Hemp is hailed as a superfood for good reason and the market for hemp protein powders has exploded in recent years. Does hemp live up to the hype?
Hemp protein is derived from the hemp seed. The seeds are cold pressed to expel the oil, and the pressed hemp meal is then cold milled to separate the protein.
Why Choose Hemp?
- Excellent source of complete protein, especially for vegans and vegetarians
- High level of essential amino acids and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
- High in fiber
- High in essential fatty acids (EFAs) and has a balanced omega 3-6-9 profile
- Excellent source of many vitamins and minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium and potassium
- Rich in arginine and glutamic acid, precursors of nitric oxide
- Has some leucine
- One of the least allergenic of all protein sources
- Easily digested and assimilated
- Contains gamma-linoleic acid, a fatty acid source linked to lower inflammation in the body
- Helps to maintain a healthy alkaline pH blood level due to its chlorophyll content
- No hexane, gluten, dairy, lactose or sweeteners.
- Organic hemp contains no artificial additives or chemicals (unlike whey)
- Hemp is a fast growing crop that can be farmed sustainably
Dude, What’s the Downside?
- Unflavored and unsweetened = many find it hard to swallow
- Some brands are roughly milled and do not mix well
- Low PDCAA score
- Low in the amino acid lysine as well as leucine and tryptophan. (The high content of leucine in whey is one of the reasons why whey rates at the top of most protein evaluation scales.)
- More expensive than high PDCAA-scoring proteins
Animal proteins contain more balanced and greater amounts of essential amino acids. From a muscle-building perspective, these are the primary initiators of muscle protein synthesis.) Because of proportionally low values for about five of the essential amino acids, hemp scores a rather low 0.48 on the PDCAA scale, a metric used to measure a protein’s digestibility and assimilation.
However, some believe the low PDCAA score doesn’t show the whole picture of hemp. For L.A.’s “Extreme Natural Fitness” trainer Billy Locke, hemp protein is his choice as the best protein for building muscle and promoting overall health.
Best Brands of Hemp Protein
Not all hemp protein powders are created the same! Look for organic, non-GMO varieties, and examine the nutrition facts for protein content per serving. Also, finely milled hemp protein powders mix much better into shakes and yogurt compared to cheaper, roughly milled brands. (Rougher milled brands and hulled hemp seeds work well in hemp protein bars.) You may need to try a few brands before finding one you like so avoid bulk purchases until you have settled on a favorite.
You should be able to find hemp protein powder at your local health food or supplements store. Online, Amazon.com has a good selection of hemp protein powders. Manitoba Harvest and North Coast Naturals are two high quality, reliable brands from Canada.
Hemp is a great choice for those who are looking for a stellar plant-based protein powder or just want to try an alternative to whey, as well as those who suffer from lactose intolerance or allergies, and vegetarians and vegans.
House, J., et al. (2010). Evaluating the quality of protein from hemp seed (Cannabis sativa) products through the use of the protein-digestibility-corrected amino acid score method. J Agr Food Chem. 58:11801-11807. Full PDF.