Hemp Seed Nutrition – Protein

hemp-protein-powderThe seed of Cannabis Sativa has been an important source of nutrition for thousands of years in Old World cultures. Non-drug varieties of the Cannabis family i.e. Sativa, commonly referred to as Hemp, have not been studied extensively for their nutritional potential in recent years, nor has Hemp Seed been utilized to any great extent by the industrial processes and food markets that have developed during the 20th century. Technically a nut, Hemp Seed nutritional make-up is basically 34.6% protein, 46.5% fat, and 11.6% carbohydrate. For diabetics, the glycemic index of shelled Hemp Seed is considered low because of its low carbohydrate content. They are also full of nutrients that moderate blood sugar. The carbohydrate content of hemp protein powder ranges between 5 and 7 g. Of that, 1 g or less comes from natural sugars. The remaining carbohydrates consist primarily of dietary fiber, making hemp protein powder helpful for controlling blood sugar and maintaining digestive health.

Hemp protein is free of the tryspin inhibitors that block protein absorption and it is also free of the oligosaccharides found in soy, which cause stomach upset and gas. It is a lactose-free alternative to whey and is also free of gluten. There is no genetically modified hemp so all products are GMO free.

Although both hulled and powdered protein sources are approximately equal in protein content, they differ in carbohydrate and essential fat content. The hulled/shelled Hemp Seeds are a balance of protein and Essential Fats and relatively low in carbohydrates. The powdered Hemp alternatively contains roughly an equal portion of easily digested protein and dietary fibre. The interesting feature of this protein form is that the dietary fibre completely eclipses the carbohydrate content. This means none of this carbohydrate is absorbed in the system, as dietary fibre is considered roughage, which is essential to clearing the intestinal tract. In particular, fibre helps with diets designed for weight loss because it takes up room in the digestive tract without adding sugars. Fiber, in fact, is a powerful broom: it cleans the house fast and controls the sugar’s behavior, preventing it from falling into our blood current all at once. This means that it has a low glycemic index.

Hemp Seed Oil contains over 80% Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) and is an exceptionally rich source of the two Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) Linoleic Acid (18:2 Omega-6) and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (18:3 Omega-3). The Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio in Hemp Seed oil is normally between 2:1 and 4:1, which is considered to be optimal for human health. In addition, the biological metabolites of the two EFAs, Gamma-Linolenic Acid (18:3 Omega-6; ‘GLA’) and Stearidonic Acid (18:4 Omega-3; ‘SDA’), are also present in Hemp Seed Oil.

The two main Proteins in Hemp Seed are Edestin and Albumin. Both of these high-quality proteins are easily digested and contain nutritionally significant amounts of all Essential Amino Acids. In addition, Hemp Seed has exceptionally high levels of the Amino Acid, Arginine. Hemp Seed has been used to treat various disorders for thousands of years in traditional oriental medicine. Recent clinical trials have identified Hemp Seed Oil as a functional food and studies demonstrate the long-standing utility of Hemp Seed as an important food resource.

Both the ripened seed of Hemp and the Seed Meal are excellent sources of dietary Oil, Fiber And Protein.

Hemp Seed as food

For various reasons, Hemp has been reconsidered as a valuable industrial crop for both food and fiber in Canada, the USA and European countries during the last decade. As a result, Hemp Seed and Hemp Seed food products have become available to the general public in these countries. While the human food potential for Hemp Seed has not yet entered mass markets in the west, its nutritional properties have long been recognized and valued as food for both humans and domesticated animals throughout Asia, India, Russia and Eastern Europe. In China, roasted Hemp Seed is still sold as snacks by street venders. In Russia, ‘black’ oil has been pressed from Hemp Seed and used as a substitute for more expensive (and less healthy) sources of dietary fat, such as butter and hydrogenated margarines.

The natural dark color of Hemp Seed Oil is from chlorophyll within the mature seed, which can hasten auto-oxidation of oil that is exposed to light.

Typical nutritional values (mg/100 g) for vitamins and minerals in Hemp Seed :

Hemp Seed
Vitamin E 90
Thiamine (B1) 0.4
Riboflavin (B2) 0.1
Phosphorous (P) 1160
Potassium (K) 859
Magnesium (Mg) 483
Calcium (Ca) 145
Iron (Fe) 14
Sodium (Na) 12
Manganese (Mn) 7
Zinc (Zn) 7
Copper (Cu) 2

Protein and other nutrients in Hemp Seed

As mentioned, Albumin, a globular protein and Edestin, a Legumin and easily digestible storage protein, the two main proteins in Hemp Seed and both are rich in the Amino Acids that are essential to human health. A direct comparison of Protein Amino Acid profiles from egg White, Hemp Seed and Soy Bean shows that Hemp Seed protein is comparable to these other high quality proteins. Hemp Seed protein has good amounts of the sulfur-containing Amino Acids Methionine and Cystine (Odani & Odani, 1998), in addition to very high levels of Arginine and Glutamic Acid. As an industrial source of vegetable nutrition, both Hemp Seed and Hemp Seed meals are rich sources of protein and polyunsaturated oils, in addition to considerable amounts of vitamins and useful minerals (Table 4). The individual tocopherols in Hemp Seed, presented as vitamin E in are Alpha-Tocopherol (5 mg/100 g) and Gamma-Tocopherol (85 mg/100 g), for a total of 90 mg/100 g of vitamin E which is made up of alpha- beta-, delta-, and gamma-Tocopherols sand Alpha-Tocotrienol.

Not only do hemp seeds contain Essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the proper ratio required by humans, but also all the essential Amino Acids and dietary fiber required for good health. The fiber content of Hemp Seed Flour is 40%, which is the highest of all commercial flour grains.

No other single plant source provides balanced protein nutrition with all the Essential Amino Acids in a favorable ratio for digestibility. The absence of trypsin inhibitory activity is a major advantage over the type of protein found in soybeans. (Trypsin inhibitors are chemicals that reduce the availability of trypsin, an enzyme essential to nutrition and protein assimilation in many animals, including humans. Soybeans contain several inhibitors).

It is also high in such minerals as the following:

  • Potassium supports the nervous system and regular heart rhythm and, with the help of sodium, aids in the body’s balance of water.
  • Calcium is also essential for a regular heartbeat, strong teeth and bones, and nerve impulses.
  • Magnesium is needed to transmit the nerve and muscle messages.
  • Sulfur helps the body resist bacterial invasion and protects it against toxic substances.
  • Iron, in moderate amounts, facilitate the production of red blood cells and energy.
  • Zinc is important for a healthy reproductive system and the male prostate gland. It improves wound healing and strengthens the immune system.

The following are also found in Hemp Seeds:

  • Lecithin is a type of liquid found in the protective sheaths surrounding the brain and nervous system. Lecithin helps in the breakdown of fats and enhances liver activity and enzyme production.
  • Choline is produced from lecithin. It is needed for nerve impulses from the brain throughout the nervous system and for liver and gall bladder function. Its derivative acetylcholine, lacking in Alzheimer patients, is crucial for short-term memory.
  • Inositol promotes hair growth, reduces cholesterol levels, prevents artery hardening, and is calming to the nervous system.
  • Phytosterols, sometimes described as ‘plant hormones’ or phytoestrogens, affect cholesterol absorption, hormone regulation and cell metabolism.

Scientists are studying the use of hemp seed extracts to boost the immuno-depressed who have such illnesses as AIDS and cancer.Edestin, so compatible with the human digestive system that, in 1955, a Czechoslovakian Tuberculosis Nutrition Study found Hemp Seed to be the only food that successfully treated tuberculosis – a disease in which nutritive processes become impaired and the body wastes away.

Graphical representation of Protein Amino Acid profiles for Soy Bean, Hemp Seed and Egg White. Individual Amino Acids are represented by their IUPAC abbreviations :

Typical protein content (%) of each food is given directly below the name :

Amino Acid Potato  Wheat  Rice  Soy bean  Hemp Seed  Rape Seed  Egg White  Whey Powder
Alanine 0.9 0.5 0.56 1.39 1.28 1.05 0.83 0.61
Arginine 0.1 0.61 0.62 2.14 3.1 1.49 0.68 0.39
Aspartic Acid 0.34 0.69 0.86 3.62 2.78 1.82 1.23 1.49
Cystine 0.02 0.28 0.1 0.54 0.41 0.39 0.29 0.17
Glutamic Acid 0.37 4 1.68 5.89 4.57 4.41 1.67 2.4
Glycine 0.1 0.71 0.47 1.29 1.14 1.28 0.5 0.29
Histidine* 0.03 0.27 0.19 0.76 0.71 0.72 0.28 0.29
Isoleucine* 0.08 0.53 0.35 1.62 0.98 1 0.74 0.85
Leucine* 0.11 0.9 0.71 2.58 1.72 1.8 1.08 1.4
Lysine* 0.1 0.37 0.31 1.73 1.03 1.49 0.74 1.15
Methionine* 0.02 0.22 0.17 0.53 0.58 0.46 0.47 0.23
Phenylalanine* 0.08 0.63 0.43 1.78 1.17 1.05 0.76 0.49
Proline 0.09 1.53 0.4 1.65 1.15 1.59 0.5 0.43
Serine 0.08 0.7 0.48 1.54 1.27 1.1 0.92 0.64
Threonine* 0.07 0.42 0.34 1.35 0.88 1.13 0.58 1.02
Tryptophan* 0.02 0.51 0.09 0.41 0.2 0.31 0.2 0.25
Tyrosine 0.06 0.4 0.33 1.14 0.86 0.69 0.46 0.47
Valine* 0.1 0.61 0.51 1.6 1.28 1.26 0.98 0.91

What are Amino Acids?

There are about eighty Amino Acids found in nature, but only twenty to twenty-nine are required for human growth. This figure depends upon the source consulted but most agree the figure is twenty or twenty-one. Once again, depending on the source, eight to ten Amino Acids are considered essential for life. The reason for the classifications of Amino Acids into “essential” and “non-essential” was to distinguish between those the body could manufacture and the ones that had to come from diet.

Essential Amino Acids are those that must come from the diet. These include: Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan and Valine.

Non-essential Amino Acids are those that the body can manufacture from an available source of nitrogen and a carbon skeleton. These include: Alanine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Carnitine, Citrulline, Cysteine, Cystine, GABA, Glutamic Acid, Glutamine, Gluthathione, Glycine, Hydroxyproline, Ornithine, Proline, Serine, Taurine and Tyrosine.

Semi-essential Amino Acids are ones that can sometimes be made internally if conditions are right. Arginine and Histidine can be converted from other Amino Acids if needed. Methionine can be converted to Cystine, but Cystine cannot be converted to Methionine. Phenylalanine can be converted to tyrosine, but not the other way around. Therefore, when Cystine and Tyrosine are present in the diet, the requirements for Methionine and Phenylalaine are reduced. Thus, Cystine and Tyrosine are sometimes classified as “semi-essential.” The liver is able to produce 80% of the Amino Acids it needs for protein construction, while the remaining 20% must be consumed.

Proteins are classified according to:

  1. composition and chemical properties, i.e., simple, conjugated, compound, or derived
  2. nutritional quality, i.e., complete, partially complete, or incomplete
  3. structure, i.e. fibrous or globular
  4. solubility in water, acid or alcohol.

Based on their content of Amino Acids, foods are often classified as complete, partially complete, or incomplete protein sources. In order for a protein to be complete, it must contain all of the essential Amino Acids. This is the reason that many nutritionists rank non-meat foods as being incomplete. The foods do contain all Amino Acids, but some may be in lower proportions than are required and, therefore, should be combined with another food containing higher amounts of these Amino Acids.

Amino Acid construction consists of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen with some containing sulfur.

In order for the protein-building process to occur in the body, there must be enough quality protein in the diet; and that protein must be easily digestible in order for the breakdown (catabolism) and rebuilding (anabolism) of vital nutrients to occur. The body continually breaks down protein molecules and rebuilds the resulting Amino Acids into other usable chains required by particular areas of the body. Amino Acids compete with each other for entry to the brain. Therefore, to avoid this competition, Amino Acid supplements should be taken on an empty stomach.

In addition to their main functions of building needed proteins, Amino Acids also assist vitamins and minerals to do their jobs properly. Even if vitamins and minerals were absorbed and assimilated rapidly, they would not be as effective as they are in the presence of Amino Acids. In order to be properly assimilated, Amino Acids particularly require the help of Vitamins B12, Bw, C and T, chromium and sleep.

Vegans must be aware that most of the Amino Acid supplements available have an animal-base. There are supplements – derived from vegetable sources – in a crystalline free form that are more stable and preferable because of their rapid absorption. However, labels must be read carefully.

Also, beware of alkali-treated soy products. This treatment tends to reduce three Amino Acids – lysine, serine and cystine – as well as produce a toxic Amino Acid derivative called lysinoalanine. In addition, more people are showing allergy symptoms toward soy products, which may or may not be as a result of products using genetically engineered soybeans.

Amino Acids are actively transported, but also require a carrie and each carrier is specific to certain Amino Acids. For example:

Carrier 1 is for Serine, Threonine and Alanine.
Carrier 2 is for Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, Methionine, Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine.
Carrier 3 is for Proline and Hydroxyproline.
Carrier 4 is for Taurine and B-Alanine.
Carrier 5 is for Lysine, Arginine, Cysteine.
Carrier 6 is for Aspartic Acid and Glutamic Acid.

Chemical Division for Amino Acids :

  1. Aromatic Amino Acids : Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, Tryptophan
  2. Sulfur Amino Acids : Cysteine, Gluthathione, Taurine, Methionine, Homocysteine
  3. Urea Cycle Amino Acids : Arginine, Citrulline, Ornithine
  4. Glutamate Amino Acids : Glutamic Acid, GABA and Glutamine; Proline and Hydroxyproline; Aspartic Acid-Asparagine
  5. Threonine Amino Acids : Threonine; Glycine; Serine; Alanine
  6. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA): Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine
  7. Important Metabolite Amino Acids : Lysine; Carnitine; Histidine

Individual Amino Acids :

Alanine – a non-essential Amino Acid whose main function is the metabolism of tryptophan and pyridoxine

Arginine – an essential Amino Acid for children and possibly for adults

Asparagine – a non-essential Amino Acid

Aspartic Acid – a non-essential Amino Acid which aids in the formation of RNA and DNA

Carnitine – not a true Amino Acid but sometimes referred to as Vitamin BT

Citrulline – a non-essential Amino Acid involved in the urea cycle

Cysteine – a non-essential, sulphur-containing Amino Acid

Cystine – a non-essential Amino Acid created when two cysteine molecules bond together

Gaba – a non-essential Amino Acid formed from glutamic acid with the help of Vitamin B6

Glutamic Acid – a non-essential Amino Acid that can be synthesized from a number of Amino Acids

Glutamine – a semi-essential Amino Acid

Glutathione – not considered a true Amino Acid but a tripeptide of glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine

Glycine – a non-essential glucogenic Amino Acid that readily converts to serine

Histidine – considered an essential Amino Acid for children, but usually not for adults

Isoleucine – an essential or semi-essential Amino Acid because it sometimes cannot be made in the body

Leucine – an essential branched chain Amino Acid classified as semi-essential by some

Lysine – an essential Amino Acid because it cannot be synthesized in the body and its breakdown is irreversible

Methionine – an essential Amino Acid that cannot be synthesized in the body

Ornithine – a non-essential Amino Acid found free in the body tissues, but not used as a protein building block

Phenylalanine – an essential Amino Acid that is converted to tyrosine in the body

Proline – an aromatic non-essential Amino Acid that requires Vitamin C for its synthesis

Serine – a non-essential Amino Acid derived from glycine, contributing to the formation of cystine from homocysteine

Taurine – a “conditionally essential” Amino Acid for adults and essential for normal infant development

Threonine – an essential Amino Acid, serving as a carrier for phosphate in phosphoproteins

Tryptophan – an essential Amino Acid, the only one with an indole nucleus responsible for the peculiar odor of feces

Tyrosine – an aromatic non-essential Amino Acid produced from phenylalanine

Valine – a branched chain essential or semi-essential Amino Acid

Individual Amino Acid values for each food is given in grams per 100 g. Essential Amino Acids are indicated by an asterisk (*).

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Abbreviations: AL: alpha-Linolenic acid (18:3 Omega-3); GLA: gamma-Linolenic acid (18:3 Omega-6); EFA: Essential Fatty Acid; LDL: Lowdensity Lipoprotein; n6/n3: Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 fatty acids; PUFAs: Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids; SDA: Stearidonic Acid (18:4 Omega-3); THC: delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol


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