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Choosing the Right Whey Protein Supplement: Critical Points to Remember

Choosing the Right Whey Protein Supplement: Critical Points to Remember

What is Whey?

Some of you might be wondering what exactly is whey? Milk is 80% casein and 20% whey. Whey is the liquid that separates during cheese production. Whey has long been touted as a functional food with numerous of health benefits.
The components of whey, called the sub-factors, include beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, lac-loperoxidase enzymes, glycomacropeptides, lactose, and minerals – these have immunity enhancing and health promoting properties.

Not all whey is created equal

In one report, fifteen protein powders and drinks were tested for levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. Out of these fifteen, three samples were of particular concern, as they tested high for levels of these toxic chemicals. Consider the fact that cadmium accumulates and can damage kidneys. Furthermore, it can take up to twenty years for the body to eliminate even of half the cadmium it absorbs89!

Following are three critical points to consider when choosing which protein brand you can trust:

1) Whey protein should come from grass-fed cows. Your whey powder should come from cows that are grass-fed and graze all year round in natural pastures. Besides being grass-fed, the cows need to be hormone free and healthy overall. How can you find out more about this? Good companies usually mention this on their website. If you don’t find the information there, call their customer service and ask.

2) Whey processing needs to be done at low temperatures to avoid denaturing the native structures of protein. Most commercial whey products are derived from pasteurized dairy and are heat-processed, which makes the whey acidic and nutritionally deficient. This damages the immuno-supportive micronutrients and amino acids in the whey.

3) Whey protein supplements should be sweetened naturally. Most protein supplement companies use artificial sweeteners that are very harmful for your body, including acesulfame-k, sucralose, artificial flavorings, and soy lecithin. They do this to cut costs. Look for companies that use stevia as a natural sweetener.

Whey concentrates, isolates or hydrolysates: which one to go for?

There are three types of whey on the market: concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates.

Whey isolates are 90 – 96 percent pure protein with very little fat, lactose, and mineral content.

Whey concentrates range from 29 – 89 percent pure protein and are most commonly 80 percent protein. They have higher contents of fat, lactose, and minerals.

Hydrolyzed whey proteins are isolates that undergo a hydrolysis process to break the protein down into smaller groups of amino acids, or peptides, which are predigested. They have a very minuscule amount of fat, lactose, and mineral content, and they are the most expensive on the market. I personally find their taste very bitter.

Most protein isolates available are denatured by-products of cheese manufacturing. Isolates that you find on the market are exposed to acid processing and are also deficient in key nutritional cofactors.

One authority whose work I really like is Ori Hofmekler, and in his own words:

“Most commercial whey products are derived from pasteurized dairy and are processed with heat and acid. Many are also artificially sweetened. All of these factors render them completely useless from a health perspective. Whey isolate is one such inferior product, because when you remove the fat, you actually remove important components of its immunological properties, such as phospholipids, phosphatidylserine and cortisol. Additionally, all of the IgG immunoglobulins, which are an excellent source of glutamine and cysteine, are also bound to the fat globule. Fat provides not just calories. In fact, most food rich in healthful fat, including nuts, seeds, chia and almonds are carriers of antioxidants, such as Vitamin E and phytosterols. Dairy also contains lipoic acid, which is a carrier of enzymes and immunoglobulin. Therefore, if you take the fat out you’re left with a clearly inferior whey protein.”

“I’m totally against whey isolate,” Ori says. “I think it’s just the wrong whey.”
You can watch the complete series of Ori’s interview with Dr. Mercola here.

I always believe in functional and whole foods. For me any food or even a supplement that I ingest needs to be as unprocessed as possible and not denatured. Therefore, whey concentrates win, hands down!

It is cheaper than isolates (and hydrolysates), tastes much better (you’d be blown away if you have one of the protein shakes I make from concentrates), and it has more health benefits than the other two sources.

Most people would argue that whey isolates absorb quickly, which helps in recovery, and that gram by gram, it has a lot more protein. Whey isolates, as I mentioned, are 90 – 96 percent protein, whereas a good whey concentrate is around 80 percent protein. That’s a difference of roughly 10 – 16 percent.

If we ingest 50 grams of whey powder, that is only a difference of 5 – 7.5 grams. I would rather add slightly more whey concentrate and take advantage of the health benefits it provides. What about the fat content? Again, I don’t really worry about a few grams of fat in my protein considering these fats have a host of beneficial properties. And since I recommend a generous fat intake, it hardly makes a difference!

The only reason to use isolates is if you are lactose intolerant. In that case, I know many people who still do well on concentrates, but if you have tried concentrates and ended up with bloating or gastronomical disturbances, go ahead and use isolates. Still, make sure that your isolates manufacturer fulfills the criteria’s outlined earlier.


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Akash Sehrawat

My mission is to Empower, Educate and Inspire you to build a fabulous body which not only looks Pleasing but is Functional and Healthy. I suffered from conventional wisdom and almost gave up my dream of building my dream physique and therefore I work very hard to filter the DUST (pseudo and bro science). Signup for my newsletter and every week I will send you articles on health and fitness directly to your inbox.

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  • Ankur Jain

    What are your thoughts on taking “Matha” commonly found in North Indian households. I gues this is what you referred as 20% component of milk above.

    • Honestly ankur, I have never heard of “Matha”! Sorry. What i know is that the water floating on top when we make yogurt ( or butter milk ie.. lassi )from milk that is whey. However, this needs to be processed and thats what gives us whey powder.