Debunking myths: Separating facts from fiction about whey protein
The unfounded myths around whey protein extend from it being called as unsafe and unhealthy, to it causing organ damage. Know facts from experts
Whey protein is a byproduct of paneer or cottage cheese where when the milk is curdled, the liquid portion is the whey water. According to health experts, whey protein, a popular dietary supplement, contains high levels of all nine essential amino acids and branched-chain amino acids.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Shraddha Chauhan, Consultant Nutritionist for BigMuscles Nutrition, revealed, “Whey protein is natural and has high biological value. This is one of the prime reasons why it is the first choice of athletes and fitness enthusiasts such as gym goers, for muscle growth and repair. But the usefulness of whey proteins extends beyond this group, and it can be used by persons of all ages. The high acceptance of whey protein as a dietary supplement has also generated some myths around them.”
The unfounded myths around whey protein extend from it being called as unsafe and unhealthy, to it causing organ damage. However, Dr Shraddha Chauhan highlighted:
- Such claims have no scientific basis. On the contrary, whey protein is natural and it is safe for most users. Its documented benefits include its ability to support muscle growth and improve health and fitness levels. Moreover, modern manufacturing processes can harvest protein isolate, which is lower in lactose than whey protein concentrate. Similarly, those users wanting manage their sugar intake can also consume it as it has no added sugars by simply mixing whey protein with unsweetened almond milk. This way the users can maintain their overall weight while building muscles.
- Another negatively publicised adverse effect is the likelihood of kidney damage due to the use of whey protein. Like most other negative claims this one is also not based on credible published studies. However, the consensus from most studies is that whey protein is harmful only if consumed indiscriminately.
- In our country, which has the highest number of vegetarians in the world, whey protein is a rich source of protein. The vegetarian diets often do not provide essential amino acids in the desired quantities as a result vegetarians have a protein deficit. Whey protein can help in overcoming this deficit.
- Some key takeaways are that users should choose reputable brands because they conform to international quality standards. The other takeaway is to start with smaller doses and if one observes any adverse effects then they should stop using it. Most important point is to talk to your doctor or nutritionist if you have any health concerns.
Bringing her expertise to the same, Ritika Samaddar, Regional Head - South Zone, Dietetics and Nutrition at Max Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi's Saket, explained, “Milk has two protein Casein and whey; whey protein is a complete protein providing all the 9 essential amino acid and also it is very low on lactose. Whey protein is a mixture of beta lactoglobin, alpha lactalbumin and immunoglobulins, making it the ideal protein for weight loss, lowering cholesterol, is diabetic friendly and helps in boosting muscle protein synthesis and growth of lean muscle mass.” She asserted:
- People usually consider whey protein as an artificial supplement which if taken can damage the kidneys. Whey protein is made from milk and is just concentrated to be available as a protein powder. The requirement of protein is high in certain categories of population, like sports athletes, sarcopenias, highly catabolic individuals like people suffering from cancer, they would actually benefit from taking whey protein, as it is a quick releasing protein and absorbs 100%. whey protein causes no harm to the liver or kidney if consumed within permissible limits. However, excessive intake of protein over an extended period can cause damage to the kidneys.
- Proteins especially available as supplements are difficult to digest. It is presumed that proteins are difficult to digest and is hence not to be taken during illness and old age. On the contrary, protein supplements like whey protein gets digested easily as they contain no fiber, low on lactose and are easily broken down to amino acids by the body enzymes.
- Intake of whey protein leads to weight gain and in particular makes one muscular. Consuming insufficient protein can actually make it harder to lose weight as protein helps to increase satiety and also boosts the metabolism. If one loses weight by cutting the protein, chances are that its muscle – not fat – loss. Not eating enough protein can lead to side effects including fatigue, weakness and a low immune system. Intake of whey protein to meet the protein requirements helps in fasted absorption and healing muscles better.
The nutrition expert concluded, “Whey protein supplements are not the answer to meet one’s protein requirements. There are multiple sources of natural food proteins available which one can consume through the day. but in certain cases, like athletes, or people recovering post-acute illness, where the requirements are very high and intake of food is low, whey protein can help to bridge the gap.”