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Is Hemp Protein a complete protein?

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I'm surprised that it appears only one person brought up that hemp IS indeed a complete protein. I just wrote up something on plant-based complete proteins and posted it in a non-veg bodybuilding forum...didn't think I'd need to post it here, but here we go. Remember, this was for omnivores, so there is some mention of meat in here occasionally.




I was reading through another magazine and they occasionally mention tofu as a protein source because "it's one of the rare plant foods that contain your essential amino acids." That's it, that's all they ever mention about the subject of plant-based foods containing your essential aminos.


For those of you looking to squeeze more protein into your diet, or just different protein sources, try incorporating more of the following. Comes with some extra nutrition facts and serving suggestions. The great thing about plant-based proteins is that plant foods typically offer a wider array of nutrition than their animal-based counterparts. Typically, animal foods are a higher concentration of certain nutrients (like protein), but tend to be lacking in other departments. For example, 1oz of milk provides 3% of your daily value of calcium (4% if it's nonfat milk), whereas 1oz of sesame seeds provides 27% of your DV of calcium (and 23% of your DV of iron...1oz of chuck roast only provides 4%). Plus, it's fun to try new foods!





The amount of fat in avocado is why a lot of people shy from it, but we know that fat isn't always bad. Along with being a complete protein, avocado is also good for your hair and skin (usually done as a masque, but has the same benefits when consumed). Avocados also have 60% more potassium than bananas. They are rich in B vitamins, as well as vitamin E and vitamin K. They have a high fiber content among fruits - including 75% insoluble and 25% soluble fiber.

Instead of just guacamole, try spreading ripe avocado onto toast, blend into a protein shake (avocado milkshakes are popular in Asian countries and freakin' delicious), or add to your salad/sandwich. Another thing to try is making a bean soup or chili, then mashing in some avocado.




For those of you who steer away from pasta due to gluten allergies, buckwheat is gluten-free. Buckwheat is also high in fiber (a big bonus for celiacs), B vitamins and, according to a USDA study, keeps glucose levels in check better than other carbohydrates...great news for celiacs who also have diabetes.

You can find buckwheat in flour form (makes delicious pancakes), groats (used to make breakfast hot cereals), and in noodles (like soba). Typically, buckwheat noodles are a little more pricey in the stores, so I go to Asian markets to get mine. They're really cheap, about $1.69 for 5-7 servings.




This "superfood" has been getting a lot of publicity lately, and some fitness magazines that offer recipes basically suggest making it instead of rice or cous cous for a side dish. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Because of all these characteristics, quinoa is being considered a possible crop in NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights.

Quinoa is quick-cooking (5-10 minutes), and can be easily seasoned. Instead of cooking it in water, try cooking it in a broth. I've also added quinoa to chili instead of adding rice, and it can easily slide into a casserole. Try adding cinnamon and bananas for an easy breakfast alternative to oats.




Its seeds have a protein content greater than that of wheat. However, unlike that found in true grains (i.e. from grass seeds) its protein is not of the problematical type known as gluten. Several studies have shown that like oats, amaranth seed or oil may be of benefit for those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease; regular consumption reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving antioxidant status and some immune parameters. While the active ingredient in oats appears to be water-soluble fiber, amaranth appears to lower cholesterol via its content of plant stanols and squalene.

Amaranth can be found on its own as a seed/grain sold for you to basically cook up however you choose, or it can be found in bread. Try making your own amaranth bread or wraps, or cook up with your quinoa.



Fermented Soy

Soybean protein isolate has a biological value of 74, whole soybeans 96, soybean milk 91, and eggs 97. An article in MD (December 2009, I think?) quoted a few sources to put the "OMG BITCH TITS" belief to rest. Yes, soy contains isoflavones, which are a weak, plant-based estrogen...but dairy is loaded with stronger, mammalian estrogen and no one cries about breast cancer and man boobs.

Soy is found in pretty much everything, whether as a meat alternative, dairy alternative, or just an additive to processed foods. Fermented soy is supposed to be more bioavailable, so I tend to opt with that. Soy sauce (the traditionally brewed kind) fits the bill, and something like 1 T of the stuff contains 2-3g of protein, if you can believe it. Another option is tempeh, which is a fermented soy/rice product used in place of meat in some cultures. Because of its nutritional content, it's finding its way into vegetarian/vegan cuisine and makes an excellent replacement for bacon. Try crumbling tempeh into salads, grill it and add it to sandwiches/wraps (or serve on its own with vegetables), or just add some tempeh "bacon" to a regular sandwich to change it up.



Hemp Seeds/Nuts

Hempseed is an adequate source of calcium and iron. Whole hempseeds are also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese. Hemp is a pretty good source of fiber, and also is rich in omegas 3 and 6. Studies show that, unlike flax seed oil, hemp oil can be used continuously without developing a deficiency or other imbalance of EFAs. This has been demonstrated in a clinical study, where the daily ingestion of flaxseed oil decreased the endogenous production of GLA (Effects of hempseed and flaxseed oils on the profile of serum lipids, serum total and lipoprotein lipid concentrations and haemostatic. European Journal of Nutrition 45(8):470-7). This is great news for those of you looking to get your omegas from a non-fish source for whatever reason.

Hemp is easily found in its nut/seed form, hemp protein powder, and hemp milk. Hemp milk is usually found with the aseptic milks (self-stable milk alternatives, like rice and soy). From what I've seen, it tends to be a little more pricey, so I only buy when it's on sale. From my experience, the fats will separate from the liquids, so a really good shaking is in order before pouring your hemp milk. Just yesterday I used some in some cereal and got some chunks, but like clots of cream this shit was still delicious. Hemp milk is my favorite milk to make protein shakes from, hands down. It is creamy and delicious. You can find it sweetened, unsweetened, and flavored (usually vanilla or chocolate). Try using the unsweetened plain stuff in dishes that call for creaminess, like soups or mashed sweet potatoes. The protein powder is relatively cheap and high in fiber. It can be a little gritty, so just wait a few minutes (3-5) before drinking it if you want a creamier consistency.



Feel free to add any additional information and recipes!

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That numbers I've seen on hemp protein clearly shows that it falls short on 5 amino acids of WHOs reference pattern for essential amino acids. The amino acids are lysine, isoleucine, valine, methionine/cystine and tryptophan.

strawberryriddick, do you have any numbers that contradict this and where did you get them?

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Thanks strawberryriddick, fir that excellent post.


As for the "there's no such thing as a complete protein" and "look at how huge cows get on grass" comments, consider this: different organisms have different metabolisms. A cow can get calories from grass; you cannot (they have bacteria in their guts with the enzyme cellulase, we do not). Likewise, our "essential" amino acids are only essential because we lack the enzymes to make them ourselves. There are other animals which do possess these enzymes, and others still that may lack the ones that we have.

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As for the "there's no such thing as a complete protein" and "look at how huge cows get on grass" comments, consider this: different organisms have different metabolisms.
Thanks for touching on that...I was going to but forgot. I always like to remind people that we can eat chocolate just fine, but dogs will die if they consume (too much of) it.



xjohanx: Great question. My go-to is usually nutritiondata.com, but it doesn't have anything on hemp. I found something kind of interesting: "'For the sailor, no less than the hangman, hemp was indispensable,' says a 1942 film produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote hemp production for the war effort" but that doesn't quite answer any questions (just an interesting tidbit to share).


Some other information:


"Hemp Amino Acid Profile; %, mg / 30g serving

Alanine: 0.979%, 293.7

*Arginine (children): 2.344%, 703.2

Asparctic Acid & Asparagine: 2.316%, 694.8

Cysteine: 0.608%, 182.4

Cystothionine, Glutamic Acid & Glutamine: 3.869%, 1160.7

Glutamine Glycine: 0.998%, 299.4

*Histidine (children): 0.598%, 179.4

*Isoleucine: 0.798%, 239.4

*Leucine: 1.556%, 466.8

*Lysine: 0.947%, 284.1

*Methionine: 0.727%, 218.1

*Phenylalanine: 0.936%, 280.8

Phosphoserine Proline: 0.978%, 293.4

Serine: 1.218%, 365.4

*Threonine: 0.804%, 241.2

*Tryptophan: 0.352%, 105.6

Tyrosine: 0.787%, 236.1

*Valine: 1.032%, 309.6


*Essential Amino Acid" SOURCE


"Hemp protein contains all 21 known amino acids, including the 9 essential ones adult bodies cannot produce. Proteins are considered complete when they contain all the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities and ratios to meet the body's needs. The following are the 21 most common amino acids, with 8 essential ones in bold:





aspartic acid


glutamic acid
















taurine (considered essential for premature babies)

histidine (considered essential for children, but not for adults)

Proteins are potential allergens, which also include soy, dairy, or peanut proteins. However, no hemp seed allergies have ever been reported." SOURCE



"Hemp Amino Acid Profile (mg / 30 serving)

Alanine: 288

*Arginine (children): 564

Asparctic Acid & Asparagine: 594

Cysteine: 36

Cystothionine: 27

Glutamic Acid & Glutamine: 1044

Glutamine: 1044

Glycine: 291

*Histidine (children): 75

*Isoleucine: 45

*Leucine: 213

*Lysine: 129

*Methionine: 78

*Phenylalanine: 105

Phosphoserine: 27

Proline: 219

Serine: 258

*Threonine: 111

*Tryptophan: 18

Tyrosine: 174

*Valine: 90

* Essential Amino Acids" SOURCE


"Hemp protein is also of exceptionally high quality in terms of amino acid (AA) composition and protein structure, the latter affecting digestibility and utilization by the human body. Hemp protein contains all of the essential amino acids in more nutritionally significant amounts and at a ratio closer to "complete" sources of protein (like meat, milk and eggs) than all other oil seeds except soy. Hemp protein consists of two globular proteins, albumin (33%) and edestine (67%), with a structure very similar to proteins manufactured in our blood and is thus readily digestible. Hemp protein appears to be free of antinutrients that are found in soy to interfere with protein

uptake. So, eating hemp seed or nuts delivers protein with a favorable AA composition and in a structure readily utilized." SOURCE (this is a PDF file)



"The essential amino acids found in hemp protein cannot be produced by the body and are vital to survival. According to the Hemphasis website, hempseed is a complete protein source and the only food capable of sustaining life in the absence of other foods.

Protein from hempseed contains all eight essential amino acids. While soy has a higher overall protein content, hemp protein is easier to digest due to its lack of oligosaccharides and trypsin inhibitors, which contribute to gas formation and prevent protein absorption. In addition, hemp is less likely than soy to cause allergic reactions, making it an excellent option for those with soy allergies."



"Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain healthy human life. The seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, sprouted, made into hemp milk (akin to soy milk), prepared as tea, and used in baking. The fresh leaves can also be eaten in salads. Products range from cereals to frozen waffles, hemp tofu to nut butters. A few companies produce value added hemp seed items that include the seed oils, whole hemp grain (which is sterilized by law), hulled hemp seed (the whole seed without the mineral rich outer shell), hemp flour, hemp cake (a by-product of pressing the seed for oil) and hemp protein powder. Hemp is also used in some organic cereals, for non-dairy milk somewhat similar to soy and nut milks, and for non-dairy hemp 'ice cream.' ... Whole hempseed also contains about 25% of a highly-digestible protein, where 1/3 is edestin and 2/3 are albumins. Its amino acid profile is close to 'complete' when compared to more common sources of proteins such as meat, milk, eggs and soy." SOURCE




I tried to pull from a lot of different sources, including non-vegan, non-hemp-company sources, so I hope this helps.



I did find something about the WHO's comment on hemp being "deficient" in 5 essential aminos. Here is the list I found that compares what hemp has available and what the WHO/FAO finds is "sufficient for a 2-5 year old child." These are given in mg of the essential amino acid per gram of protein.



Hemp Contains: 25

Sufficient for 2-5 Year-Old Child: 19


Hemp Contains: 15

Sufficient for 2-5 Year-Old Child: 28


Hemp Contains: 71

Sufficient for 2-5 Year-Old Child: 66


Hemp Contains: 43

Sufficient for 2-5 Year-Old Child: 58

Methionine + Cystine

Hemp Contains: 24

Sufficient for 2-5 Year-Old Child: 25

Phenylalanine + Tyrosine

Hemp Contains: 93

Sufficient for 2-5 Year-Old Child: 63


Hemp Contains: 37

Sufficient for 2-5 Year-Old Child: 34


Hemp Contains: 6

Sufficient for 2-5 Year-Old Child: 11


Hemp Contains: 30

Sufficient for 2-5 Year-Old Child: 35


The ones marked in red are the deficient ones. Note that one of them, Methionine + Cystine, is deficient because it is missing just one mg/g of the requirement...certainly it would be "lacking" but I think calling it "deficient" is a bit misleading. Also note that the WHO/FAO states that hemp protein is not a sufficient protein source for children 2-5 years old. We know that children have very different requirements from adults, so suggesting that hemp protein is a poor protein choice for adults just because a 2-5 year old child cannot subsist off of hemp protein as his/her only source of protein is also misleading. And, to state again, this is to say that hemp protein should not be relied on by children 2-5 years old as their main source of protein...just as a parent shouldn't rely on rice milk for their young child for the same reason.


By the strictest definition of a "complete protein" being one that contains all the essential amino acids, hemp is clearly a complete protein. The amounts of those essential amino acids can be problematic for children 2-5 years old if they rely on hemp as their main protein source; but because of the high absorption rate, antioxidants, and what the WHO refers to as "having what is considered to be an optimal 3:1 balance of omega 6 to omega 3 essential fatty acids" (SOURCE) it is a protein source for adults to consider.

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Basically all plant and all animal protein contains all the 20 amino acids (gelatin is an exception) so by your definition it's all complete protein. However to be a "complete" protein you need certain amounts of the essential amino acids and hemp does not have those amounts and is because of that not a complete protein.

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  • 3 weeks later...

StrawberryRiddick, that was good detective work on hemp, but I'm afraid you were misled by a faulty page by Enerex. They're a supplement manufacturer, not an official source, and this is a good example of why such sources should be treated with skepticism. Bottom line is that common vegetables are indeed complete proteins, even for children, when you use numbers from official sources.


To see how Enerex misled us, here are the figures they gave supposedly as requirements from the WHO, in mg/g of protein:


19, 28, 66, 58, 25, 36, 34, 11, 35 for His, Ile, Leu, Lys, SAA(Met+Cys), AAA(Phe+Tyr), Thr, Trp, and Val respectively.


And here's the ACTUAL requirements from the WHO (p. 180 of "Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition", 2002):


12, 23, 44, 35, 18, 30, 18, 4.8, 29 for the same IAA's.


Notice how the actual requirement is much smaller than Enerex claims, for *every single* amino acid?


But it doesn't end there. Enerex is using the wrong metric in the first place, even if they got the figures right. They used the mg/g of protein consumed yardstick, which is based on the *average* WHO protein requirement, which is less than the *safe* requirement (pp. 150, 176), which itself is less than is supplied by *common foods*. So yeah, if you were eating what was effectively a *starvation diet*, then a greater *percentage* of your diet would have to be the various amino acids.


The proper way to do this analysis is to use the WHO's mg/kg/d of *ideal body weight* figures for amino acid requirements, and compare that to the amount of IAA's supplied by a day's worth of food. Let's walk through an example. Here are the WHO amino acid requirements in mg/kg/d:


10 20 39 30 15 25 15 4.0 26 - WHO rec. IAA's for adults, mg/kg/day (p. 150)

16 31 61 48 24 41 25 6.6 40 - WHO rec. IAA's for 3-10 y.o.'s, mg/kg/day (p. 180)


Now let's figure for a 135-lb. woman and a 33-lb. 3 y.o. boy (61.3 & 15 kg):


0.613 1.226 2.391 1.839 0.920 1.533 0.920 0.245 1.594 - WHO rec. IAA's for adults, g/day

0.240 0.465 0.915 0.720 0.360 0.615 0.375 0.099 0.600 - WHO rec. IAA's for 3-10 y.o., g/day


Now let's compare that to how much of each IAA is provided by a diet of nothing but potatoes, with 1800 calories for the woman and 1300 calories for the boy (standard values), getting our figures from the USDA nutrient database:


0.6, 1.2, 2.4, 1.8, 0.9, 1.5, 0.9, 0.2, 1.6 - WHO rec. IAA's for adults, g/day

1.0, 2.0, 2.9, 2.9, 1.4, 3.9, 1.8, 0.8, 2.7 - Supplied by 1800 cals potatoes


0.2, 0.5, 0.9, 0.7, 0.4, 0.6, 0.4, 0.1, 0.6 - WHO rec. IAA's for 3-10 y.o., g/day

0.8, 1.4, 2.1, 2.1, 1.0, 2.8, 1.3, 0.5, 2.0 - Supplied by 1300 cals potatoes


So potatoes supply more than we need of each amino acid, so potatoes are complete proteins. And potates aren't special, *vegetables in general* are complete proteins. xjohanx, that means that hemp *is* complete, and most other plant foods are complete as well, using your definition (that the food supplies at least as much of each amino acid as we need).


I have a table that shows the completeness of various vegetables and grains graphically in my article about how vegetables are complete proteins.

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xjohanx, that means that hemp *is* complete, and most other plant foods are complete as well, using your definition


I'm not sure what you mean by "my definition" because I really don't make up my own.

What I wrote was


However to be a "complete" protein you need certain amounts of the essential amino acids


So no, not by "my" definition.

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