The Wonderful World of Hemp Protein

Hemp protein is an excellent alternative to soy, whey, and casein protein powders which are problematic for those with allergies. It’s full of fiber, healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and is one of the few plant-based protein sources that contain all 20 amino acids.

Hemp Protein: The Highlights

  • Hemp protein powder is a simple and healthy way to supplement your diet with protein.
  • Hemp seed protein does come from the Cannabis plant, but will not make you high or fail a drug test.
  • Hemp seeds, also known as hemp hearts are minimally processed and easy to digest.
  • If you struggle with common food allergies, hemp seed protein is a great alternative.
  • There are so many ways to include hemp protein in your diet and we don’t just mean in smoothies.

Hemp Protein: The Ultimate Natural Protein

It can be hard to believe that plants actually contain protein, particularly if you rely heavily on meat for your protein. But plant-based protein can be every bit as effective. Beans, lentils, peas, and whole grains are high protein options.

If you prefer supplements, it’s easier than ever to find vegan protein powders made from pea, soy, rice, hemp, or a combination of them.

Today we’re focusing on hemp protein which is an excellent plant-based protein and there are many reasons why you should consider using it, whether you’re a meat eater, vegetarian, or vegan.

Hemp Protein Powder: What Is It and Where Does It Come From?

Hemp is a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant that has very little THC. In order to be classified as a hemp plant, the concentration of THC, the psychoactive compound in weed, needs to be less than 0.03 percent.

Cannabis plants with THC concentrations higher than that are classified as marijuana.

Hemp products all have these low THC concentrations and are safe and legal to use in most parts of the U.S. In order to make hemp protein, the oil is extracted from the hemp seeds which are then ground into a fine powder.

Hemp Protein vs Whey Protein

Whey Protein bottle with scoop of whey protein

The biggest difference between hemp protein and whey protein is that whey protein is an animal-protein, specifically, a milk protein. If you’ve noticed some liquid on your yogurt or cottage cheese, not to worry, that’s whey.

One scoop of hemp protein contains 14 grams of protein whereas whey protein contains 17 grams per scoop. This may make hemp seem like an inferior source of protein, but it can make a great addition to your diet and is an excellent option for vegans, whether they’re athletes or not.

Benefits of Hemp Protein

One of the benefits of animal-based protein powders is that they are a source of complete protein, but there are downsides. For one, they can be a little harder on your kidneys.

You can get many of the same benefits without the risks in hemp protein:

A Complete Protein

Hemp protein is a complete protein meaning it has all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein). These are the amino acids that our bodies can’t make on their own.

We have to obtain them from the food we eat.

Hemp seeds, however, contain all 20 amino acids in varying amounts and has a very similar amino acid profile to eggs and soy. It’s a little lower in the amino acid lysine, but if you eat a healthy diet, you will get enough lysine.

Rich in Unsaturated Fats

Hemp Seeds spread across table

Like most plant foods, hemp seeds are low in saturated fat and high in healthy fats. While the hemp seed oil is extracted from the seeds before they are ground, some of the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids stay behind.

These are essential fatty acids meaning that our bodies can’t make them.

The form of omega 3 in hemp protein is stearidonic acid (SDA). Unlike ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the type omega 3 fatty acid found in most plant sources, SDA is more efficient at converting to EPA than ALA.

EPA is another omega 3 fatty acid found to be essential to healthy aging, lowering inflammation and proper fetal development in this 2012 study done by Advances in Nutrition and is only found in fish and marine algae.

Hemp also contains GLA (gamma linolenic acid), which is an omega 6 fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties as seen in this 2016 study by the European Journal of Pharmacology. It’s often used to ease the symptoms of achy joints which is great for most athletes.

All this in a 3:1 omega 6 to omega 3 ratio which is ideal. Too much omega 6 can cause inflammation and depletes omega 3 in the body.

Full of Fiber

Pea protein and soy protein are both good options for those that are allergic to eggs or struggle with dairy, but they are often highly processed. This is not the case with hemp protein so it contains a lot of fiber.

On average, 30 grams of hemp protein powder contains around 7 grams of fiber.

In today’s world, most Americans don’t get the recommended 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams for men making hemp protein an easy way of adding more fiber to your diet.

Packed with Minerals and Antioxidants

Natural Antioxidants seal in green

Just by simply living, our bodies produce free radicals as they carry out the various processes that keep us alive. Add to that stress, pollution, pesticides, poor diet, alcohol, smoking, etc., and we have many free radicals in our bodies that contribute to aging and poor health.

Antioxidants combat harmful free radicals. Hemp seeds are a rich source of antioxidants and also contain vital nutrients like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese.

Easy to Digest

Cold-pressed hemp protein is easily digested thanks to albumin and edestin, a globular protein, both of which are digested easily by the body making it one of the most bioavailable forms of plant protein.

It’s estimated that the body is able to use between 91 and 98 percent of the protein. Bear in mind that heat lowers the digestibility of hemp protein, so always go for the cold-pressed version.

Good Alternative for Allergy Sufferers

Egg, whey, and casein are some of the best animal-based protein supplements, but many people are lactose intolerant which make whey and casein problematic as they are derived from milk. Those with an egg allergy can’t use egg protein.

The same goes for those with a soy allergy. Very few people are allergic to hemp making it a great alternative.

How Can I Add Hemp Protein to My Diet?

Hemp protein has a nutty flavor which is quite versatile and easy to mask if you don’t enjoy it. While it’s a bit grainy if you mix it with water, it will work well with smoothies.

Green smoothie with hemp seeds

You can make delicious dairy-free smoothies using hemp protein, almond milk, and fruit. You can also try adding it to:

  • Curries
  • Pasta dishes
  • Soups
  • Stews

If you prefer not to use hemp protein products, you can buy the seeds. They are available as whole hemp seeds, ground hemp seeds, and as hulled hemp seeds, also known as shelled hemp seeds, an of course hemp oil.

The healthy fats will be present in larger quantities and it’s a rich source of insoluble fiber as well as soluble fiber. Just remember that when the seeds are hulled, they lose a large portion of their benefits, especially the fiber content.

Hemp Protein Recommended Dosage

If your aim is to facilitate muscle growth, 5-7 teaspoons are the average dosage depending on the brand that you buy.

If you have a pretty good idea of your protein intake through the foods that you eat every day you can adjust your dose accordingly for your needs. If you are only lightly active, even a tablespoon or two may work for you.

Protein needs are as follows:

  • Adults in general: 0.36 grams per 0.8 pounds of body weight
  • Athletes or if you exercise intensely: 0.64-0.9 grams per pound of bodyweight.
  • Bodybuilders: Bodybuilders need around 1.4 grams per pound of body weight.

Hemp Protein Side Effects

Hemp protein has very few side effects if any. You can even eat it during pregnancy. The main problem is when people increase their dosage too quickly, particularly if they usually consume a low fiber diet.

This can cause some digestive discomfort. Starting at a lower dose and working your way up will prevent this. Try to go for organic hemp products. Pesticides can build up in your body and they, unfortunately, do come with health risks.

While you may only use a small amount of hemp hearts or a little bit of hemp oil, organic hemp protein powder is definitely your best bet considering you would use larger amounts.

Hemp Protein: The Final Word

Hemp protein is easy to digest, bioavailable, healthy protein source. Whether you are an athlete or someone who simply wants to increase their protein intake, it’s a good choice, especially for vegans and vegetarians.

Not only do you get protein, but vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber too. So if you do struggle with allergies or just want to try a plant-based protein option, give hemp protein a try.

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Cheanne Lombard

Cheanné is a freelance writer and blogger. She writes primarily about nutrition, fitness, and mental health. She has diplomas in Personal Nutrition and Weight Loss from Shaw Academy and an Introductory Certificate in Exercise Science from the Health and Fitness Professionals Academy (HFPA). She is also a qualified group fitness instructor. When not writing, she enjoys jamming on her guitar, reading, eating good food, trips to the beach, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.