Americans are infatuated with protein. Various surveys show that it’s one of the top components consumers want to increase in their diet.

But dairy proteins face fierce competition from plant proteins, as shown by an increase in new product introductions with plant proteins and a decrease in introductions with dairy proteins over the past three years. Consumers may be favoring plant proteins because of environmental concerns, but new research reveals that whey proteins deliver health benefits and sustainability.

A recent study at Arizona State University ( found that in a comparison of 32 common food sources of protein, whey and peanuts have the least environmental impact as measured by the Global Warming Potential Ratio (GWPRO). Beef and white rice have the highest impact. The GWPRO evaluates the environmental impact of producing the food, but also takes into account the standard serving size, protein quantity and protein quality.

This is just one of many insights shared by the Dairy Protein Messaging Initiative as part of its Strong Inside campaign ( One of the campaign’s key messages is: “Consuming proteins sourced from milk is the most intrinsically human and simple way to make our bodies strong … It’s what’s inside that powers the great in all of us.”


More protein, please

At the August 2019 Asian Conference of Nutrition (, experts from North America and Asia shared scientific findings on the role of dairy proteins in supporting healthy aging and weight management goals. One conference topic was the adequacy of the existing Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein.

The current RDA is 0.8 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For a 165-pound (75-kilogram) person, that’s 60 grams. But according to Stuart Phillips, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology and medicine, McMaster University, “higher protein intakes are associated with greater muscle mass and, more importantly, better muscle function with aging.” Phillips proposes recommending 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram per day, or 90 grams for that 165-pound individual.

Mounting evidence is pushing individuals to consume a higher-protein diet as a strategy to manage body weight and composition. But many consumers don’t realize that not all proteins are equal in quality and, thus, their ability to fuel health goals. Many plant proteins are deficient in some of the essential amino acids or have poor bioavailability or digestibility.

Much of the existing research has been conducted on men, but dairy protein is equally important and effective for women.

“A recent study addresses a common misconception, emphasizing that women can consume whey protein without worrying about gaining bulky muscle,” said Terri Rexroat, vice president, global ingredients marketing, U.S. Dairy Export Council.


Application areas

Food and beverage manufacturers have incorporated whey proteins into dressing and dips, coatings for snacks such as popcorn or almonds, and everyday consumer favorite breakfast foods such as pancakes because of their breadth of functionality, Rexroat added.

Breakfast bakery items are a particularly important opportunity for fortification with dairy. Breakfast foods typically contain less protein than lunch or dinner foods. Spreading protein more evenly throughout the day optimizes muscle protein synthesis.

Also, many breakfast foods are wheat-based, and wheat is low in the essential amino acid lysine. Both milk and whey proteins are a good source of lysine. The complementary nutrition allows manufacturers of fortified bakery items to optimize nutritional claims about the protein content of their products.

Three of my favorite breakfast foods are protein oatmeal, protein pancake mix and protein frozen waffles. Preparing them with milk or serving them with Greek yogurt allows me to achieve my target of 20 grams of protein at breakfast.