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Whey protein as a weapon in the battle against overweight

A new research method ensures increased and extensive knowledge about the beneficial effects related to intake of milk-derived foods. In the future, this may enable dairies to developnew and innovative milk products designed to enhance slimming effects.

2017.01.11 | Marie-Louise B. Thøgersen

Experiments carried out by the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University demonstrate that whey protein has extraordinary properties.

In the past, only big, pumped up bodybuilders consumed protein shakes with whey powder. Today, however, the man on the street has also been hit by the protein wave, and the fitness centres sell increasing amounts of energy drinks with whey protein.

And with good reason. Experiments carried out by the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University demonstrate that whey protein has extraordinary properties.

- Whey protein affects the body in a different way than e.g. casein protein, which also comes from milk, or soy protein. Our experiments demonstrated that if two groups of mice ingest the same amount of calories – one group from whey and the other from casein – the mice on the whey diet will gain less weight than those on the casein diet, explains Professor Hanne Christine Bertram, Department of Food Science at Aarhus University.

Hence protein is not just protein, and significant nutritional differences between various protein types have been identified. So far, it has been a puzzle why whey protein has this positive, slimming property compared to other proteins. However, scientists from the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University – in cooperation with NIFES in Norway – are close to finding an answer.

- The slimming effect of whey protein is linked to a reduction of white adipose tissue as well as liver lipid concentrations. This is caused by an increased excretion of so-called metabolites from the energy generating citric acid cycle. When ingesting whey, the cellular energy utilization is lower compared to ingesting casein, Hanne Christine Bertram explains.

Whey protein reduces fatty tissue

But how did the Aarhus University scientists achieve this knowledge? It is generated by means of a new methodological approach combining metabolic studies with so-called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.

In metabolic studies you analyze the content of different molecules (metabolites) in e.g. urine samples to see how the body reacts to the ingestion of specific foods and thus gain an insight into its importance to health.

Introducing the wide-ranging NMR technique allows you to examine a far more comprehensive number of metabolites at the same time instead of just examining one sample for one specific metabolite.

- The introduction of NMR and food metabolomics makes it possible for us to understand the relation between the body metabolism and the conversion of whey protein. NMR and food metabolomics can also be used as a method where the normal diets of the test subjects are maintained and where the health effects of the milk proteins are examined under more realistic conditions, says Hanne Christine Bertram.

This increased knowledge about which specific qualities of milk actually makes it healthy may be of great importance to the dairies, as it will be easier for them to design nutritionally optimized dairy products to e.g. specific consumer segments.

Further information

Read more about the metabolomics facilities at Department of Food Science

Professor Hanne C. Bertram
Department of Food Science, AU
Mail: hannec.bertram@food.au.dk
Phone: 8715 8353

Food, DCA, Cattle