What Exactly Is Whey Protein?

By-Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.

It is important for individuals to consume protein every day. Daily protein intake plays a role in keeping your cells in good shape and should be part of your daily health maintenance plan.”

Protein is made up of amino acids, commonly known as building blocks, because they are attached in long chains. It is also considered a “macro-nutrient,” meaning that you need relatively large amounts of it to stay healthy. (1)

What Is Whey Protein?

Milk contains two proteins, whey and casein. In terms of macro-nutrients, whole milk is comprised of 88% water, 5% carbohydrates, 4% fat and 3% protein. Most of the whey protein powder on the market is a by product derived from cheese making. When a coagulant (usually renin) is added to milk, the curds (casein) and whey separate. For example, imagine a container of yogurt. When you first open the package, there may be a thin layer of liquid on the top. This liquid contains whey that has separated from the rest of the milk proteins. The creamy part of the yogurt contains primarily casein protein.

Whey is a fast-digesting, complete protein that naturally contains all of the essential aminoacids (EAAs) that your body cannot make on its own and have been shown to support muscle recovery. When taken over time, in combination with regular resistance exercise, whey can help support muscle building. The EAAs in whey also include the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine, isoleucine and valine. (2)

Types of Whey Protein

  • Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)

The amount of protein in whey protein concentrate can vary between 25-89%.  The whey protein powder supplements that you find in health and nutrition stores often list whey protein concentrate on the label.  This type of whey protein is usually 80% protein.  The rest of the product consists of lactose (4-8%), fat, minerals, and moisture.

  • Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)

WPI is the purest form of whey protein available and contains between 90-95% protein.  It is a good protein source for individuals with lactose intolerance as it contains little or no lactose.  WPIs are also very low in fat.  The cost of a WPI will be slightly higher than WPC due to the purity and higher protein content of the product.

  • Hydrolyzed Whey Protein

The long protein chains in the whey protein have been broken down into shorter chains called peptides.  This makes this type of whey protein more easily absorbed by the body and may reduce the potential for allergic reactions. Hydrolyzed whey protein is often used in infant formulas and sports and medical nutrition products. Hydrolysis does not reduce the nutritional quality of the whey protein. (3)

Food Applications of Whey Protein

Probably  the  greatest  story  in  dairy  industry  in  the earlier decades has been the escalation of new uses for whey  and  whey  proteins. Once considered a waste product in the cheese making, whey and whey protein products nowadays are widely used for a variety of functional and nutritional properties. The applications of whey protein in different food products differ depending on the aim of its utilization. However, whey protein is generally used for enhancing biological value, developing a superior physical, textural or other food functional properties, improving sensory attributes and formulating high-protein and/or low-lactose products. Whey protein is applied as ingredients in many foods such as  dairy products(particularly  cheeses,  yogurts, dairy-based dry mixes and dairy-based beverages), medical foods, sport  foods, enteral  foods,  beverages,  soups  and protein  bar  applications.  In  cheese making, whey protein particularly  in  the  form  of  whey  protein concentrate (WPC) and whey protein isolate (WPI) is used for producing different cheeses like feta, ricotta, processed  and  spread  cheeses. Other uses of whey protein include baked goods, meat products, low-fat spreads, desserts and toppings (4)

What are the benefits of Whey Protein?

It’s a high quality, well-absorbed source of protein that’s very useful for hitting targeted daily protein goals. Its benefits extend to the benefits of increased protein intake in general, such as augmenting muscle gain in conjunction with resistance training, limiting muscle loss during low-calorie diets, and modestly limiting fat gain during periods of excessive calorie intake. These effects aren’t exclusive to whey protein but it will likely be more effective than most other protein sources per gram. (5)

  • Aiding weight loss: In one study of 158 people, published in Nutrition & Metabolism, those who were given whey “lost significantly more body fat and showed a greater preservation of lean muscle compared to subjects consuming the control beverage”.
  • Anti-cancer properties: Promising results were published in the journal Anticancer Research for the use of whey protein concentrate in cancer treatment. More research is needed.
  • Lowering cholesterol: A study, published in The British Journal of Nutrition, gave whey supplements to 70 overweight men and women for 12 weeks and measured a number of parameters, such as lipid and insulin levels. They found that “there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol at week 12 in the whey group compared with the casein (group).”
  • Asthma: Whey protein could improve the immune response in children with asthma. One small study involving 11 children, published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, found that children with asthma who were supplemented with 10 gram whey protein twice daily for 1 month had an improved immune response.
  • Blood pressure and cardiovascular disease: Research published in the International Dairy Journal found that beverages that were supplemented with whey protein significantly reduced blood pressure in patients with hypertension; their risk of developing heart disease or stroke was also lower.
  • Reducing weight loss in people with HIV: A study published in the journal Clinical and Investigative Medicine found that whey protein may help reduce weight loss among HIV-positive patients. (6)

Whey Proteins promote:

  • Muscle strength
  • Improved immune system
  • Muscle synthesis
  • Performance / endurance
  • More favourable body composition
  • Recovery

Whey Protein for Diabetes

Today, most of the people are affected by Type 2 diabetes and it is one of the growing health problems over the world. It becomes a concern for teenagers and children. Healthy nutrition practices may play a role in managing and helping the type-2 diabetes. Here, whey protein is the high biological, a high quality and value protein which is good choice for the people who has diabetics. Whey protein helps to control the blood glucose levels and also provides additional beneficial for weight management which is a concern for type-2 diabetics. (7)

Are Whey Protein supplements safe?

The safety of whey protein supplements depends largely on the dose. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Excess protein of any kind will be stored as fat in the body, and can increase the risk of dehydration.

Too much protein may also increase a person’s risk for calcium loss and osteoporosis. That’s because acids are released into the bloodstream when protein is digested, and the body uses calcium to neutralize these acids. It is possible that the extra calcium needed will be leeched from bones, according to the NIH. However, studies are inconclusive on this point. Some research shows high-protein diets are correlated with more fractures, but other research has found people with high-protein diets have increased bone density, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.(8)

As part of a growing wellness and health trend, food manufacturers are boosting their products with excess of protein content. Whey protein is a part of products from food and beverage manufacturers, which provides excellent protein supplement.

References:

  1. https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/why-is-protein-important-in-your-diet
  2. https://www.optimumnutrition.com/en-us/articles/nutrition/understanding-basics-whey-protein
  3. http://www.wheyproteininstitute.org/facts/wheyproteintypes
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299286785_WHEY_PROTEINS_HEALTH_BENEFITS_AND_FOOD_APPLICATIONS
  5. https://examine.com/supplements/whey-protein/
  6. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371
  7. https://bipublication.com/files/IJABR-V4I1-2013-03.pdf
  8. https://www.livescience.com/45120-whey-protein-supplements.html

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