A watery by-product of cheese-making might seem like an unlikely health tonic. But whey protein is being heralded as the best – and fastest way – to ward of a range of ills. Today Nikki Edwards, looks at why including a shake into your daily diet can work wonders.
Gwyneth Paltrow swears that consuming a whey protein shake a day helps her keep fit, lithe and beautiful.
And what’s good enough for Gwynnie, is good enough by me.
But there is also a whole host of evidence out there to support the actresses’ claims.
So much so that whey protein shakes are currently hogging the limelight in the food supplement world.
They promise to help you lose weight, keep you mobile into older age, boost your immune system and even prevent cancer.
So surely it’s time we stop seeing it as a tonic for the bodybuilder and start incorporating it into our own daily diet?
What is it?
Whey protein is high in essential fatty acids and branch chain amino acids — compounds that may help the body to build or maintain lean tissue, as well as boosting fat-burning, and increasing the efficiency of the immune system.
It is considered a complete protein.
It is also low in lactose content which is perhaps surprising when you consider that it is derived from milk.
How is it made?
When milk is left over and coagulates, it eventually turns into a 5% solution of lactose in water, loaded with minerals.
This leftover by-product, called whey, makes up 20% of the protein in milk. The other 80% is called casein (the curds in cottage cheese).
The liquid whey is separated from the casein and sent through filters to remove all non-whey ingredients.
It is then purified in a process called “ion exchange”.
The final step is removing the water from the whey by turning it into a powder at a drying tower.
The protein powder is then ready to be packaged and consumed.
You can then mix it with milk or water to form a milkshake.
How can it help?
You often see whey protein in oversized tubs on the shelves of health food shops.
But recent studies have found that it is not just beneficial to sports fanatics.
In fact it can work for anyone — old and young — who wants healthy muscles and bones, and as an aid for weight loss.
Whey has long been reputed to hold health benefits.
Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine, recommended it to his patients and fashionable medical spas in Switzerland prescribed it for its healing properties in the early 19th century.
More recent research suggest it can help you:
• Lose fat and preserve muscle
Researchers in Minnesota conducted a 12-week study where subject’s daily caloric intake was reduced by 500 calories. They then gave some participants whey and the rest were given an isocaloric mix beverage. Those consuming whey lost a significantly greater amount of body fat (6.1% total) and better preserved their muscles.
• Reduce hunger
Australian researchers had 28 obese people consume four different drinks. Those who consumed the beverage containing 50 grams of whey had significantly reduced levels of ghrelin (a hormone that tells your brain you’re hungry) up to four hours later.
• Prevent heart attack
Whey protein can help lower blood pressure significantly, reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease.
• Fight cancer
Various studies have concluded that whey protein may help in the fight against some common forms of cancer.
• Cope with stress
Studies conducted in the Netherlands have found that those who consumed whey protein experienced fewer symptoms of depression and seemed in a better mood than those who did not.
• Fight coughs and colds
Supplementing with whey protein has been shown to improve you immune system, making it easier to fight off illness.
• Lower blood sugar levels
Whey has also been shown in some studies to have a positive effect on blood sugar in diabetics. It also helps lower levels of fat in the blood.
• Repair muscle tissue
During exercise, muscle fibres undergo a cycle of breakdown followed by rebuilding and growth. Whey protein can help boost muscle recovery after a workout — which can lead to an increase in muscle strength.
• Improve muscle mass
Whey protein can be useful for older people who are prone to loss of muscle mass through ageing — a condition called sarcopenia. This usually starts at age 45 and results in a 1% loss of muscle mass per year. A daily dose of 25g of whey protein in supplement or shake form is all that’s needed to increase protein synthesis.
Give it a go
Proteins are the main building blocks of the human body.
But not all protein is created equal.
Some forms of protein, such as whey, are better than others.
And the best thing about it is that it’s easy and convenient to include in your diet.
It doesn’t even taste as disgusting as it sounds.
In fact it is usually flavoured and chocolate, vanilla and strawberry powders are the most popular.
You can even use flavoured whey proteins to make healthy recipes (like smoothies or muffins).