Ingredients Explained – Whey Protein Isolate. How to use it, why to use it, and when to use it.

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Whey gets a bad rap in the LC\VLC communities, most of that bad rap is based off a lack of understanding (or an agenda that in turn, is based off a lack of understanding). I pointed out in yesterday’s empowering post a study that has helped contribute to this misinformation. In prepping for this post, I revisited my research – checking both sides of the argument since “knowing thy enemy” is the first rule of war. And yes, this is war. War on your health. War on your paycheck. So, on the counter-side to the overwhelming research that whey protein isolate can help control blood glucose levels, especially T2D individuals, I found the statement below. That article has been shared 1.76 million times, and has 2.1 million “likes.”
The cornerstone to the article is the the below statement:

“whey protein can elevate blood sugar (and subsequently, insulin) levels similarly to a high-carbohydrate food like bread.”

Good cornerstone, right?
When you base your entire theory on something, you should at least be sure you have your facts right. Any “report” after this statement is instantly suspect. Do you know why? Let’s break it down:

Blood sugar (glucose production and release) is a metabolic response to a rise in insulin. BG doesn’t raise insulin, insulin is the trigger to increase BG circulation. This isn’t a “chicken or the egg” question. It is not semantics. It is not open to interpretation. It is biology. Whey protein doesn’t elevate blood sugar. Whey protein elevates insulin. Insulin elevates blood sugar. This makes sense. Insulin is what acts as the “traffic cop” for cells, telling them what and how much of what is circulating in the blood that the cell should accept. Insulin isn’t the devil. Insulin RESISTANCE is the devil. If certain cells resist the affect of insulin, then things get ugly. Ok, so why is the increase in insulin from whey a good thing if you are IR?
When you sit to have a meal, the first things that are going to be digested are the simple carbs, then protein, then fatty acids, then fiber. So, what happens as you are ending your meal? The carbs are already becoming glucose and marching around the liver, but the insulin levels in your blood aren’t screaming for more glucose, the lack of an early insulin response contributes to post prandal glucose spikes. So, by having whey isolate FIRST, the insulin levels are high enough so that when the blood sugar starts barreling around, insulin is ready for it and can clear it out faster. Yes, having whey early in a meal can help. A lot. Blood sugar spikes are expected, it is part of the metabolic process. PROLONGED or EXCESSIVE spikes are our concern (or in the case of a T1D individual, one extreme to the other and no regulation). Don’t take my word on it. Research this yourself.

Here on Diabetes Self Management

AJCN Research Study

Ok, with the health science out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff: BAKING!! COOKIES!!! CAKE!! BREAD!! PANCAKES!! Kootsie Rolls! Brownies!!

Why the hell would I put a shake powder in brownies? BREAD???


The added protein is a bonus. The key reason to use whey protein in baking is because of how it reacts with other ingredients and heat. Mix whey with a little oil – coconut or butter – and you get something the consistency of taffy. Yes, kinda sticky, really elastic and strong (and with the right flavors, damn tasty too 🙂 ).

So, can we take advantage of this in baking? Yup.

Baking with wheat flours is all about mobilizing the gluten (also a protein, btw) to create a structure. By nature, gluten is elastic and strong. It is what traps the air bubbles in bread to give you those “nooks and crannies” and is what makes it so you can stretch out pizza dough from a small ball to 16″ disk and not turn to a crumbling mess. So, what we strive to do is mimic the properties of gluten the best we can – this is why fathead uses cheese, because it has the desired property in that type dough that gluten would. Oh. And cheese?? Whey is the byproduct of cheese production. Yeh. See the connection? Now, while cheese works great in fathead dough, it’s not going to work quite as well in say… cupcakes. This is where we tap into the whey protein powder. Adding it to your recipe gives the strength needed to keep things from falling apart or collapsing when cooled. The downside is that whole taffy thing. It’s TOO strong. It doesn’t trap the air bubbles well because it is too stiff. Kind of like the difference between a child’s balloon and trying to make a balloon giraffe out of a car tire. Yeh. Not so cool. This is where the inclusion of gums like xanthan and guar (and in small quantities glucomannan) are key. They add the flexibility and stretchy properties to the dough. By themselves, they are too weak to hold in the gasses (which is what those nooks and crannies are), the same gasses whey is too strong to hold in. Combine the two and you get results.

But Hobbit, whey is EXPENSIVE. Yes. No. Maybe.
First, we have to look at the cost per serving. 1/4 cup of whey has the same protein levels as 4oz of beef fillet. The brand we use is a little less than $1 per serving. If you can find fillet for $4\lb without a time machine, more power to you. I can’t.
Second, 1/4 cup whey isolate replaces 1 cup of wheat flour or almond meal. Yes. A little does a lot of work.
Third, where you get it and what you get is a huge factor. If all you have access to is the crappy stuff at Walmart like Muscle Milk, 6-Star, etc, it’s better than nothing. There’s better, less expensive options out there. Shop around. Check Amazon, Netrition, iHerb, Swanson Health, Pure Formulas, or our go-to for whey – Z Natural Foods. The Ultimate Whey Isolate from Z Natural is from grass-feed dairy. Yeh, like your Kerrygold that is considered the Holy Grail of butter. It is naturally processed instead of chemically processed. It is $12.50\lb, which puts it less than the “bro” brands in the stores. It doesn’t come in all the fancy flavors that more “mainstream” powders come in, but a little extract and sweetener added, suddenly you have any flavor you want. Plus, whip some of that up in your coffee and it is like a latte (in my opinion, not only does it taste better than BPC, it is more healthy).

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1 Comment

  1. […] key to this is protein isolate. Yup. You know me (or if you don’t, you will soon enough 🙂 ) that I love to use whey isolate […]

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