Hemp Protein Powder: The Best Plant-Based Protein?
Protein powders are popular nutritional supplements used by athletes, bodybuilders and those trying to gain weight or increase muscle mass.
Hemp protein powder is one of the more popular varieties, made by grinding pressed hemp seeds into a fine powder.
It has an earthy, nutty taste and is often added to shakes or smoothies to boost protein intake.
Hemp is a high-quality vegan protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, plus fiber, healthy fats and minerals.
This article reviews the pros and cons of hemp protein powder and determines whether it’s the best plant-based protein powder available.
Hemp is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that humans must get from food.
However, research is mixed on the exact amounts of these amino acids it contains.
One study found that the amino acid profile of hemp protein is similar to egg whites and soy, which are both high-quality protein sources (1).
However, other studies have shown that hemp has relatively low levels of the essential amino acid lysine, making it a poorer quality option for that nutrient ( 2 , 3 ).
A 1/4-cup (30-gram) serving of hemp protein powder contains around 120 calories and 15 grams of protein, depending on the brand (4, 5).
That’s less protein per serving than soy or pea protein powders, which are more highly refined and contain up to 90% protein (6).
However, for those who prefer less processed protein sources, hemp is a good choice.
Hemp protein is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, but more research is needed on its quality. Each 1/4-cup (30-gram) serving contains 15 grams of protein.
In general, animal proteins are more easily digested than plant proteins, but research shows that 91–98% of the protein in ground hemp seed is digestible ( 2 , 7 ).
This means that your body can use almost all of the amino acids in hemp protein powder for important bodily functions, such as repair and maintenance.
Researchers believe that hemp is so easy to digest because it contains the proteins edestin and albumin, which your body can break down quickly ( 3 ).
However, other studies that judge proteins based on both digestibility and amino acid content consider hemp protein to be of moderate quality — roughly on par with lentils ( 2 ).
Research has found that heat processing can reduce the digestibility of hemp protein by about 10%, so look for hemp protein powders made from cold-pressed seeds ( 2 ).
Hemp protein is very easy to digest, but look for cold-pressed hemp protein for the highest quality.
High-fiber diets have been linked to many health benefits, including improved blood sugar, healthier gut bacteria and a reduced risk of bowel cancer ( 8 , 9 , 10 ).
Women and men should consume 25 grams and 38 grams of fiber per day respectively, but studies show that less than 5% of American adults meet these recommendations ( 11 , 12 ).
High-fiber foods, such as hemp protein, can help bridge this gap.
Hemp protein powders can contain different amounts of fiber depending on whether they were made from hulled or unhulled hemp seeds and whether additional fiber was added.
Most hemp protein powders contain 7–8 grams of fiber per 1/4 cup (30 grams) and provide 18–28% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of fiber for men and women respectively (4, 5).
In comparison, other plant-based protein powders such as soy, pea and rice are highly refined and contain very little fiber (6, 13 ).
Hemp protein powder is a great way to add both protein and fiber to your diet, which may keep you feeling fuller, longer ( 14 ).
Hemp protein powder is a good source of fiber, containing 8 grams per serving — much more than most other plant-based protein powders.
Hemp protein powder is made from hemp seeds that have been pressed to remove their oils, but it still contains roughly 10% of the original fat content ( 15 ).
A 1/4-cup (30-gram) serving has around 3 grams of fat, most of which is unsaturated and excellent for heart health (4, 5, 16 , 17 ).
A typical Western diet provides an unbalanced 15:1 ratio of these fats, and has been linked to many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer ( 20 ).
Consuming foods such as hemp seeds, which have lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratios, can help correct this imbalance and may improve heart health ( 21 ).
Since hemp protein powder is less refined than other protein isolates, it contains more fat than most protein powders.
This fat content can be good for people who want to add more heart-healthy unsaturated fats to their diet but may be undesirable for those seeking a lower-calorie protein powder.
Since hemp protein powder contains fat, it should be stored in the refrigerator after opening to prevent the fats from going rancid.
Hemp protein powder contains omega-6 and omega-3 fats in an ideal 3:1 ratio that promotes heart health, but it’s slightly higher in calories because of it.
Hemp protein powder is a popular plant-based supplement, especially among vegan athletes. This article checks the facts to determine whether hemp protein powder is the best plant-based protein powder available.