By Rose Pastore, published on November 1, 2011 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and...losing weight while feeling perfectly full. Who needs rhymes when the latest research suggests that Miss Muffet had it very right in getting her whey? The watery byproduct of cheesemaking, whey is what's left after milk has been curdled, a protein-rich liquid increasingly eyed for its ability to curb appetite. Whey is available in dried form as a nutritional supplement, but it exists naturally in foods, too; it is, for example, the source of ricotta cheese. Although whey has a long history as a drink in its own right, and was championed by Hippocrates, exploration of its potential as a natural appetite suppressant, body reshaper, and metabolic protector is just getting under way.
Bottled water enriched with whey protein may be the drink of the future—a painless means of weight control. New Zealand researchers found that even small amounts of whey dissolved in water and consumed two hours before lunch reduced hunger in overweight women. All 46 participants reported feeling more full and satisfied than after consuming a whey-free control drink. The greater the concentration of whey, the stronger and longer the effect. Although none of the women ate less lunch two hours later, higher whey doses may thwart dessert consumption.
Whey has staying power in maintaining healthy body weight. The high-protein substance not only minimizes weight gain and body fat accumulation over the long haul, but it decreases food intake and ups the oxidation of fats. Rats fed a diet high in whey protein consumed significantly less chow than rats gobbling soy protein, although it took five weeks for the effect to show up. Rich in the amino acid leucine, whey may alter brain synthesis of neuro-peptides that regulate food intake. But the rats' diet was one-third whey; even dedicated dieters might not be able to manage that.
Adding whey protein to your diet can shrink your waist and may even help regulate body weight without the need for dieting. Twice a day for six months, 90 overweight men and women drank beverages mixed with either whey protein, soy protein, or carbohydrates while eating as usual. After 23 weeks, scientists report in the Journal of Nutrition, both whey and soy drinkers weighed less than the carb drinkers, but the whey group also had smaller waists. The findings suggest that in curbing the accumulation of belly fat, whey may subdue the metabolic complications of obesity.
Whey protein supplements appear to spare the overweight from the negative metabolic consequence of a high-fat diet. University of Cincinnati researchers fed female mice a high-fat diet and either plain water or whey-enriched water. Both groups downed the same amount of food, but after 11 weeks the whey takers weighed less and had more lean body mass. Moreover, they handled a glucose load better and showed better insulin sensitivity, and their livers accumulated less fat. For those who can't resist the French fries, whey protein may help stave off Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.
There's increasing evidence that the microorganisms known as probiotics do good things for the gut (and the brain and the rest of the body), but they have to get there alive first. That means surviving the harsh, acidic killing field otherwise known as the stomach. Whey protein may turn out to be the perfect armored vehicle for the job. Irish researchers find that microbeads of whey filled with the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus can withstand the hostile environment of the stomach and arrive intact at the intestines, where they dutifully break down and release their payload.