Hemp milk is a plant-based milk that serves as an alternative to cow's milk. It's in the same category as almond, cashew, soy, rice and oat milks.
Made from whole hempseed, hemp is related to marijuana, but won't get you high if you consume it — in a milk or in any other form, such as hemp protein powder. Hemp milk offers lots of health benefits, however, so feel free to drink it up.
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As a plant-based alternative to cow's milk, hemp milk is a complete protein and rich in several minerals as well as unsaturated fats.
What Is Hemp Milk?
Hemp milk is a nondairy alternative that you can consume like cow's milk or other "milks" such as almond or rice. It tastes earthy, but it's creamy enough to replace cream in coffee, milk in cereal or yogurt in smoothies. Hemp milk can be made with just seeds and water, but commercial brands may contain thickeners, salt or sweeteners.
Each cup of hemp milk contains:
- 60 calories
- 3 grams of protein
- 4.5 grams of fat
- 283 milligrams of calcium
- 1.9 milligrams of iron
Different brands may vary in sugar content, so the calories may vary. Hemp milk is also a source of:
- Phosphorus, which is essential to bone health.
- Potassium, which helps build protein, break down carbohydrates, control your heart's electrical activity and maintain your body's growth.
- Zinc, which boosts immunity, enhances cell growth and optimizes the sense of smell and taste.
The National Institutes of Health recommends you get about 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day as an adult, and hemp milk contributes to this total.
The organization recommends 8 milligrams of iron per day for adult men and 18 milligrams for adult women. Hemp also makes a generous contribution to these needs.
Hemp milk is free of lactose, the sugar in milk that can cause some people digestive distress. Hemp milk is also appropriate if you have a dairy or soy allergy or an intolerance, because it's free of both compounds.
Hemp also has no gluten. But, some commercial varieties contain added sugar and thickeners. If it's important to you to avoid these additives, read labels of commercial brands closely.
Hemp Milk Supports Good Health
Of the 4.5 grams of fat in a cup of hemp milk, 4 grams are the healthy, unsaturated type. The Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health explains that unsaturated fats contribute to your overall wellbeing by:
- Improving blood cholesterol levels
- Stabilizing heart rhythms
- Easing inflammation
Unsaturated fats are usually found in plants, like hemp. Other sources include avocado, olive oil, nuts (like walnuts and almonds) and seeds (like sunflower and pumpkin).
Hemp also contains good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. The ratio in hemp of omega-6 to omega-3 is between 2:1 and 3:1 — a ratio optimal for human health. Omega-3 fats can't be made by your body, so you need to get them from foods. They support brain health, and higher blood levels of omega-3 fats are associated with a lower risk of premature death in older adults, explains the T. H. Chan School.
Read more: Are Omega-3s Worth the Money?
Hemp, including hemp milk, can keep your heart healthy since the seeds are rich in the amino acid arginine. This amino acid helps your body create nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels so you can maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Research published in Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry in 2016 explained that arginine is a possible therapeutic molecule for improving the treatment of different cardiovascular disorders.
Hemp milk isn't considered an arginine supplement, but it's certainly a source of the amino acid and, as such, possibly promotes good heart health.
Complete Protein Source
Protein is made of amino acids. The body produces some of these amino acids on its own, but others, known as essential amino acids, must come from the foods you eat. When a food provides all the essential amino acids, it's considered "complete," and hemp milk is considered a complete protein.
Usually, animal products are complete proteins and plant products are incomplete. Hemp's status as a complete plant protein makes it unique. It's a quality protein source, explains research published in a 2018 issue of Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, which also praises faba bean, flaxseed and quinoa for their protein content. When you consume 4.7 grams of protein in each cup of hemp milk, you contribute to the health of your skin, muscles and other tissue.
Because hemp milk is a complete plant-based protein, it's especially beneficial to vegans who consume no animal products. While cow's milk still contains more protein than hemp milk (9.7 grams versus the 4.7 in hemp milk), hemp milk is still a good source of protein for people on plant-based diets.
Hemp vs. Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana are the same plant, at least taxonomically. They're just different names for the same genus (Cannabis) and species. The plants look and smell the same.
Read more: Benefits of Hemp Oil
The difference between hemp and marijuana is in the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) each contains. THC is the psychoactive substance that gets you high when you smoke a joint. Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent of THC, while marijuana typically contains 5 to 20 percent. Anything with more than 0.3 percent THC is categorized as marijuana.
You can't get high from drinking hemp milk, eating hempseed, consuming hemp protein powder or noshing on hemp protein bars. Hemp is a nonpsychoactive, consumable product.
Despite having many possible positives, direct research on hemp milk is limited, explains a September 2016 paper published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. Hemp milk isn't as widely available in stores as soy, almond, rice and even cashew milks, but it's available at many major retailers.
Read more: The Pros and Cons of Almond Milk
If you decide to add hemp milk to your diet, you stand to benefit tremendously. But don't stop there. Other hemp products like seeds and hemp protein powder are available. Sprinkle the seeds over oatmeal or a salad. Blend the protein into a smoothie with fruit and hemp milk.
- Journal of Food Science and Technology: "Plant-Based Milk Alternatives an Emerging Segment of Functional Beverages: A Review"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: "Hemp Non-Dairy Beverage"
- Phys.org: "Is Hemp the Same Thing as Marijuana?"
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Calcium"
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Iron"
- MedlinePlus: "Phosphorus in Diet"
- MedlinePlus: "Potassium in Diet"
- MedlinePlus: "Zinc in Diet"
- Euphytica: "Hempseed as a Nutritional Resource"
- Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: "Types of Fat"
- MedlinePlus: "Dietary Proteins"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Reduced Fat Milk"
- Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry: "Benefits of L-Arginine on Cardiovascular System"
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Evaluating the Quality of Protein From Hemp Seed (Cannabis sativa L.) Products Through the Use of the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score Method"
- Plant Foods for Human Nutrition: "Nutritional Value of Commercial Protein-Rich Plant Products"