Powerful Protein
by Lori Dahm

Whey continues to expand its value beyond dairy.
Whey ingredients have been on the radar of the dairy industry for the past several years, both because of the many emerging health attributes being discovered with regard to whey, as well as the functional improvements that whey ingredients can deliver in new products.
At last, it seems that whey is coming into its own as an ingredient; numerous innovative new beverage products are using whey to deliver an amplified protein content, and whey is also being used in many of the newest trendy product formulations for its properties as a fat replacer. At the same time, the emerging health attributes that whey delivers continue to be researched, documented and published. These discoveries are fuel for more momentum and excitement surrounding the possibilities of whey.
All told, the whey story continues to be one of growing promise within the dairy industry, as the latest research into product applications and health benefits are further brightening the halo around this once unwanted and unused byproduct of dairy manufacturing.
In the Market
Improvements in whey ingredients have been a major focus of development within the whey supply market within the past year. Most notably, whey proteins that are clear and water soluble have paved the road for the introduction of new protein waters which contain whey.
For the specialized niche of the body-builder athlete, a protein water beverage that boasts 20 grams of protein, delivered by a whey ingredient, was introduced by Stacker 2, Andover, N.J., in 2006. A more mainstream example introduced in June came from Kellogg’s, Battle Creek, Mich. Kellogg’s Special K20 Protein Waters use whey ingredients as the protein source, and each 16-ounce bottle offers 5 grams of protein and only 50 calories, in three flavor varieties: Strawberry Kiwi, Lemon Twist and Tropical Blend.
“Some of the most innovative new products using whey are the protein waters, which have spilled out of the sports-nutrition beverage market to become more mainstream and appeal to the general consumer,” says Eric Bastian, director of research and development at Glanbia Foods Inc., Twin Falls, Idaho. “These clear beverages, which must be clear in order to be labeled as ‘water,’ certainly have lower levels of protein than the sports-nutrition beverages that are developed to deliver the biggest slug of protein possible in a beverage. These new protein waters still manage to offer the benefits of a high protein load in a form which highlights the clarity of the beverage product.”
The latest iterations upon whey ingredients allow for improved solubility in beverages in the clear water format, but also in other beverage applications with a wider range of pH levels than was previously possible. This is a new development; until the past year, whey ingredients were most easily used only in low-pH beverages such as smoothies and yogurt drinks because the protein would settle out of solution in the mid- and high-pH beverage applications.
“We have some proprietary whey ingredients developed for the mid- and neutral-pH range because, in general, whey protein products have not proven as stable in those environments,” Bastian says. “We have worked to develop a 100 percent whey protein product that can be part of a neutral pH product without negative effects that typically correspond to those environments. Our newest whey protein ingredients can go through aseptic heat treatment without having the protein denature, aggregate and fall out into a sludge at the bottom of the beverage container.”
Again, a product that hails from the sports-nutrition realm is Muscle Milk, a neutral-pH beverage that uses whey protein isolate and casein to amplify the protein content. Muscle Milk boasts 30 grams of protein and is billed as the ideal supplement beverage to consume before a workout for maximum muscle build and low body fat.
Speaking of fat, another new and innovative use for whey ingredients within the past year which has more relevance to the mainstream market than the athlete niche was Slow Churned ice cream from Dreyer’s/Edy’s.
“Whey protein is a great fat replacer, and in November Edy’s came out with a Slow Churned Peanut Butter ice cream that has whey protein in it,” says Sharon Gerdes, technical support consultant at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), Rosemont, Ill. “Then in December, in the prepared meal category, there was an introduction of a chicken and alfredo product that included whey protein in the pasta sauce, utilizing the functional attributes whey imparts to microwave meals. Whey proteins are being used in new formulations that span many categories.”
Lowfat yogurts are another new product incorporating whey for its ability to function as an effective fat replacer, and, of course, nutrition and energy bars continue to be a prime category using whey as an ingredient for its high protein content.
“The reason whey is used so often in bar applications is because it offers a beneficial texture for extrusion purposes, although a problem is that some whey proteins will eventually cause hardness in the bar over its shelf life,” Bastian says. “We have done much development work to create whey ingredients that maintain the rheology that is desired for extrusion of the bars and will at the same time maintain the softness throughout the shelf life of the bar.”
Whey has been exported for some time, and this is also starting to become a bigger market opportunity.
“Global perception of whey concentrates being an excellent source of protein has improved to the point that many overseas governments are including WPC80 in school breakfast rations,” says Peter Gutierrez, international sales director at Agri-Mark Dairy Proteins, Onalaska, Wis. “This is especially surprising when one considers the increasing amount of WPC being sent to Third World countries.”
Other novel new products that incorporate whey include a new sports gel that includes whey as the protein source, and Biochem’s Organic Greens and Whey Powder, which incorporates “organic greens” and whey protein isolate.
“There are several reasons that whey ingredients are being used in more and better products, but it comes down to the multiple benefits delivered by whey: flavor, function and nutrition,” Gerdes says. “There were over 6,000 new products introduced last year that include whey ingredients. Across the board, whey is so versatile — it’s a high-quality source of protein and nutrition, and delivers valuable functional benefits in applications.”
To Your Health
The health story behind whey is no small potatoes, either. The effect of whey upon muscle synthesis, muscle accretion and the maintenance of lean muscle mass is relatively well known in the industry, and this effect certainly has been embraced by the body-builder athlete community.
Breaking research news centers upon the satiety benefits that are delivered by whey protein, and emerging science and research is pointing toward blood pressure regulation being possible due to whey.
“One of the most exciting areas of recent research upon the health benefits of whey protein was a recently published study about hypertension demonstrating that hydrolyzed whey protein has blood pressure-lowering effects,” says Pete Huth, director of regulatory affairs at DMI. “Hydrolyzed whey protein is whey that has been enzymatically treated to release bioactive peptides. Study subjects who were fed 20 grams of hydrolyzed whey protein per day had significantly reduced diastolic and systolic blood pressure.”
The peptides produced in the hydrolization of whey improve the ability of the blood vessels walls to dilate, through the inhibition of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE), an enzyme responsible for blood vessel constriction. It is believed this is the reason for the positive effect upon blood pressure in these studies.
Other emerging areas are suggesting that whey protein may also be beneficial in impacting glucose and insulin response in people who are pre-diabetic (often called metabolic syndrome) and are experiencing insulin resistance.
The final frontier for whey research studies and the dissemination of that information to consumers at large may lie at the hands of the government. There is an imminent need for official labeling claims for whey if this ingredient is going to gain the necessary credibility to be widely accepted by consumers.
“Everyone wants to make a strong label claim for whey, and that is where the science and the regulatory will have to come together in the near future. For example, in the area of weight management, there are numerous studies demonstrating whey’s beneficial benefits,” Bastian says. “The Federal Trade Commission is looking closely at statements being made related to weight management, and this is one of the most critical issues today. So from a regulatory standpoint, it is imperative to ensure there is proper documentation before a claim can be made on the label.”
Whey and Satiety
Emerging research points to a potential new role for whey protein: helping people feel full longer so that they eat less.
In a recent study led by Dr. G. Harvey Anderson, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, healthy young men were given a 200-calorie beverage containing about 45 grams of sweet whey protein one hour before a pizza meal. This whey protein beverage more effectively reduced the amount of pizza that study participants consumed afterwards than did equivalent amounts of carbohydrates, egg protein or water (the control). Whey protein “suppresses short-term food intake and stimulates satiety mechanisms,” Anderson said this past summer at a symposium sponsored by Dairy Management Inc. at the IFT Annual Meeting and Food Expo.
Further research is needed, possibly centering on the effect of the glycomacropeptide contained in sweet whey protein, Anderson said. In addition, Anderson would like to investigate the dose most effective for the satiating effect.
To learn more about nutritional benefits of whey protein and formulating products with whey ingredients, visit www.innovatewithdairy.com