There’s a new protein powder on the block, and it’s turning some heads. It’s hemp. Like soy, protein powder made with hemp is complete because it contains a full spectrum of amino acids. But unlike other protein powders, it has a perfect balance of healthy fats and is a whole food, not an isolate or extract.
Just in case you’re wondering if there’s a connection to marijuana, there isn’t, nutritionally speaking. Industrial hemp, the source of hemp protein and other hemp foods, is different from the plant that produces marijuana. But confusion arises because the two plants share the Latin name Cannabis sativa.
You can’t get high on hemp foods any more than you can on a poppy seed muffin, according to research published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology. But you can get healthier.
How to Eat Hemp Protein
Hemp protein does not require flavorings or other additives to disguise its pleasant nutty taste, and it complements both savory and sweet foods. Blend it in shakes; sprinkle it on fruit, cereal, salads, steamed or grilled vegetables, soups and other foods; or add it to dips. You can also dip raw veggies in the protein powder.
In the plant kingdom, hemp is unique in having a healthy 3-to-1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. “It is this ratio that is believed to be ideal in promoting long-term well-being by decreasing the likelihood of developing heart disease, diabetes and depression,” says Toronto-based personal trainer and nutritionist Matthew Kadey, M.S., R.D., the founder of Fuel for Life Nutrition and Fitness Services.
A type of protein found in hemp, known as edestin, is believed to closely resemble the protein in human blood, but research examining edestin’s benefits is incomplete. We have a better understanding of the amino acids in hemp. “Hemp protein contains relatively high levels of the branched-chain amino acids [leucine, isoleucine and valine] that are crucial in the repair and growth of lean body mass,” explains Kadey. “It is a quality source of arginine and histidine, both of which are important for growth during childhood, and of the sulphur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine, which are needed for the production of vital enzymes.” In addition, hemp protein contains no digestive irritants or known allergens, according to Kadey.
Other Hemp Foods
Try shelled hemp seeds (also called hemp seed nuts or hemp nuts), oil, oil capsules, nut butter, flour, nutrition bars, waffles, cereal containing hemp, and pancake and other baking mixes. Hemp is also an ingredient in some bottled salad dressings, veggie burgers, nondairy frozen desserts, coffee or coffee-substitute blends, meal replacements, baked goods and pasta.
Cameron Shaynes Hemp Protein Shake
- 1 banana
- 2 scoops of hemp protein powder
- 1 tablespoon of organic peanut or almond butter
- 2 cups of organic rice milk
- 1 tablespoon of lecithin (boosts brain power)
- 2 tablespoons of hemp oil
- 1 scoop of super greens (your choice of a green foods powder)
Blend together and enjoy.
To make this protein, the seeds of the hemp plant are cold-pressed to expel the oil, and the remaining hemp “cake” is milled, without the use of chemicals or high heat. Some of the coarser fiber is removed, but the integrity of the plant’s nutritional structure is left intact.
“There are nutrients within the hemp plant, on an enzyme level, designed to help with assimilation and digestion,” says martial arts master Cameron Shayne, teacher and trainer of athletes and actors, including Courtney Cox and David Arquette, and Olympic gold medallist Kerri Walsh. “And lack of enzymes is a problem when you manipulate a food so you eat only part of it.”
While he is not a vegetarian, Shayne gets most of his protein from plant sources, such as hemp, and he recommends hemp foods to his clients. “With hemp, you don’t lose any of the benefits you get from meat protein,” he says. “But you don’t get the saturated fat, and with the lethargic nature of America’s lifestyle, saturated fats are a killer.” Shayne also favors hemp because it is good for the environment and the earth: The hemp plant revitalizes the soil, grows without chemicals, and the plant’s stalks produce fiber that makes paper, textiles, fuel, building materials and degradable plastics in a much more sustainable way than conventional products.
Tonya Kay shares Shayne’s appreciation of hemp. A dancer and aerial stunt performer who had taken medications for bipolar disorder since her late teens, Kay defied medical advice in her mid-20s by dumping her prescriptions and adopting a healing nutritional strategy. After learning that essential fatty acids (EFAs) could help, she considered flaxseed and hemp as sources because she is vegan. “I chose hemp because the plant enriches the soil it grows in, and it doesn’t even need pesticides,” she says. “If we are going to supplement with EFAs, why not also help the environment?”
Vera Tweed is a magazine writer and book author with 10 years of experience in health journalism.
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