Production of whey
Whey is left over when milk is coagulated during the process of cheese production, and contains everything that is soluble from milk after the pH is dropped to 4.6 during the coagulation process. It is a 5% solution of lactose in water, with some minerals and lactalbumin. The fat is removed and then processed for human foods. Processing can be done by simple drying, or the relative protein content can be increased by removing lipids and other non-protein materials. For example, spray drying after membrane filtration separates the proteins from whey.
Whey can be denatured by heat. High heat (such as the sustained high temperatures above 72 °C associated with the pasteurization process) denatures whey proteins. While native whey protein does not aggregate upon renneting or acidification of milk, denaturing the whey protein triggers hydrophobic interactions with other proteins, and the formation of a protein gel. Heat-denatured whey can still cause allergies in some people.
Whey protein is the collection of globular proteins isolated from whey. The protein in cow's milk is 20% whey protein and 80% casein protein, whereas the protein in human milk is 60% whey and 40% casein. The protein fraction in whey constitutes approximately 10% of the total dry solids in whey. This protein is typically a mixture of beta-lactoglobulin (~65%), alpha-lactalbumin (~25%), bovine serum albumin (~8%)(see also serum albumin), and immunoglobulins. These are soluble in their native forms, independent of pH.
The amino acid cysteine in whey protein is a substrate for the synthesis of glutathione in the body which is a ubiquitous cellular antioxidant; laboratory experiments have suggested that whey protein and its components might reduce the risk of cancer in animals, suggesting an avenue for future medical research.
Major forms and use
Whey protein typically comes in four major forms:
- Concentrates (WPC) have typically a low (but still significant) level of fat and cholesterol but, in general, compared to the other forms of whey protein, they are higher in carbohydrates in the form of lactose — they are 29%–89% protein by weight.
- Isolates (WPI) are processed to remove the fat and lactose — they are 90%+ protein by weight. Like whey protein concentrates, whey protein isolates are mild to slightly milky in taste.
- Hydrolysates (WPH) are whey proteins that are predigested and partially hydrolyzed for the purpose of easier metabolizing, but their cost is generally higher. Highly hydrolysed whey may be less allergenic than other forms of whey.
- Native whey protein is extracted from skim milk, not a byproduct of cheese production, and produced as a concentrate and isolate.
Whey protein is commonly marketed as a dietary supplement, typically sold in powdered form for mixing into beverages. The products have varying proportions of the major forms above, and are promoted with various health claims. Although whey proteins are responsible for some milk allergies, the major allergens in milk are the caseins.
In 2010 a panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) examined proposed health claims made for whey protein: satiety, weight loss, reduced body fat, increased muscle, increased strength, increased endurance and faster recovery after exercising. The EFSA concluded that the provided literature did not adequately support the proposed claims.
- EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (October 2010). "Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to whey protein". EFSA Journal. 8 (10): 1818. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1818.
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