Whey protein is a popular protein powder choice, but do you know what whey protein powder is made from?
Whey protein comes from milk. Milk is divided into two proteins – casein protein (makes up 80 percent of milk) and whey protein (which comprises the remaining 20 percent of milk).
Whey can be separated from casein and used in its own form for solely "whey protein" products. So why detach whey from milk? Is whey protein good for you?
Read on to discover the top whey protein benefits, how whey protein is made, and how to use whey protein powder.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is considered a by-product of making cheese. Cheese solids are formed from fermenting milk, and the liquid leftover is whey.
According to AGROPUR, the liquid is pasteurized then the protein content is concentrated and isolated. Thus, two types of whey protein powder can be formed.
• Whey Protein Concentrate: When the liquid portion of milk is extracted, whey protein is created. The dried product creates whey protein concentrate and contains between 30 to 80 percent of protein with varying amounts of fat and lactose (the carbohydrate naturally found in milk).
• Whey Protein Isolate: Whey protein concentrate is further purified into whey protein isolate. Though whey protein isolate is more expensive and undergoes additional processing, it may lose some of its healthful properties. However, isolates contain higher amounts of protein (normally over 90 percent) with rapid absorption.
Whey protein powder contains either whey concentrate and/or isolate. Additional ingredients can also be added for enhancing flavor and texture.
Like all animal-based proteins, whey provides all essential amino acids – amino acids that must be obtained through the diet, as they cannot be produced in the body.
Complete proteins aid in protein synthesis and promotes muscle growth. Health experts consider whey to be an excellent protein source and studies further suggest its beneficial use in muscle maintenance in older individuals and women following a workout.
Do You Need Whey Protein?
While whey protein does have many health merits, it is not always necessary to add whey protein to your diet. While whey protein is safe for most people, getting too much whey could cause digestive discomfort for some.
Those with lactose or milk allergy may also not benefit from whey protein. Mayo Clinic also suugests whey could interfere with some antibiotics or drugs for osteoporosis. Therefore, if taking medications, consult with a doctor first before adding whey protein to your diet.
If you eat a higher protein diet already, adding whey protein may not be necessary. In some instances, adding whey protein may cause you to get too much protein.
6 Whey Protein Health Benefits
While a single food is never the end all solution for a healthy diet or to improve health, the following are research-backed ways adding whey protein might be beneficial for your health.
1. Aids in Weight Loss and Maintenance
Protein is a key component in a nutritious diet, as it helps to stimulate muscle growth and hinders hunger between meal times. Though slightly unclear, some research has shown whey protein may further aid in weight loss compared to other types of protein.
In a study comparing whey and soy milk, individuals who unknowingly consumed the whey protein naturally reduced carbohydrate intake and lost a few more pounds compared to individuals who did not consume the whey protein.
A 2012 review suggests whey protein is the best protein for fat loss while following a low-calorie diet. Whey protein helps protect lean muscle mass from being broken down which is an important consideration with weight loss but also all throughout adult aging.
2. Acts as an Appetite Suppressant
Further running with the weight loss notion, whey protein drinkers also have shown lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone regulating food intake. High levels of ghrelin induce hunger and stimulate appetite while low levels can act as an appetite suppressant and reduce the risk of overeating.
3. Helps Increase Muscle Mass
As a complete protein, whey is a good source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). BCAAs are directly used by muscles to rebuild and repair muscles.
As muscles are broken down with exercise, muscle growth happens with proper rest and refueling. The combination of exercise and eating a healthy diet with foods high in BCAA, like whey, can help increase muscle mass.
4. Assists in Diabetes Management
Though individuals identify consistent and low-carb with diabetes care, protein sources have also shown to have a positive impact on blood sugars and insulin concentrations. Specifically, blood sugar reductions have been documented in both healthy individuals and those managing type 2 diabetes with whey protein intake.
5. Prevents Against Allergies
Specifically in children with a limited diet, whey protein has been studied to reduce allergic skin symptoms. Whey protein formulas may actually help reduce the risk of developing an allergy to cow's milk.
Though more evidence needs further established, whey protein supplements may be a cost effective means to reduce skin allergies in infants.
6. Supports a Strong Immune System
Whey concentrate may boost levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that may lessen following strenuous aerobic activity. Low glutathione levels could have a negative impact on the immune system.
Whey protein also contains compounds called growth factors that have been shown to promote gut health and improve wound healing.
3 Ways to Use Whey Protein
Besides just mixing whey protein with water for a simple shake, whey protein can be enjoyed in many other ways. Whether post-exercise or added to an anytime meal or snack, get creative with how to use whey protein!
1. Add to Smoothies
Adding whey protein to a smoothie is an easy way to bump up protein to make a smoothie keep you feeling full long after you drink it. Combine a scoop with your favorite variety of frozen or fresh fruit, dairy or non-dairy milk, and a handful of leafy greens for a balanced, nutrient-dense drink.
2. Scoop in Oatmeal
Whey protein can easily be added to either overnight oats or when you make hot oatmeal. Oats already provide a good source of fiber, and adding a scoop of whey can bump up the protein to make oatmeal even more satisfying.
4. Pump Up Nut Butters
Nut butters can be used for sandwiches, dips, salads, stir-fries, baked goods… And as a complement to whey! Stir in whey protein to nut butter to bump up traditional nut butter sandwiches or use as a higher protein dip for cut-up fruit or to swirl in yogurt.
Try making your own nut butter with added whey protein like in Cookie Dough Protein Butter recipe.
Whey Protein Benefits Recap
Whey was once considered just a by-product of making cheese. However, whey is much more than just a liquid by-product. It is a complete protein providing all essential amino acids. Research has shown adding whey to the diet can not only add an extra source of protein but provide weight loss, muscle building, blood sugar regulation, and immune health benefits.
Whey protein is made into powder form by drying the liquid. As a powder it can easily be added to water for a simple shake or added to a smoothie, oatmeal, or mixed with nut butter.
Solak BB, Akin N. Health benefits of whey protein: A review. Journal of Food Science and Engineering. Published March 2021. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259570207_Health_Benefits_of_Whey_Protein_A_Review.
Whey protein. Mayo Clinic. Published November 13, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-whey-protein/art-20363344.