Which protein supplement is better – whey or soy? There is no simple answer. The biological value (BV) of whey protein is very high, and for this reason, athletes and body builders use whey protein to accelerate muscle development and aid in recovery. Meanwhile, soy protein is low in cholesterol, contains many important amino acids and can even speed up metabolism.
Studies on both whey and soy protein have shown positive and negative effects. Rather than suggest "everything in moderation," let's delve further into the research to determine which protein option is better.
The Case for Whey
What is it?
Whey is one of two major proteins found in cow's milk. Whey protein is produced during the cheese-making process, which begins when special enzymes are added to milk causing it to separate. The curds are used to make cheese, leaving behind whey protein in the liquid portion. The protein is then removed from the liquid and processed into dried powder.
There are three kinds of whey proteins: concentrate, isolate and hydrolyzed. Whey protein isolate contains a higher concentration of protein per gram (about 90 percent protein by weight) than whey protein concentrate (29-80 percent). Hydrolyzed whey protein is created when high-heat processing is used to break protein chains down into smaller chains of amino acids called “peptides.” This form of whey protein is most commonly used in infant formulas, medical protein supplements and some sports drinks.
How can it help?
Protein, generally speaking, is critical for the growth and repair of muscle tissue. The body needs essential amino acids for recovery after a hard workout. And since protein requires more calories to digest than either carbohydrates or fat, it can also be an important factor in achieving fat loss goals (for this and other reasons). Because the BV of whey is very high, this protein offers several benefits:
- Assist in maintaining proper weight
- Act as a natural antibacterial or anti-viral
- Improve the function of the immune system
- Improve blood pressure, and more.
What is the downside?
Certain manufacturing processes can remove the nutritional value of whey protein, or even contribute to its toxic load. Be wary of whey protein supplements that:
- Come from grain-fed cows, raised in a conventional way, ingesting unnatural foods, antibiotics and growth hormones.
- Are denatured due to higher temperature processing.
- Contain residual casein, particularly A1 casein which has been linked to heart disease and a myriad of other serious health problems.
- Contain lactose.
- Contain excess sugar, artificial sweeteners, and often artificial preservatives and colours.
While most of the marketing of whey protein products relates to percentage of isolate versus concentrate and cost per gram of protein, these characteristics are the most vital to consider when choosing a product.
The Case for Soy
What is it?
Originally, soybeans were used to produce vegetable oil. Fermented soy products—foods like tamari, miso and tempeh—were the only form of soy meant to be consumed (and they were supposed to be sides and flavorings, not main courses). However, soy was misrepresented as the cornerstone of the healhy Asian diet. Soy products were developed to aid the hunger problem in China. For China's poor, soy was more affordable than meat.
How can it help?
Some soy studies have shown reduction in the symptoms of menopause and prevention of breast, prostate and endometrial cancer. Soy protein can also speed up the metabolism of the thyroid which can help when trying to release weight. And soy proteins contain ingredients that improve kidney function and prevent bone loss. Most of these benefits stem from the consumption of organically grown, GMO-free, fermented soy.
What is the downside?
Some studies have linked soy to increased rates of irregular heartbeat, hear disease and even breast cancer (conflicting and confusing, but true). Also, supplementing with soy protein can work if you can find the healthy version described above. That's tough to find, and rarely will you find it on the shelves of your average supplement store.
Low-quality soy has been linked to the following characteristics:
- High in natural toxins such as trypsin inhibitors, which block digestion of proteins.
- Contain Hemaglutinin (which causes red blood cells to clump together), growth depressant substances and goitrogens, which can depress thyroid function.
- High in phytates, which prevent the absorption of important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.
- Processed with chemicals in aluminum tanks, leaching the aluminum into the final soy products.
- Increased levels of isoflavones, a compound similar to human estrogen. This compound is similar enough to estrogen to interfere with hormone production and increase risk of estrogen-driven diseases. (This has a significant impact on infants and young children, particularly boys. Personally, I've had more male patients diagnosed with gynecomastia (male breasts) in a decade of clinical practice than my father did in his 30-year practice before me.)
- Genetically modified. Ninety percent of soybeans in North America are GMOs. These soybeans are washed in chemicals that increase toxicity.
I caution anyone interested in using proteins—soy or whey—as a replacement for the healthy foods that God has provided for us naturally.The best option is clean whey protein.
Before buying, it is necessary to ensure that a particular brand is free of A1 casein and lactose, is derived from grass-fed cows, is processed at low-temperatures and is sweetened with stevia (or not at all).
Now, in the winter especially, it can be challenging to find the naturally rich sources of antioxidants and nutrients we need—the fresh vegetables we can find in the winter have often spent far too much time in transit and have lost many of their nutrients before they hit the produce stands in the stores. And, unless we’re buying organic meat and produce from farmers we know and trust, we're getting artificially fertilized or nutrient-depleted produce. In these cases, some supplementation can be a good idea.
Looking for more information?
Contact Dr. Nick Barnes at www.212degreesofwellness.com for more ways to naturally improve your nutritional habits.