This week wraps up our look at protein supplements. As we’ve seen, whey and casein supplements are the top contenders out there. Soy protein supplements are another option, especially for those who prefer something that’s plant-based. There’s one other plant-based protein supplement that isn’t as widely known as the others, and that’s hemp.
What Is Hemp?
Hemp is a crop that is thousands of years old. The stalk of the plant is extremely strong, making it suitable for use in rope, fabric, and paper. Hemp oil has been used for food, for lamp oil, and to make soap and paint.
Hemp is part of the cannabis species but does not contain psychoactive compounds (as are found in marijuana); this species is grown specifically for food, personal care products, textiles, and building materials.
Hemp seeds and hemp oil are obviously plant products, making them suitable for vegetarians. Hemp is also gluten-free, and allergies to hemp are not common. Hemp oil contains a fatty acid called gamma linoleic acid, an essential omega-6 fatty acid that may help ease the pain of diabetic neuropathy, improve blood glucose control, and possibly help ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Hemp seeds are low in carbohydrate and rich in protein and fat. Like flax seeds, they can be added to just about anything, such as salads, cereal, soup, or yogurt. One tablespoon of hemp seeds contains 80 calories, 5 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of carbohydrate, and 5.5 grams of protein.
Hemp oil is a polyunsaturated fat that, like flaxseed oil, has a nutty taste and can be used in and on foods. It’s not meant to be used as a cooking oil, however. One tablespoon of hemp oil has 126 calories, 14 grams of fat, and only 1.5 grams of saturated fat.
Like soybeans, hemp protein is considered to be a plant source of high-quality (or complete) protein, containing 10 essential amino acids. Some people may find hemp protein to be more easily digested than soy, thanks to a type of protein called edestin. People who are vegetarians or who may be allergic or intolerant to soy, tree nuts, or dairy might decide to use hemp protein. A 30-gram serving of hemp protein powder (which is about 4 tablespoons) provides 11 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber. Hemp protein powder also contains vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and iron.
A drawback to hemp protein is that it contains less protein than other protein supplements, such as whey. Bodybuilders may find that hemp protein powder doesn’t contain enough protein to actually build muscle. However, as a general protein supplement, hemp protein is certainly an option.
Side Effects of Hemp Protein
Hemp protein is highly nutritious and has relatively few side effects. However, it may initially cause gastrointestinal distress, such as cramping, bloating, or diarrhea, in some people. This is generally temporary. People taking blood-thinning medicines should be careful about hemp protein, as it may increase the risk of bleeding.
Summing It Up
The decision to use a protein supplement is (ideally) one to make with your health-care provider or dietitian. People who are in relatively good health don’t need to take in additional protein. But in the event that you or your provider believes that your diet isn’t giving you the amount of protein that you need, consider taking a protein supplement.
Protein powders, in general, provide at least 20 grams of protein per 3 tablespoon serving (usually a standard serving size), as well as 100 to 130 calories. You likely don’t need more than one serving of the protein supplement during the day as long as you are eating other sources of protein in your diet. The carbohydrate content of protein powders can vary, so check the label and don’t forget to count it if it’s more than 5 grams per serving. Also, consider what you’re mixing your protein powder with. If you mix your powder with skim milk or juice, don’t forget to figure in the carbohydrate and calories, as well.
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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.
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