What is Hemp Protein?
Hemp protein is a powder made from the seeds of the Cannabis sativa. While hemp is a cannabis plant, it doesn’t contain significant levels of the psychoactive substance THC. Instead, hemp is cultivated for its seeds, flowers and strong fibers that are used in the textile industry. It’s even environmentally friendly to grow!
As a source of protein, hemp has some unique benefits. The exact nutritional breakdown of hemp protein depends on how it’s processed. Generally, though, it’s a good source of essential amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Since it’s also vegan and sustainable to grow, it has an additional appeal.
This easily digestible form of supplemental protein provides nutrients that promote heart and digestive health as well as the overall well-being that comes with a diet that meets your body’s protein requirements.
Benefits of Hemp Protein
The nutritional profile of hemp protein powders can vary. This is for a few reasons. First, the raw material (hemp plants) may have slight variations from crop to crop. Second, manufacturers might choose to make a protein powder using the whole seed, which will contain more fiber than a powder made from the hulled seeds (hearts). In addition, some hemp protein powders have added ingredients like flavoring.
In general, a 1/4 cup serving of hemp protein powders contains about:
- 15 grams of protein
- 8 grams of fiber
- 2-3 grams of unsaturated fat
- 120 calories
Hemp protein powder contains all nine essential amino acids (the amino acids you can only obtain through diet). However, due to its low levels of the amino acid lysine, some sources do not consider it to be a complete protein (x, x).
Hemp seeds also have both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and they contain them in beneficial ratios (x).
Easy Way to Meet Protein Requirements
The current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight for adults. This recommendation, however, is vague and regularly under debate. But according to this calculation, a reasonably active 150-pound adult would need about 55 grams of protein per day. People who engage in regular strenuous exercise or who have special health needs, for example, may need more (x).
While the amount of protein you may need is hard to pin down and based on individual factors, the important role of protein is well established. It’s necessary for the structure and function of the body’s tissues and organs. Without protein and its amino acid precursors, we could not exist (x).
Hemp protein is a good way to ensure you’re meeting your body’s protein needs. Abundant energy, appetite control, muscle growth and repair, a strong immune system and healthy hair and skin are all noticeable examples of the work protein does in the body.
Reduces Fat, Increases Muscle
Increasing protein intake can help you lose fat. For one thing, it can help curb appetite and make you feel fuller, longer. A study assessing people’s hunger levels found that those who consumed 30 percent (as opposed to 10-20 percent) of their calories as protein reported feeling less hungry (x, x).
Protein also helps preserve muscle after exercise, especially if consumed within two hours after a workout. Strenuous workouts place stress on muscles. As muscles repair, they ultimately become stronger and can increase in size. Athletes and bodybuilders know (and studies show) that consuming protein after exercise increases the rate of muscle repair, reduces soreness and can help build mass and improve performance (x, x).
Hemp protein may provide an extra benefit for muscles. It’s high in the amino acid arginine, which produces nitric oxide (NO) in the body. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which means it relaxes blood vessels and promotes the flow of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to muscles. Arginine is held in high regard in the fitness world for its potential effects on muscle mass and athletic performance (x).
Beneficial for Digestion
Hemp protein digests easily in the body compared to other forms of plant protein. Much of its protein is in the form of a compound called edestin, which shows high digestibility in studies (x). Additional research points out that hemp protein powder made from hulled hemp is better digested than that made from the whole hemp seed. This is because the fiber found on the hull can reduce the absorption of protein and other nutrients (x).
However, the fiber content of some hemp protein powders, while it may reduce the absorption of nutrients somewhat, promotes health in other ways. Getting adequate dietary fiber on a daily basis (25 and 38 grams for women and men under the age of 50, respectively) has several benefits (x).
For one, it helps contribute to a sense of feeling full. This helps weight control and reduces the risk of developing conditions associated with excess weight including diabetes, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and cancer (x).
In addition, those with certain gastrointestinal disorders like GERD, constipation, ulcers and hemorrhoids may see improvement in their conditions with increased fiber intake. Adequate fiber also helps reduce high blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk of developing coronary artery disease (x).
We know that hemp protein powder is a good source of dietary fiber, which helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Fiber lowers LDL cholesterol, reduces blood pressure and may even improve inflammation (x).
But hempseeds are heart healthy for another reason, too. They are a rich source of two types of polyunsaturated fats — linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). LA is an omega-6 fatty acid and ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid. In hempseeds, the ratio of the omega-6 fat to the omega-3 fat is approximately 2.5:1.
Why is this relevant? A diet that contains a much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is associated with high levels of chronic inflammation and disease including heart disease. Unfortunately, our modern diet heavily favors inflammatory fats. It is well established that by consuming foods that have a healthier omega-6/omega-3 fat ratio, we can better protect our cardiovascular system (x). Studies that look at the specific effect of hempseeds on the cardiovascular system are still underway, but are promising (x).
While hempseeds contain health-promoting fatty acids, it’s important to point out that hemp protein powders are processed in such a way that reduces their fat content. In other words, protein powder won’t contain as much beneficial fat as the seed itself or the extracted oil.
Besides fiber and beneficial fats, there is still another way hemp can benefit the heart. It’s a good source of antioxidants, which are compounds that reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a risk factor in cardiovascular disease. Because of this, dietary antioxidants, such as the kind found in plant-based foods like hemp, are recommended (x, x).
Increased Energy Levels
Hemp protein is an excellent source of energy (x). Thanks to its protein, fat, and fiber, the energy provided by hemp protein is slow releasing. You’re not as likely to get an energy high and then crash like what happens with sugars and carbs. Instead, the energy is released steadily over the course of hours. Animal studies also show that hemp may have an anti-fatigue effect (x).
Environmentally Friendly Protein Source
Protein is an essential component of our diets. However, reliance on animal protein as well as some plant-based proteins has significant environmental impacts. Hemp is environmentally friendly, sustainable and renewable (x).
How Does Hemp Protein Compare to Other Protein Powders?
Hemp vs. Whey
Whey protein is derived from cow’s milk. As an animal protein, it contains more amino acids than plant-based proteins of all kinds (x). Because it absorbs quickly into the body, athletes and bodybuilders like to use it after workouts to maximize benefits to muscle.
While hemp protein contains less amino acids, it has more fiber, different vitamins and minerals, polyunsaturated fat and is plant-based.
Finally, some people with a dairy sensitivity cannot tolerate whey protein. Hemp protein, on the other hand, may be better for people with certain food allergies.
Hemp vs. Pea
Like hemp protein, pea protein may be a good option for those with allergies to other protein-containing foods like nuts, eggs or dairy.
Hemp vs. Soy
The protein and amino acids in soy protein are comparable to those in hemp and pea proteins. While soy protein is very popular, some people choose to avoid soy products for several reasons.
First, concern exists around the genetic modification of soybeans. Second, soy protein may interfere in thyroid function. Third, soy contains phytoestrogens (plant-based “estrogens”) that people may need to avoid for medical reasons or choose to avoid. Finally, soy is one of the most common food allergens and therefore cannot be consumed by all adults and children (x, x, x).
Hemp Protein Dosage
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight for adults. Your specific protein needs may be higher or lower depending on factors such as activity level and health considerations. Those engaging in heavy resistance training might benefit from 1.4 grams of protein per kg of body weight (x). More than 2 grams per kg of bodyweight is not recommended as it can cause digestive, renal and vascular problems (x).
When to take your hemp protein is a matter of personal preference. For example, a breakfast that includes protein can help you feel full and energized longer. If you are looking to maximize the muscle boosting effect then having it within two hours of exercise might be most beneficial (x).
Hemp protein powder has a distinctive, earthy taste and works well as an addition to shakes and smoothies. It can be mixed with just water but some may find the grainy texture unappealing.
Hemp Protein Side Effects
Hemp protein is generally very safe. Side effects are usually a result of the sudden increase in fiber and include mild gastrointestinal effects like bloating, gas and diarrhea. Adjusting the dose can help avoid this.
Do not take if you’re allergic to hemp or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
The Bottom Line
Hemp makes an excellent source of supplemental protein for vegans and non-vegans alike. It contains all nine essential amino acids, fiber, healthy fats, antioxidants, as well as vitamins and minerals. There are many protein powders out there, but hemp may have extra benefits for the heart and digestive system. It’s also beneficial for the environment. Win-win!