Functional Health Services for Your Well Being

WHY WHEY?

 written by Alex Boersma

More than 400 hundred years ago, a bunch of cheese makers in Switzerland noticed that pigs eating left over cheese slop developed more quickly than pigs eating regular pig slop.  Thinking that maybe the left over cheese slop might be good for them as well, the cheese makers started drinking it themselves.  Sure enough, their health improved to such an extent that they began extolling the virtues of “cheese slop” throughout Europe.  And so was born the first wave of popularity for a substance now known as whey protein.

Making Whey…old school!

As it turns out, that “cheese slop” has some pretty impressive qualities to it.  Not only is it probably the most complete and most bio-available source of protein in existence, but it also comes with a host of additional benefits.  It enhances the body’s ability to produce an extremely powerful anti-oxidant named Glutathione.   It contains high levels of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) which are known to be essential for rebuilding muscle after exercise.  It also stimulates the production of Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF) another essential element in the development and maintenance of lean body mass.  Whey protein may also inhibit LDL cholesterol production.  And finally, the consumption of whey protein has been associated with effective weight loss.

Of course, today’s whey protein is a far cry from the early Swiss cheese slop.  Due to the relatively new development of processes like Micro-Filtration and Ion Exchange, today’s whey comes in highly concentrated forms free of most of the sugars and fats which constitute the bulk of raw whey.  It also comes in a dry powder form which is much easier to store or carry around in your gym bag.

 

BUT DO I REALLY NEED WHEY PROTEIN IN MY DIET?

Of course you don’t.  Human beings have been surviving quite well without whey protein for hundreds of thousands of years.  As a strong believer in the value of evolutionary eating, I sometimes feel a bit hypocritical in promoting supplementation with whey.  After all, whey protein, at least the stuff we consume today, is decidedly a product of industrial civilization.  Certainly, there were no tubs of protein powder to be found under the paleolithic bushes!

But we no longer live in the paleolithic.  And although most of the Frankenfoods our civilization has produced have less nutritive value than the packages they are sold in, I believe that whey, in its purest form, is an exception.  In a world where quality sources of protein are rare and the time to prepare them properly even more so, whey can and does fill a niche.

HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO I NEED?

That all depends on who you listen to.  If you listen to the Canada Food Guide you end up with 4-6 servings of dairy, meat and alternatives, most of which supply you with some protein.  Using their serving sizes, you end up with about 30 to 70 grams of protein per day.  The US MyPyramid recommends 15% of caloric intake from protein…for somebody eating 2500 calories, that equates to about 90 grams of protein per day.  The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein is 0.8 g/ kg of body weight.  So if you weigh about 150 lbs (~70kg) you should consume 56 grams of protein (0.8 x 70) per day.

The problem with all these recomendations is that they are based  on providing the minimum requirements of essential amino acids for  average North Americans.  If there is one thing we know about health, it is that nobody really wants to be as healthy as the average North American.  For one thing, the average North American is fairly sedentary, and we know that active people need more protein than sedentary people.  RDA’s generally tend to focus on levels of a nutrient, the consumption of which will prevent recognized disease.  The assumption here is that if you get less than 0.8g/kg of protein you will suffer from some disease associated with low levels of protein.  Does this make 0.8 g/kg optimal?  Not for active people, and not for those who are suffering from sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia.  An age related decline in lean body mass thought to begin gradually in your thirties and get serious in your fifties and sixties.  Possibly caused and certainly exacerbated by age related declines both in the ability to absorb protein and to utilize it for the development of muscle tissue.  Is sarcopenia inevitable?  Probably….if you live long enough it will eventually get you and it will probably kill you (don’t worry, if you live a healthy lifestyle sarcopenia won’t get you till you are well into your centenarian years).  Does that mean you are destined to suffer an appreciable decline in lean body mass as soon as you turn 50?  Absolutely not.  The effects of sarcopenia can be reversed well into your octogenarian years.

But you’re going to need more than 0.8 g/kg of protein every day!

 

  

How much protein do you think this octogenarian consumes?

But there’s more to this subject than just the prevention of sarcopenia .  Anybody (of any age) who is looking to achieve optimal health should be performing some sort of resistance training.  The purpose of this resistance training is to build and/or preserve lean muscle tissue and bone density while discouraging the accumulation of body fat.  This process works best with optimal protein consumption.  Safe upper levels of protein intake for people participating in resistance training lie between 2.0 and 2.5 g/kg, or, up to 35% of daily caloric intake.  But what is optimal?

There is plenty of debate about that one.  Most sports nutritionists recommend about 1.3 to 1.8 g/kg per day for people regularly participating in resistance training.  Bodybuilders will usually recommend about 2 to 3 g/kg of body weight.  Personally, I find that 1.5 g/kg works pretty well.  That works out to about 105 g per day for somebody who weighs about 150 lbs or about 135 g per day for somebody who weighs about 200 lbs.

Those 4 to 6 Canada Food Guide servings aren’t going to cut it!

To put this all in perspective, in order to get my 135 g of protein (I weigh around 200 lbs) I would have to eat a 5 ounce steak, 2 whole chicken legs and about 4 eggs in a day.  

    

135 grams of protein

Some people are going to have a hard time with that.  Enter the whey protein smoothie!  The effortless, delicious  and nutritious “whey” to top up your daily protein requirements, advance your body composition goals and optimize your health!  Taste so great, even your children will like it!

That may seem a little over the top, but in my opinion, the protein smoothie can certainly be a miracle meal, especially for busy people and their children.  Don’t have the time or the inclination to eat a healthy breakfast?  Have a protein smoothie.  Got a teenager who wakes up ten minutes before it’s time to leave for school?  Hand him a protein shake as he walks out the door. 

Just make sure you keep the ingredients healthy and natural.

Problems arise when people start using poor quality ingredients and turn their smoothies into just another serving of convenient junk food.  Here is a list of things you should or should not do when preparing a protein smoothie.

  • Do … use a high quality whey protein concentrate or isolate in your smoothie.  Whey isolate is just a more pure form of whey than whey concentrate.  Isolate fans claim that it is more easily digestible, but the truth is that just about any form of whey protein is easily and quickly digested.  The real advantage to isolate is that it carries only minimal traces of lactose so it is usually less likely to produce or exacerbate symptoms of lactose intolerance.
  • Do not … use a protein powder which contains soy of any kind.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, soy is not your friend.  It is heavily laden with endocrine disruptors (substances which interfere with your hormones – particularly estrogen, thyroid hormone and testosterone), enzyme inhibitors (substances which block the digestion of protein) and phytates (substances which bind to minerals like iron, zinc and magnesium, making them impossible to absorb).  
    • Some people are intolerant even of pure whey isolate.  These people should use products which combine vegetable sources such as pea protein, hemp protein and brown rice protein.  Living Fuel and Vega make high quality protien powders from vegetable sources.  By the way, protein products marketed for seniors such as “Ensure” use primarily soy protein isolate combined with a pile of sweeteners and artificial flavors to produce what ends up as a nutritional disaster.
  • Do … use the purest form of whey protein you can find.  Pure whey protein isolate has very little flavour to it.  It blends easily in water and can be consumed “as is” for a quick shot of pure (if rather flavourless) protein.  Or you can combine it with any number of other healthy ingredients for a tasty nutritional meal.
  • Do not…use cheap commercial protein powders full of artificial flavours and sweeteners.  Here’s why: 
    • amylacetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzylacetate, benzyl isobutyrate,butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamylvalerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate,ethyl amyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone (10 percent solution in alcohol), a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl, cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, g-undecalactone, vanillin, and solvent.  That’s the list of ingredients in artificial strawberry flavour!
  •  Do … add real food to your smoothie to make it a flavourful meal replacement.  Berries are nutritional powerhouses which also happen to be very tasty.  Bananas, although high in carbohydrate, make a smoothie creamy and add sweetness.  Green products (Greens Plus, wheat grass…) can provide additional anti-oxidant properties as well as a potent alkalizing effect.  Raw honey, maple syrup or stevia powder can be used if more sweetness is required.  Whole milk, cream, coconut milk, or almond butter can be used to add healthy fats.  Flax seed can be added for fibre and omega 3 fats.
  • Do not … add fat or fibre to your protein powder post workout.  After your workout, you want to absorb protein as quickly as possible.  Whey protein is ideal for quick absorption, but adding fat and fibre to it will slow things down.  This is the one time of day when you may want to add only a simple sweetener (raw honey or maple syrup) to your protein powder to enhance absorption. 
  • Do … use whey protein as a supplementary source of protein to bring your daily protein consumption up.
  • Do not … rely on protein smoothies as your primary source of nutrition.  A number of “smoothie diets” are available and effective for weight loss.  These programs may be a great way to kick start a diet, but smoothies – even good ones – are not whole food.  Whole, real food is still the best and most ideal way to get the vast majority of your daily nutrition.  I always eat at least 3 whole meals a day, with one or sometimes 2 whey smoothies supplements.

 

Here’s what I put in my whey protein smoothies

  •  
    • Meal Replacement Smoothie
    • 1 package Total Body Protein Powder (24g whey isolate, 4g pure glucose, natural vanilla)
    • 200 ml coconut milk (2g protein, 4g carbohydrate, 30g fat)
    • 1 medium banana (1g protein, 25g carbohydrate, 3g fibre)
    • 3/4 cup frozen raspberries (2g protein, 17g carbohydrate, 9g fibre)
    • 1/2 tbsp maple syrup (7g carbohydrate)
    •  
    • That’s 29 g of quality protein, 30g of quality fat and 57g of quality carbohydrate including 12g of fibre (mostly soluble)
    • 566 nutrient dense calories or about 1/5 of my total daily caloric intake

 

  •  
    • Post Workout Smoothie
    • 1 package Total Body Protein Powder (24g whey isolate, 4g pure glucose, natural vanilla)
    • 240ml vanilla flavoured almond milk (1g protein, 2.5g fat, 16g carbohydrate, 1g fibre)
    • 1 medium banana (1g protein, 25g carbohydrate, 3g fibre)
  •  
    • That’s 26g of quick absorbing protein, 2.5g of fat and 41g of carbohydrate including 4g of fibre
    • 275 calories

  

BUT AREN’T THERE HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH PROTEIN INTAKE?

Most of the purported health risks associated with protein consumption are based on the hypothesis that protein, particularly protein from animal sources, has an acidifying effect on the body.  The theory is that animal protein, because of its high sulfur content, unbalances the body’s delicate acidity/alkalinity balance.  Scientists have theorized that the body uses calcium from the bones to buffer this acidity resulting in osteoporosis.  Indeed, early studies seemed to indicate that the consumption of animal protein increased urinary calcium excretion, providing significant fodder supporting this theory.  There were also a few early isolated studies associating decreased bone density to diets that were high in animal protein.

It turns out, though, that there is a lot more to balancing acidity than just measuring urinary calcium excretion.  Upon further investigation, scientists found that any increase in calcium excretion was matched by increased intestinal calcium absorption.  In other words, the calcium to buffer the acidity wasn’t coming out of the bones.  Instead, it was being absorbed by the intestines.  It seems that if you eat more animal protein your body becomes more efficient at absorbing calcium and other buffering minerals from the digestive system.

It also turns out that the few studies linking animal protein consumption to decreased bone density were anomalies.  Almost all of the more recent studies suggest that higher protein consumption, regardless of its origin, is associated with increased bone density.  This is particularly true in the elderly.

In my opinion, a diet high in quality (free range/organic) animal protein is probably not a problem, as long as it is well balanced by plentiful servings of fruits and vegetables.  The biggest potential problems arise when poor quality and processed meats are combined with plentiful servings of grains (which are acidic and also limit the absorption of  buffering minerals) and sugars.  As you can see from the chart below, such a diet could be catastrophic from an acid/alkaline perspective. 

Guess what, such a diet is exactly typical of the standard American diet (SAD)!

Having said all that, pure whey protein is mildly alkaline.  So if you’re worried about the acidity of your diet, you can take comfort in the fact that whey protein, along with its many other positive attributes, can help to balance out your blood pH.  It is certainly a great way to boost protein intake without having to worry about excessive acidity.

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