Hemp Seed Protein ~ Every Vegan's Delight!
Hemp seeds give new meaning to the catch phrase "afternoon delight"! The protein content of hemp seeds is quite remarkable, making these seeds an ideal food for everyone and especially vegans. The whole seeds contain 25 to 35 % protein, which means a serving of 3.5 to 5 tablespoons (equivalent to 50 to 75 grams, respectively) of hemp seeds provides the equivalent amount of protein (approximately 18 grams) that you'd get from a 50 gram serving of cooked, low-fat beef steak (I calculated these values based on the nutrient profile of a braised beef steak, top round, provided by the USDA National Nutrient Database). Of other nuts and seeds, only whole pumpkin seeds and walnuts compare with hemp seeds for protein content.
What's even more impressive is the amino acid* profile of hemp seeds—it outshines that of whey and egg white! (See Table 1.) Hemp seeds provide all the essential amino acids your body isn't able to synthesize but needs for survival (I highlighted those with an asterisk in the table).
*Note: Amino acids are the subunits or building blocks of proteins. Proteins are fascinating molecules and they perform a phenomenal number of complex and essential functions in your body.
Perhaps more important than the amino acid profile is the quality of protein these little golden nuggets provide. Hemp seed protein is extremely digestible, which means the amino acids are bioavailable. This isn't true for all protein-rich foods.
For example: a food could be very high in protein but if your body isn't able to digest the proteins very easily or if the food contains other substances that could be harmful for your body, then the high protein content is irrelevant and the food isn't suitable as a source of amino acids. This is the case for most legumes and nuts that contain anti-nutritional factors, which compromise or inhibit the ability of human enzymes to properly break down the protein contained in these seeds. This is why legumes and many nuts are fully digestible only after they've been soaked, sprouted, cooked and/or fermented.
Hemp seeds can be eaten completely raw and unprocessed and they will deliver complete, easily digestible protein rich nutrition!
Hemp seed protein is interesting in that it's comprised mainly of two globular molecules: the relatively large edestin, which comprises 60 to 80 % of total hemp seed protein, and the moderately-sized albumin, which comprises the remaining 40 to 20 %, respectively. Albumin is also present in egg whites (which is part of the reason egg white protein is a popular source of protein), but what makes this molecule relevant to human health is that it's the most predominant protein in blood.
As a necessary component of blood, albumin performs many vital functions. It helps to:
- transport nutrients including electrolytes fats, and steroid compounds
- facilitate hormone function, including that of thyroid hormones (in part by acting as a carrier molecule)
- "escort" toxins out of the body
- supporting immune system activities
- maintain blood pressure
- "deliver" drugs through the body.
Albumin is sometimes referred to as a "molecular blood taxi" (!) because it binds various substances and helps move them through the body via the blood. Without albumin, most of these substances wouldn't be miscible with blood.
The difference between hemp and egg white albumin is that you can consume hemp seeds in raw form and whereas it's unadvisable to consume raw egg whites. Cooking proteins denatures their structural conformation (especially of complex proteins such as albumin), and this generally decreases the digestibility and bioavailability of the amino acids.
Hemp Seed ~ Vitamin E Powerhouse
Like all oil-rich seeds and nuts, hemp seeds contain a variety of vitamin E types. There are at least 8 distinct but chemically related molecules in the vitamin E family and hemp seeds contain all 8! The vitamin E family is among the most potent group of natural antioxidants for protecting fats from damage caused by light, heat, moisture, and/or oxygen and other free radicals. These vitamins help to prevent oil peroxidation, which means the seed oils stay fresh!
All forms of vitamin E are essential nutrient for human health. They're particularly important for cardiovascular health because they prevent oxidation and deposition of LDL cholesterol in arteries, help prevent the formation of blood clots, and support the health of heart tissue. The E vitamins also nourish the nervous and reproductive systems, maintain healthy cell membranes, protect lungs from airborne environmental toxins, and are essential for liver and immune system function.
The form of vitamin E, gamma-tocopherol, that is most abundant in hemp seed oils, may have anti-inflammatory properties that the other 7 types of vitamin E don't appear to exhibit.
In addition to its high vitamin E content, hemp seeds also contain a substance called plastochromanol-8 (abbreviated as P-8), which is a derivative of one form of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol. P-8 has more potent antioxidant properties than any form of vitamin E, and therefore it protects oil from damage more effectively than E vitamins. Finding a seed that parcels a relatively large amount of both P-8 and the full suite of E vitamins is quite a treasure!
Read Part 1 of the blog series on hemp seed to learn about the healthy oils hemp seeds contain and about how hemp seeds can be a fantastic alternative to peanuts! I give you a recipe for making hemp seed butter that is an incredibly delicious peanut butter substitute.