By David Grotto, RD, LDN
I’m sure you’ve heard the old nursery rhyme:
Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey…
Ever wonder what exactly Little Miss Muffet was eating? Some speculate it was what we now know as cottage cheese. The “curds” are the soft creamy cheese bites and the whey is the liquidy stuff that runs in between them. And it’s that liquidy stuff that is revered for its health benefits.
Whey is a natural by-product of the cheese making process. Ironically, some time ago, dairy farmers didn’t think whey had much worth, so they used to give it away for use as feed or fertilizer. But now whey protein is a treasured source of high biological value protein and is typically sold in powdered form available in most health food and drug stores.
The most common forms seen in dietary supplementation are whey protein concentrate and isolate. Whey protein isolate contains 90% or more protein and also contains little to no fat or lactose (making it tolerable by most that may be lactose-intolerant). Most who have “dairy protein allergies” often have sensitivity to the larger protein in milk called casein and are not usually allergic to whey protein. Whey protein contains the highest concentration of branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s) which are the building blocks for muscle repair and development. The non-denatured forms (uncooked) of whey have high amounts of the amino acid cysteine, which produces a cell protector amino acid called glutathione and may help bolster immune regulation.
Both Hippocrates and Galen valued whey protein for its health benefits and recommended it to their patients. Modern day researchers studies have investigated the role of whey protein in a variety of health challenges such as cancer, diabetes, HIV, hepatitis B, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and as an aid to speed up wound healing.
Health benefits include:
Bone density: Whey protein enhances the bioavailability (absorption) of calcium and is helpful in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Obesity: Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a hormone that is released after eating to give a sense of feeling full and that may aid in weight loss. Whey has been shown to stimulate CCK and other protein peptides that help regulate appetite. Other studies have demonstrated improved fat loss and enhanced muscle gain when combined in a calorie restricted program that included regular physical activity.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): Impressive data exists demonstrating a positive role for whey protein in boosting immune function and aiding in muscle mass preservation and improving strength in women diagnosed with HIV.
Diabetes: In a recent Brazilian review study of its benefits, whey has been shown to help in blood glucose control in human subjects. The study also found reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
Many of the human research studies used between 30-50 grams a day. Depending on the brand you choose, that translates to about 2-3 scoops per day. You can also find whey as a main ingredient in protein bars. The powder is often mixed into smoothies or made into shakes. It is NOT very tasty sprinkled on food and tends to have an “off” flavor but blends well into beverages. Here’s a smoothie recipe that we like at the Grotto house, especially if the kids are running too late for school to have a “proper” breakfast. Enjoy!
Whey Protein Smoothie
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 ounces of non-fat milk, soy, rice, almond, or oat milk
4 ounces of smoothie mix or fruit concentrate
½ cup frozen mango, strawberry or mixed tropical fruit
1 scoop non-denatured whey protein
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey (if needed for added sweetness)
Mix all ingredients together and blend until smooth. Garnish with fresh fruit