Benefits of Whey Protein
Whey is the nutrient rich froth they scrape of the top of milk during production which is then powdered and made into whey protein products. It is rich in complete proteins and calcium.
Whey protein also increases nitrogen levels in the body. Higher nitrogen levels are ideal for being in an anabolic (muscle building) state. Glutamine, which can be supplemented with and can be found in plant proteins also donates nitrogen to cell doing the repairing.
Positive nitrogen balances in the body increase protein synthesis. Unfortunately, whey (mostly from the United States) also has a few downsides due to regulations and sustainability.
Downsides to Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein contains anywhere 30 mg to 50 mg (depending on brand) of cholesterol. For people with high cholesterol whey protein isn’t a healthy option.
Milk is intended to be ingested by mammals in the first few stages of life. The reason for this is milk is made to give newborns an immune system boost and supply them with nutrients to ensure survival. In adult life this can be good for weak immune systems but due to the boosts it give you it also effects hormonal balances. If you have ever taken whey protein and experienced acne breakouts… that’s a perfect physiological example.
Hormones are delicately balanced and when we affect that balance we can see physical changes. The reason that milk from cows affects human hormones is that our genetic makeup to cows is very similar and so are our hormones. Whey protein isolates in this case have had nearly everything removed except for the protein itself.
Which brings us to the next issue. Many cows in America are given dosages of artificial bovine growth hormones. Yes, this is a real thing. (For guys, keep in mind these are female cows… your not getting growth hormone added to your milk. Your getting female bovine growth hormone added to it. Its way different.) So the female bovine growth hormone has the potential to show up in whey as well. There are a few companies that test for it and label their products as rGBH free.
Unless your getting whey protein made from organic milk there is currently no way of knowing the levels of antibiotics and pharmaceuticals that may be in the whey unless its labeled. This is especially true in United States. Dairy farms in United States that are not all natural, organic or clearly state that they are rGBH , rBST and antibiotic free most likely make use of these methods.
Farmers that want you to know their milk is free of these substances will make it clear on the labels and the same goes for whey manufacturers. If its in there, you have the right to know. If its not in there, they should also tell you.
According to GRACE Communications Foundation, the only countries that have banned the use of rGBH are Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and those in the European Union. Outside of these countries, if it is not advertised on the label that the whey is organic and free of hormones… it not uncommon for them to be in there.
Why would there be antibiotics and pharmaceuticals in milk? In the United States (at the time of publication) it is perfectly legal for dairy farmers to give cows artificial bovine growth hormones (also known as rGBH or rBST) in order to produce more milk. rGBH stands for Recombine Bovine Growth Hormone and rBST stands for Bovine Somatotrophin. The more milk the cows produce the more money the farmers make. That’s why they use them.
Antibiotics are given to the cows to prevent them from getting sick. Anything given to the cows is going to show up in the milk and milk products including whey protein.
Thankfully, in the other countries mentioned above, the use of bovine growth hormones is illegal. In Canada, when antibiotics are required for sick cows the milk they produce is thrown away until it has cleared from their system.
Companies that want to make sure you get healthy products already know all of this and label their products clearly so you know it’s not in there.
Whey protein unfortunately, is not sustainable for the same reasons beef isn’t. It does use less energy to produce whey and milk compared to the amount of energy needed to create beef (only because the cow is used numerous times instead of once).
But in my opinion, by consuming milk and whey products it puts adds to the requirement of more cows, which (with the amount we have) we know is bad for the environment. The increase of carbon dioxide levels caused by the entire cow farming process is catastrophic.
This leads us to the more sustainable option of plant protein which most people didn’t think of as an option but would be surprised.
Plant Proteins compared to Whey Proteins
The plant proteins made from a blend of plants I have seen get as high as 17-18 grams of protein (per 25 gram servings) of powder. The isolates, like pea protein isolate, can get as high as 25 grams of protein (per 28 gram servings). Compare that to whey protein concentrates and isolates which range from 22 grams of protein (per 28 gram servings) to 24 grams of protein (per 32 gram servings).
Many whey proteins that we see have 30 grams of protein which sounds better… but they use much larger scoops of around 37 grams to get that much protein. So the only way they can get more protein in whey is to use larger scoops.
In plant proteins we don’t get nearly as much calcium as whey but we do get more iron which whey has very little if any at all. It looks something like this depending on the brand:
- Calcium in whey proteins: 7-10% daily value
- Calcium in plant proteins: 2-3% daily value
- Iron in whey proteins: 0-2% daily value
- Iron in plant proteins: 30-35% daily value
Those are the two significant differences on the Supplement Facts labels that I pulled from multiple “popular” proteins on the market. I did the same for the protein comparison above and pulled a few of the most “popular” proteins from each kind to compare.
Downsides to Plant Protein
There are really only two problems with plant proteins. In order to make complete proteins most have to be combined (pea protein and rice protein for example). Some plant proteins like soybeans, quinoa and chia seeds are all considered complete plant proteins. Chia contains 18 amino acids including the 9 essential ones. Hemp does contain all 9 essential amino acids but is low in Lysine.
Like whey protein, it comes down to the regulation of the farming industry. Because crop farmers are allowed to use synthetic chemical pesticides… some do, not all. Most of the plant proteins I have seen on the market are labeled as Organic, which basically means they don’t have synthetic pesticides and herbicides. If it’s not raw, organic or chemical free on the label, I would put it back.
Other than that the only other thing I would look out for is Asian plant proteins especially rice. Sometimes where/how they are grown increases the levels of heavy metals. Most large companies out there know this so they test the plants and publish the data to you know you getting healthy plant protein. If its organic rice protein, its probably OK.
Benefits of Plant Protein Powder
With plant proteins you’re getting more nutrients. One popular plant protein has hemp, peas, cranberry and cherry with real cacao in it. That’s a lot of raw nutrients. Hemp protein in particular has one of the most impressive nutrient profiles you will ever see. Hemp seeds and hemp hearts (shelled hemp seed) in only 3 tablespoons have:
- nearly 25% of healthy fats that you need
- only 3 grams of carbs
- 3 grams of dietary fiber
- 10 grams of protein
- 2% calcium
- 25% thiamin
- 8% Vitamin B6
- 45% phosphorus
- 20% zinc
- 20% iron
- 6% riboflavin
- 8% folate
- 45% magnesium
- 110% manganese
That is something you will never see in whey proteins. Those percentages are the daily values under Nutrition Facts found on the bag. Hemp seeds also have high levels of omega 3 fatty acids which many of us don’t get enough of.
Omega 6 fatty acids many of us get plenty of (especially in the North American diet) but those are inflammatory. Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and balance out Omega 6. That is why foods like hemp are so important. Few foods that can compare to the nutrition in hemp seeds.
Similar to hemp, chia seeds also have high levels of omega 3 fatty acids. They are also high in magnesium and have almost 5 grams of protein per ounce of seeds.
In 40 grams of pumpkin seeds they have 9 grams of protein and 40% daily value of iron.
2.5 tablespoons of raw cacao powder has:
- 243 mg of potassium
- 92 mg of magnesium
- 3 grams of protein
- 2% calcium
- 8% iron
- 4 grams of dietary fiber
- polyphenols and antioxidants
Another benefit of plant proteins is that they contain zero cholesterol. Cholesterol comes from animal sources.
Contrary to what most people think plant protein powders are comparable to whey in the amount of protein they provide when combined. Most of the popular whey proteins on the market are micronized, isolates, use concentrates or have had something done to them to increase the protein content.
As to where most plant proteins are either a blend of plant types. It is true that there are pea and other plant protein isolates and concentrates on the market.
Some come from a single plant type but are usually isolates. Like pea protein. ‘Isolate’ just means that they have gone through an extra filtering process which removes water (and in the case of whey also removes lactose).
Plant protein contains so much more than just protein. Its not just about the amount of protein they have but the nutrition they provide as well. Its kind of like protein + a natural multivitamin.