Protein is a crucial element of a balanced diet and is critical for health. It plays an essential role in the production and regulation of hormones, organ function, muscle growth and repair and many other things. However, many people struggle to attain adequate levels of protein in their diet. High-quality whey protein powder can help to bridge the gap.
However, not all protein powders are created equally.
There are many whey protein powders available today, choosing the correct one for you can be a struggle! The clear majority, regular whey protein, is sourced from feedlot cattle who are fed with grains or corn mash and are treated with antibiotics (rGBH – recombinant bovine growth hormone), or other artificial veterinary medications. These hormones and/or antibiotics can consequently be traced in their milk. Additionally, grain fed cows routinely ingest the residues of pesticides from their feed, traces of which can also be found in their milk
Conversely, grass-fed cattle are granted access to pasture throughout the entire growing season and in many cases year-round. Additionally, grass-fed cattle are treated in a more natural, compassionate and humane manner. In order to be considered as Organic certified, farmers may only use non-GMO feed to supplement their intake, but more and more farmers are moving to grass-fed year-round only. The milk produced by grass-fed Organic contains up to four times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids. This is just the beginning of the list of the many added health benefits we gain from Organic, grass-fed cow’s milk.
How is Whey Protein Made?
Whey protein is a milk protein and a dairy product. It is obtained from milk during the process of making cheese. Cow’s milk naturally contains two forms of protein. 80% of the protein found in cow’s milk is casein protein; the slow digesting protein we have all come to know. The second form of protein found in cow’s milk is whey protein, which accounts for the other 20% of the protein found in cow’s milk. This is the same fast digesting whey protein we see in most post-training protein powders and protein shakes.
The casein part is commonly used to make the cheese while the whey protein is the liquid that remains once you separate out all the milk solids. If you ever buy natural yogurts and open them to find a liquid on top this is whey protein in its original form!
Grass-Fed vs. Regular Whey Protein
In the same way that grass-fed, organic meats are nutritionally superior, the same thing applies to grass-fed whey protein powder. A cow’s diet influences the nutritional content of both its milk and meat.
Commercially raised cows are predominantly fed grains and other high-energy concentrated feeds with the purpose of loading them with calories for peak milk production. However, these feeds are often unnatural to the cow’s diet and are GMO feeds that have been sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals.
These cows are also kept in more confined areas in corrals which have less space to roam and become a fertile breeding grounds for diseases. In an effort to combat this, farmers rely on large amounts of antibiotics to keep the cows “healthy”.
Notwithstanding the unclean and cruel conditions, the cows raised here produce a meat and milk that have a different fatty acid profile and different micronutrient compositions than cows that are raised in pastures.
Main Nutritional Differences
The chief nutritional difference between grass-fed and regular whey lies in the fatty acid composition. Grass fed whey contains more omega 3 fatty acids (omega 3 fats have a range of health benefits due to their anti-inflammatory properties), whereas regular or grain-fed whey tends to be higher in omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 can be found in most of the food we eat, while omega 3 is less prevalent and often taken as a supplement. Diets high in omega 6 relative to omega 3 may alter the body’s harmony and could stimulate inflammation.
In addition to high levels of omega 3 fatty acids, grass-fed milk is also a rich source of conjugated linoleic acid, an effective nutrient clinically proven to increase your bodies rate of fat metabolism. Milk from grass-fed cows typically contains 3 to 5 times the amount of CLA compared to milk from feedlot cows.
Research has shown that produce from grass-fed cows are richer in polyunsaturated fats, omega 3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. On balance, purchasing grass-fed whey protein not only supplies sufficient protein but also offers beneficial fats and nutrients which are proven to accelerate weight loss and enhance the immune system.
While the majority of nutritionists are in favor of grass-fed whey protein there is still some debate over whether or not grass fed whey protein is worth the extra cost. Besides the nutritional benefits, it is universally recognized that all products from grass-fed cows are more environmentally friendly and much more humane practice.
How to Take Whey Protein
Given the numerous benefits of grass fed whey protein powder, there are multiple reasons to take it daily. The easiest and most common way to have your whey protein is in a shake or a smoothie. Alternatively, if you want to get a bit more creative with your whey protein here are a few recipe ideas to get you started:
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Shake - super simple, delicious and a great post training meal!
- Vanilla Protein Overnight Oats – this is a fantastic way to add some extra protein to your breakfast. If you prefer warm oats, just cook protein powder into your morning oats!
- Gingerbread Protein Oatmeal Bake – Christmas is swiftly approaching, make your family a protein-rich breakfast that’s hearty and warming!
- Protein Pancakes – this is my go to Sunday morning lazy breakfast recipe!
From a nutritional standpoint, both regular and grass-fed whey products consist of similar levels of protein, carbs and fats. Some may come to the conclusion therefore, that paying more for the organic grass-fed product is not worth it. However, this restrictive perspective disregards the long term, and the unknown consequences of industrial dairy farming on the land, the animals and on humankind. Grass-fed dairy production tackles the majority of issues that arise from industrial production. Due to the extra work and effort involved in organic dairy production, there is typically a higher cost. By purchasing grass-fed whey protein (and further products), you are supporting and investing in a better future by helping to safeguard an alternative option to industrial farming. Not to mention, the investment you are making in your health.