Hemp protein is derived mainly from hemp seeds, which are a product of the Cannabis sativa plant. Hemp used to be a very common crop in the United States, but it was banned many years ago because of its controversial association with marijuana. Hemp seed cannot get you "high," but it is a source of high quality protein, fiber, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. The protein in hemp seed is complete, easily digested and versatile, which gives it an advantage over other plant sources of protein.
The protein in hemp seed is considered complete, which means it contains all eight essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be made by human beings and must come from dietary sources. A chronic lack of essential amino acids results in muscle weakness, fatigue, compromised immunity and dull-looking skin. All animal products such as meat, fish and dairy products contain complete protein, but few plant sources are complete. Hemp protein and soybean protein are rare exceptions. However, hemp protein is less likely than soy protein to cause allergic reactions in people.
Soybeans contain more protein by weight than hemp seeds, but hemp protein is easier to digest because it doesn’t contain any oligosaccharide or trypsin inhibitors, which tend to reduce protein absorption and promote bloating and flatulence. Another reason why hemp protein is absorbed better the soy or whey protein is that it contains globulin edestrin, a plant protein that is recognized quickly because it resembles the protein available in your body.
Hemp protein has a nutty flavor that can complement a variety of other foods. As a result, it’s commonly added to fruit smoothies, vegetable juices, milkshakes, yogurt, granola bars, breakfast cereal, trail mix, muffins and cookies. Furthermore, hemp protein can be consumed raw and unprocessed, whereas soy protein requires high heat or fermentation to destroy harmful compounds such as phytic acid.
Hemp protein powder contains a number of other beneficial nutrients including omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, phosphorus, copper, numerous B-vitamins and lots of dietary fiber. The fiber in hemp protein powder is mainly water-insoluble, which bulks up the stool and promotes regular bowel movements.
At the time of publication, hemp seed was illegal to grow and distribute in the U.S., even though it doesn’t have the psychotropic properties of marijuana, which is a related plant. Consequently, most hemp seed, hemp seed oil and hemp protein powders are imported from Canada and China, countries where hemp is not considered to be a potential danger to health.
- Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice; Mark Lawrence, et al.
- Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism; James L. Groff, et al.
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw, et al.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.