In the last three years, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the way that most people view diet, health, and overall well-being, with more emphasis on functional health. More people started viewing food as medicine. As a result, consumers are increasingly looking for functional health support from foods and beverages.
Whey proteins constitute 20% of total milk protein. They consist of several different proteins, which include β-lactoglobulin (β-LG), α-lactalbumin (α-LA), immunoglobulins (Igs), bovine serum albumin (BSA), lactoferrin (LF), lactoperoxidase (LPO), and glycomacropeptide (GMP). Whey proteins contain all 20 amino acids and all nine essential amino acids.
They are a rich source of bioactive peptides and the essential, branched-chained amino acids (BCAAs), such as leucine, isoleucine, and valine, related to critical factors responsible for muscle growth, build and repair. Whey proteins are fast-digesting and easily absorbed, making them a good protein source for pre- and post-workouts. They offer myriad health benefits and are one of the highest-quality proteins available on the market.
Researchers studied the impact of whey proteins on health for the past few decades and identified their antioxidant, anticancer, prebiotic, anti-obesity, anti-diabetic, muscle biosynthesis, osteoprotective, and radioprotective roles. Each health benefit can attribute to a single or few components of whey proteins.
β-lactoglobulin (β-LG) is the major whey protein (45-57%) containing higher amount of branched-chain amino acids. Partially denatured β-LG can bind hydrophobic molecules, which can help reducing of intestinal absorption of lipids. In addition, β-LG is rich in the amino acid cysteine linked with the synthesis of glutathione (GSH). That is an essential antioxidant and modulator of the immune system. It improves overall liver function by increasing GSH content and decelerates the process of Alzheimer's and cancer development.
α-lactalbumin (α-LA) is the second major whey protein (15-25%) with a higher tryptophan content than all dietary proteins. A precursor of serotonin is linked with inducing healthy sleep and mood functions. It is rich in lysine, leucine, threonine, and cysteine. It can bind to minerals such as calcium and zinc, positively affecting their absorption and bioavailability. It protects against infection, directly kills cancerous cells when complexed with oleic acid, and improves morning alertness.
Immunoglobulins are the third significant fraction of whey proteins. Immunoglobulins (IgG, IgA, IgM, and IgE) act as antioxidants and increase immunity. These are also antiviral and have an antibacterial effect against some pathogens. Lactoferrin (LF) is antiviral, antibacterial and protects against infection from fungi. In addition, it enhances the immune system, aids in the protection of gut health, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and helps to regulate iron absorption in the body. In addition, whey proteins are an important source of bioactive peptides that positively impact body functions.
Overall, the healthy eating trend adopted by consumers worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic is not going away anytime soon. Whey proteins have very high nutritional value, and are easily digestible, and get readily absorbed compared to other proteins. Therefore, consumers can easily incorporate these proteins into a healthy day-to-day diet. It is a convenient way to increase one's daily protein intake and offers several functional health benefits.