weight loss, cognitive ability and much more. This super fuel becomes an instant-energy source because MCTs get rapidly burned and metabolized very efficiently, absorbing directly into the gut and then liver, so MCTs don't get stored as fat. You can add MCT oil to smoothies, coffee or veggies. MCTs also provide powerful antioxidant support to strengthen the immune system. Animal studies show MCTs also benefit liver and gut function.

3. Glucomannan

Fiber is vital for so many reasons, including feeding friendly gut bacteria. Studies show fiber can prevent obesity, reduce risk for chronic diseases and decrease aging. That's because fiber slows the rate food enters your bloodstream and increases the speed of food exiting through the digestive tract. Dietary fiber also helps balance blood sugar and cholesterol levels, aids in quick release of toxins from your gutand curbs your appetite. Glucomannan is a soluble, fermentable and highly viscous dietary fiber from the root of the elephant yam, also known as konjac. The konjac tuber has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy and to make traditional foods like konjac jelly, tofu and noodles. You can find glucomannan as a supplement called PGX. It mixes easily into water for an easy, effective fiber source.

4. Mushrooms

While visiting China, I discovered folks there knew more about food's medicinal properties than I did even after many years of research. Medicinal foods are a part of their everyday diet, and mushrooms play a huge role within Chinese medicine. Reishi, shiitake and cordyceps contain powerful healing properties that boost your immune system and support healthy hormone production. Mushrooms are anti-viral and anti-inflammatory to support healthy liver function, optimized cholesterol levels and anti-cancer benefits. I use them often: I make a reishi tea, cook with shiitake mushrooms and make mushroom soup.

5. Plant Foods

The vast, colorful array of vegetables represents more than 25,000 beneficial chemicals. Research shows the synergistic balance of these chemicals provides numerous health benefits. I recommend adiverse diet with numerous colorful whole foods. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate well more than 800 varieties of plant foods. Today, we don't consume anywhere near this amount. Make that extra effort to include as many varieties of these colorful superfoods as you can. Eat from the rainbow: Every fruit and vegetable color represents a different family of healing compounds. Red foods (like tomatoes) contain the carotenoid lycopene, which helps eliminate free radicals that damage our genes. Green foods contain the chemicals sulforaphane and isocyanate, as well as indoles that inhibit carcinogens to protect against cancer. Simply put: The more color you incorporate, the more health benefits you'll receive.

The tremendous power at the end of our forks becomes far more powerful than anything we find in a pill bottle. Functional Medicine ultimately rests on one central principle: Taking out the bad and putting in the good.

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Vote Hemp and Kentucky-based Growing Warriors have partnered to organize a planting of industrial hemp in Mount Vernon, KY, on May 16, as part of the nationwide grassroots education effort Hemp History Week. The certified industrial hemp seed provided by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture will be grown as part of a research and development program in conjunction with the Kentucky State University, and marks an historic moment in the Bluegrass State after decades of federal prohibition of industrial hemp.

“Kentucky is leading the country toward a revitalized, lucrative and sustainable hemp industry,” says Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp. “Kentucky farmers, legislators and manufacturers have joined together to bring back hemp farming to the Kentucky landscape, knowing that hemp will bring job creation, among many other economic and environmental benefits.”

Grown for its versatile fiber and oilseed, which can be used to make rope, paper, building materials, bio-fuels, cosmetics, healthy food, body care products, textiles, plastic composites and much more, hemp was once a paramount crop of Kentucky cultivated in the state as recently as the 1950’s, but was permanently banned in 1970 as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The return of hemp to Kentucky’s farmland and mills is lauded by many political, agriculture and industry leaders in the state and beyond who view the burgeoning industrial hemp market as a step toward job growth and sustained economic stability in the commonwealth.

The hemp will be sown by war veterans who have partnered with Growing Warriors to learn agriculture and farming skills and work toward creating local community food systems. A reception will follow the hemp planting, to include refreshments and speeches by a number of notable leaders in the movement to legalize industrial hemp, including Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Mike Lewis, executive director of Growing Warriors, Kentucky legislators, and other notable figures in the grassroots movement to legalize industrial hemp.

"The farming and production of industrial hemp in America just makes sense," said Lewis. "The important thing to note is that a hemp industry must be built from the ground up, and if done properly and responsibly it will restore some vibrancy to our communities. Fighting alongside my fellow Veterans for this crop has already made me a wealthier man as I witnessed the grit and determination that built this country play out daily and now I will be afforded the opportunity to plant this historic crop with true patriots."

“We took on this fight at the state legislature a year ago, and who would have ever dreamed we would change Kentucky law—change federal law—and have hemp in the ground today?” Comer said. “This is an historic moment for Kentucky farmers, and my hope is that industrial hemp can again be a thriving industry that presents new opportunities in agriculture and manufacturing for years to come.”

To date, thirty-three states have introduced pro-hemp legislation and twenty-two have passed pro-hemp legislation. Thirteen states (California, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia) have defined industrial hemp as distinct and removed barriers to its production. However, despite state authorization to grow hemp, farmers in those states risk raids by federal agents if they plant the crop outside the parameters of Section 7606 of the recent Farm Bill, due to failure of federal policy to distinguish oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis (i.e. industrial hemp) from psychoactive varieties (i.e. marihuana.)

In 2013, both the federal Senate and House introduced versions of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, S. 359 and H.R. 525 respectively. So far in the 2014 legislative session, industrial hemp legislation has been introduced or carried over in Puerto Rico and twenty-five states: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois (carried over from 2013), Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire (carried over from 2013), New Jersey (carried over from 2013), New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington (two bills were carried over from 2013), West Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

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High in protein and healthy fats, and low in cholesterol and sodium, hemp truly is a superfood. No other single plant source has the essential amino acids in such an easily digestible form, nor has the essential fatty acids in as perfect a ratio to meet human nutritional needs.

Hemp also is a good source of zinc, and a very good source of magnesium.

Hemp is a nutritious superfood. Photo credit:
Shutterstock

Adding more hemp to your diet can help create more demand for this sustainable crop, which requires no fertilizers or pesticides. The hemp plant is one of the earliest-known cultivated crops, and has many uses, including textiles, fiber, wood, plastic and fuel alternatives. And no, it won’t get you high or make you test positive for drugs.

Available in concentrated protein, shelled seeds or oil, there are unlimited ways to include hemp in your everyday diet. Here, courtesy of Care2, are five foods in which you can eat hemp:

1. Salad—Adding raw organic hemp seeds to a salad gives your dish a nutritional lift as well as flavor boost. Consider switching your salad oil to hemp oil.

2. Smoothies—Hemp is a prime plant-based protein alternative to whey, which can acidify the body and create extra strain on your kidneys. You can use concentrated hemp protein, or for a creamier smoothie, use shelled hemp seeds.

3. Breakfast—Many people start their day with a bowl of heart-healthy oatmeal. Sprinkle in a couple tablespoons of hemp seeds to up the nutritional value even more, and to add a subtle nutty taste. You can also sprinkle hemp seeds in yogurt or any other breakfast cereal.

4. Dairy substitute/ice cream/milk—Skip the store brands that have the added carrageenan, and make your own by blending 2 to 3 tablespoons of raw organic hemp seeds with 4 to 8 ounces of water. The water-to-seeds ratio can vary, depending on whether you prefer a thinner milk or a thicker cream. A good rule of thumb to make a quart of milk is 1 cup hemp seeds to 4 parts water. Try adding a sprinkle of cinnamon and a few drops of liquid stevia and vanilla. Blend the mixture on high for 45 seconds to a minute, preferably with a high-speed blender. To remove lumps, strain through cheese cloth or a nut milk bag. Store in a mason jar and shake before pouring. Use within a few days.

5. Pesto—Try this recipe for a pesto for pasta, pizza, or as a spread on flax crackers.

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