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Not All Protein
Is Created Equal

Not All Protein
Is Created Equal

Protein products – what is it I am actually eating?
  ~
by Kevin Lawrence, founder + CEO

If you are shopping for a protein bar whether online or in-store, the sight in front of you is usually enough to leave you feeling dizzy. Hundreds of brands marketing protein in different ways and with different messages. Who has the most protein in their bar? How important is that? What is the best type of protein? Is it animal based proteins – milk, red meat, fish, poultry, egg, collagen; or plant-based proteins – soy, pea, chia, hemp, rice, peanut, other nuts, seeds and beans? How do you make a good decision? Finding the best protein supplement for you can be challenging. Getting past the packaging and all of the advanced marketing speak is step number one.

The first thing you need to know is that all proteins ARE NOT equally useful for human nutrition, a fact we will discuss in detail in the next few blogs. In fact, there is a wide discrepancy in the nutritional value of different proteins. This discussion begins with this primary fact at the forefront. Ten grams of protein from nuts, grains or beans delivers far less actual protein nutrition than ten grams of meat, dairy or eggs. We want to understand which proteins are optimal for digestion and nutritional content. So what raw materials are being used in the products we see in the market? Where is the protein in these products coming from? Let’s take a look at the types of protein on the market and what, if any advantages, exist for the various types.

Protein raw materials used to make these products are easily categorized. Dietary proteins are of animal or plant origin. Milk is a well-known source (usually from cows but also other mammals like goats), in the form of whole milk in liquid or powder form, as well as milk fractions like whey, casein, caseinates, colostrum and a few other exotic peptides. Other popular proteins coming from animal sources include beef and other meats like pork, poultry, fish, egg and collagen. Plant proteins would include soy and other beans, wheat, rice, quinoa and other grains, spirulina, pea, hemp, chia, nuts and nut butters and other plant sources. Both animal and plant proteins are commercially utilized as concentrates, isolates and hydrolysates.

Concentrates are the lowest percentage of protein per gram of raw material as they still contain some portion of the other elements from their original source such as fats and sugars for animal sources, and fat, fiber, sugar and starches for plants. Concentrates usually have 70 to 80 percent protein by weight.

Isolates are typically concentrates that have had most of the non-protein elements removed and have protein concentrations from 85-95 percent. Isolation of milk proteins is usually one of two methods or a mix of both. Ion exchange is an electro-chemical method of isolation and cold or cross filtration passes the milk through membranes. Soy and other plant proteins are concentrated or isolated through heat or the use of acids or solvents. It is important to note that the actual proteins in isolates and concentrates are identical. There is no protein nutrition value obtained by isolation, just more protein per gram and less non-protein elements. The common idea that whey protein isolate is superior to whey protein concentrate is incorrect. They are equal as far as the protein quality is concerned. The isolation or concentration of some plants proteins requires solvents and produces highly degraded protein and unnatural peptides.

Hydrolysates are very different from isolates and concentrates, which are whole proteins still in their original molecular form. Hydrolysates have been enzymatically reduced to smaller proteins called peptides and contain 80-90 percent protein. The degree of hydrolysis, or DH is the key here. Higher DH means smaller peptides overall and much more di and tripeptides, the most preferred size for absorption and metabolic use throughout the body.

Now that you understand what types of materials are going into the protein you are consuming, you have the basics to decipher label content. Just because a label says 100% whey, soy or other protein, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the most optimal protein nutrition for your body to easily and effectively digest. I hope I’ve shed some light on the types of protein supplements in the market and set the stage for upcoming blogs, delving further into protein nutrition

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