Monday, July 22, 2013

Whey Protein's Dirty Little Secret

I want to like whey protein.  What isn't to like about it?  It's a good source of quick protein to help you build muscles, it makes a great addition to smoothies, and there are lots of low carb recipes that use a lot of the stuff (like cookies and fudge).

Despite how much I want to like whey protein, I don't use it and never will.  For one thing, it's really expensive.  $15-$20?  Ouch.  If all I wanted was the protein, I could get equal amounts of protein from eggs for much less money.  If I want a delicious addition to smoothies, I use full fat yogurt or cream.  And when I want to make low carb cookies, I just use almond or coconut flour.

But what turned me off from whey protein the most was when I read this article from Consumer Reports.  They tested several of the most popular brands of protein powder, and every one of them had heavy metals.  Metals that your body can't get rid of very quickly, and that can be harmful when large quantities accumulate.  There's no need for there to be so much heavy metal in whey protein powder.  It just doesn't make sense.

Well, what about other kinds of protein powder, like rice, soy, pea, or other plants?  Mark Sisson posted a while back about how plant protein powders just don't work that well.  And who knows?  They might have large quantities of heavy metals too.

And now here's the biggest secret of all about whey protein.  Do you know what it's made from?  Well yes, it's made from whey.  Whey is a byproduct of cheesemaking; when the cheese curds have formed and you strain them away, the liquid that's left is the whey.  It's still got protein in it, though.

Cheesemaking is an old art.  People have been doing it for centuries.  Back before they had the sophisticated machines to extract the protein and turn it into powder, they had another method of extracting all the protein from whey.  They boiled it a second time, this time much hotter than when they were forming cheese curds, and then they let it cool.  Then they strained it.  You know what they got when all the liquid is strained away?

Ricotta cheese.

Yes, my friends, ricotta cheese, which literally translates to "recooked".  Now it's true that it's not 100% protein, but then neither is whey protein powder.  Ricotta is more of a balanced food;  1/2 cup of whole milk ricotta has 14g of protein, 16g of fat, and 4g of carbs.  1/2 cup of part skim ricotta has 14g of protein, 10g of fat, and 6g of carbs.  You don't want to touch fat free ricotta, though.  It has only a small amount of fat, but it's still only 14g of protein, and packs on 10g of carbs.

I love ricotta cheese.  It would make a yummy addition to smoothies.  It's packed with protein.  It's great in recipes.  If you add a little salt and some Italian herbs, it makes a really yummy filling for rolled up lunch meat.  And it's a real food.  Yeah, ok, it's been processed, but all cheese is, and at least it's minimally processed (heating and then straining).  You can even make your own ricotta cheese if you want.  It's fairly easy. 

But what about protein powder?  I tried to find out how it's made, but I can't find any info through google.  Who knows; maybe it's also minimally processed.  I suspect it's not, though.  And even if it was, that doesn't make up for the fact that it's pretty darn expensive and full of heavy metals.

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