THE general success of low carbohydrate and high protein diets has left some of us looking for more protein sources. There are several proteins sources meat, fish, milk, fish, egg and vegetable (mostly legumes).

Meat and eggs are controversial sources due to the cholesterol issue. Meat has also religious and ethical issues. Vegetable protein, on the other hand, is not a complete protein.

However, milk protein is complete, healthy and clean. If not for the lactose that accompanies milk, it would be a good protein source.

Cheese making

It is no wonder that more of the worlds nutrition experts are turning to whey to help supplement diets. This is making whey the value-added food ingredient of the 21st century. Wheys potential has hardly been tapped, says Joe ODonnell, executive director of the California Dairy Research Foundation.

Whey is a natural dairy protein that is derived from the cheese making process. Most commercial whey supplements are derived from cows milk, which is comprised of 6.25% protein: 20% in the form of whey. Whey protein utilises the concentrated protein, eliminating the lactose and milk fat, making it a remarkable source of protein.

Whey is a complete protein, meaning it contains all essential amino acids, which are vital for metabolism, and for making the body function properly for good health. Whey also boasts the highest concentrations of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) found in nature. Branched chain amino acids are an important source of energy during exercise and play a key role in protein synthesis.

A long time ago

Whey is not a fad. During the Middle Ages, whey was used in potions to soothe burns, to inspire vitality and to cure a host of illnesses. By the 1600s, whey was used to treat jaundice, infected lesions of skin, gonorrhoea, and epilepsy. Even Hippocrates regarded as the Father of Modern Medicine insisted on a daily dose of approximately two litres of whey.

Colostrum, or mothers first milk, which is nearly 100% whey, is one of natures strongest immune boosters, protecting a newborns fragile health. Even as the composition of breast milk changes, it is still made up predominantly of whey protein. While bovine whey and that of mothers milk differ in composition, they deliver benefits to your body and health.

Nobody knew back then about the wonders of alpha lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin, branched-chain amino acids, glycomacropeptides, immunoglobulins and the other elements of whey all they knew was it helped fight off disease, promoting a healthy body.

Animal feed!

For years, this amazing source of nutrition went unnoticed. Indeed, in the United States, up until 1993, whey was primarily used as animal feed because of its great nutrient value and ability to build muscle (meat). It was also used as a functional food ingredient in processed foods to add texture, flavour and nutrients.

We do not fully understand the physiology of appetite. However, we are aware that there are various brain messenger substances (neuro-transmitters and neuro-hormones) that affect appetite. A better appreciation of the relationship of these brain messenger chemicals to their nutritional building blocks, particularly the amino acids, may be an important factor to modulate appetite. This would help in our effort to attain and maintain optimal lean body mass.

Serotonin is a brain messenger that is known to affect mood and promote a relaxed feeling. Dr Julia Ross, MD, perhaps best describes it as lightness to support deep sleep and melatonin production, and to affect appetite, especially for carbohydrates.


The amino acid building block to serotonin is tryptophan. It is important to appreciate that the ratio of tryptophan to large neutral amino acids (LNNA) determines tryptophan availability to the brain. These LNNA are tyrosine, phenyalanine, and the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), namely leucine, isoleucine and valine, all of which compete with tryptophan to cross the protective blood-brain barrier to enter the brain.

A recent paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that both the plasma tryptophan concentrations and ratios of tryptophan to LNNA were low at all times during and after successful weight-loss programmes that maintained lean body mass. plasma concentrations of tryptophan, as such, were also reported to be low in dieting patients before, during and after successful weight loss.

According to the authors, these two observations and their potential concomitant effects on mood and appetite may be part of the reasons for relapse after diet-induced weight loss.

Weight loss

These data strongly support the notion that obese persons may do well by supplementing with tryptophan. As both low levels of tryptophan and its availability tend to lead to below-optimal serotonin levels, this may lead to carbohydrate cravings, poor sleep, low self-esteem and mood, and impulsive behaviour.

Apart from that, let us take a look at four ways that Whey protein can help with weight loss:

1. protein requires more energy to digest than other foods (called the thermic effect of food). This helps use more calories and hence may help with weight loss.

2. High quality proteins such as whey protein help to preserve lean muscle tissue while you lose fat. If your body doesnt get enough protein and the important essential amino acids on a daily basis, it will steal them from existing muscle tissue.

3. protein also helps to slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. This in turn reduces hunger by reducing insulin levels and making it easier for the body to burn fat.

4. protein has a greater ability to promote satiety than do fat and carbohydrates. Whey protein contains a special component called glycomacropeptide, or GMp. GMp helps promote the release of CCK, which is an appetite-suppressing hormone. This may help you feel full and hopefully stop you eating sooner.

Until now, whey protein has been largely used by body builders. However, results of new research into whey protein may indeed make it become the weight loss protein of choice in the 21st century.


1. pearson D, Shaw S, Fat and happy Tryptophan concentrations reduced in obesity. Life Extension News, February 2004;7(1)

2. Breum L, Rasmussen MH, Hilstead J, et al. Twenty-four-plasma tryptophan concentrations and ratios are below normal in obese subjects and are not normalized by substantial weight reduction. Am J Clin Nutr May 2003;77:1112-8.

3. Lands LC, Grey VL, Smountas AA., Effect of supplementation with a cysteine donor on muscular performance. J Appl physiol 2000 Jan;88(1).

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