Avoiding whey is a good idea if you’re lactose-intolerant, have a whey allergy, or you follow the paleo diet. Whey protein powder can produce gas, stomach cramps, and bloating for people who are allergic or have lactose intolerance. Others may find their skin breaks out due to a sensitivity to whey. Although whey is the most common ingredient in protein powder (because it’s cheap), there are lots of great whey-free protein powders available. These protein powders are made from ingredients like eggs, peas, or even hemp. The egg protein listed below is 100% paleo, and the pea protein is vegan as well.
|Pure Therapeutics Daily Vegan Protein Vanilla Flavor||Yes||Yes||No!|
|Paleo Protein Egg White Powder||No||No||No!|
|Pea Protein Isolate - Vegan, Non-GMO, Lactose, Soy and Gluten Free||Yes||Yes||No!|
|Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro 50 Protein Supplement||Yes||Yes||No!|
What is whey?
So what the heck is whey? Basically, whey is a byproduct of cheese-making. The first step in making cheese from milk is to separate the solids in the milk, called curds, from the liquids, which are called whey. The curds are then further processed into cheese, but that’s a different story. What’s left over is the liquids, the whey, which the cheese manufacturer has no use for.
All about whey protein
This is why whey protein is so popular. Since there’s already a lot of whey left over from the cheese industry with no other use, supplement companies are able to get very good prices on whey. To turn the thin liquid whey (which is actually 95% water) into the whey protein powder you’re familiar with, the whey has to go through the following process:
- Pasteurization to kill any bacteria (both harmful bacteria as well as any good, beneficial bacteria) A side effect of the 162+ °F pasteurization process is the denaturing of the protein. Denaturation basically breaks the internal structure of the protein molecule, resulting in an artificial variation of protein. For a more detailed discussion of the possible risks of denatured whey, see this article by Integrated Supplements.
- Filtration to isolate the whey from other ingredients – a factory process requiring high tech filters and turbine power
- Drying – the whey is blasted by alternating hot and cold air until only the solids remain and the water has all evaporated.
- Blending with other ingredients like flavoring and lecithin – used to thicken the mixture so it doesn’t get clumpy in your protein shake
While whey powder does have a high protein content, as you can see it is sort of an artificial food. Whey and curds don’t really separate in nature, and whey definitely doesn’t get isolated into powder form outside of industrial manufacturing. It is no surprise that many people find themselves unable to tolerate whey protein very well, because your body is not really designed to absorb this highly processed food product.
Whey protein is bad news for lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerant people do not have enough of a digestive enzyme called “lactase” which is needed to fully digest the lactose in whey. (Digestive enzymes are the natural substances that your body produces in order to digest different foods.) All products made from cow’s milk, including whey protein powder, have lactose in them.
Undigested lactose goes straight into your colon, where it can only be broken down by bacteria – a process which causes fermentation and a big gas release. This gas is the reason lactose intolerant people get stomach pain, bloating, and flatulence. To avoid these unpleasant symptoms, people who suffer from lactose intolerance need whey-free protein powder!
Plant-based protein powder as an alternative to whey
Pea protein, rice protein, or hemp protein are all great source of whey-free protein powder. These are especially good for vegans, and pea or hemp protein are great for people who have allergic reactions easily, since these two protein sources are hypoallergenic. You may be concerned that these protein powders will taste bad, perhaps because of bad childhood memories of being forced to eat peas, but they are really quite normal tasting. Mix a little cocoa powder into your pea protein shake and you’ll be perfectly happy with it!
Going paleo means giving up whey!
Paleo dieters need to avoid whey protein as well, since dairy products would not have been available before the Neolithic Revolution. Producing whey especially requires a degree of processing that cavemen would not have done. Eggs or beef both make great paleo protein powders that are completely whey free.
No soy protein, even though it’s free from whey
Soy-based protein powder has no whey in it, but we can’t recommend it. Soy contains several anti-nutrients and has a significant hormonal effect on the body. Men especially should avoid soy because it increases estrogen, a female hormone. This doesn’t mean soy is good for women either, since any hormone imbalance is not really a good thing. Soy probably increases the chance of breast cancer and fat retention in women. When there are other great whey-free protein powders around, there’s really no need to mess with soy.