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“High” praise for an unusual protein powder

Posted on October 1, 2003

The Buzz

From one of the leading hemp food companies in the U.S. comes Nutiva’s new Organic Hemp Protein Powder. Introduced this past May with a “superior protein profile,” it is the “gold standard of plant protein,” claims the company. But does this unusual protein source deserve such compliments?

The Basics

Hemp foods come from the same plant species as marijuana (i.e., Cannabis), but from a special variety that contains only trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical that triggers marijuana’s psychoactive effects. So eating foods made from hemp won’t give you a “high” any more than eating poppy seeds, which contain trace amounts of opiates. However, Nutiva must obtain its hempseed from Canada, because very few U.S. farmers are permitted to grow it.

Hempseed, which looks like sesame seed and has a nutty flavor, is a rich source of essential fatty acids and protein, much like flaxseed, though with fewer omega-3’s. Nutiva’s hemp powder can be stirred into juices, smoothies and batter mixes: one serving provides 11 grams of protein, a whopping 14 grams of fiber, 120 calories and 3 grams of fat (mostly omega 6’s, some omega 3’s and negligible saturated). It also provides some vitamin E, iron and calcium.

The Bonus

Though protein powders are not something everyone needs, they can be invaluable to people with increased protein requirements, such as older people. And unlike many soy protein powders, Nutiva’s hemp powder meets U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for organic labeling because it’s not processed with hexane (a byproduct of gasoline production), not genetically modified and not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Hemp foods have low environmental impact because hemp doesn’t require a lot of chemicals to grow well. Another environmental bonus: Nutiva donates a small percentage of its sales to promotion of sustainable agriculture.

The Bust

Unlike Environmental Nutrition’s other Product Watches, we won’t “bust” this product, since the Drug Enforcement Agency has been trying to do that for years. But despite the government’s efforts to ban the sale of all THC-containing hempseed products, it is still legal to import, sell and consume them — at least for now. A final court decision is expected in 2004.

The Bottom Line

Environmental Nutrition supports the growing of hemp as an environmentally friendly, nutritious crop. Nutiva’s hemp powder offers ample protein, abundant fiber and good-for-you fats without the concerns of pesticides, solvents or perhaps unsafe amounts of isoflavones you might get from soy powders. If you try it, add it gradually to your diet, so your body can adjust to the high fiber content without gas and bloating. Nutiva products are available at natural food supermarkets, such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats.

Copyright © 2003, Environmental Nutrition. All rights reserved.