Recent research has been making headlines by building on some nutritional science that many of us have known for some time: low fat milk products have a positive effect on weight management. It’s part of why low fat, protein-rich milk products are recommended in both our ‘limited’ and ‘extended choice’ exchange lists. It’s also part of why Optifast has been formulated as such and is a successful tool for weight management in North America. Specifically, the whey portion of milk protein has long been used as a successful and safe weight management tool for decades.
Let’s rewind and fill in the science; Milk is primarily made up of two types of proteins, casein (“kay-seen”) which is the curd part of milk, and whey (“way”) which is the liquid portion left over that you would see if we were making cheese. Whey has long been used as a protein supplement in powdered form- it lines the shelves at most “health food” stores and comes in a variety of different flavours, nutritional enhancements, and of course price tags. You can also find whey on grocery or supermarket shelves under the guise of “skim milk powder” (because, well, that’s what it is!) or in meal replacements such as the aforementioned Optifast. This liquid fraction leftover from processing milk is easy to produce, cheap to make shelf-stable, and we know that it’s easily used by the body to repair or build our muscle tissue.
Findings reported at the Endocrine Society meeting this year revealed some other possible benefits of whey. The research compared 48 participants who were both obese and type 2 diabetic who were given either a whey based breakfast meal (a “shake”), a breakfast made up of other types of protein (tuna, eggs, and/or soy) or a breakfast made up mostly of carbohydrates. What was found is that those who consumed a whey based shake for breakfast lost 7.6 kg (roughly 17lbs) over a period of 12 weeks vs. a 6.1kg loss (~13lbs) for those who had the “other” proteins for breakfast and a loss of 3.1kg (~7lbs) for the group who had mostly carbohydrates. Additionally, the study showed that those who had the whey protein shakes for breakfast were more satisfied, less hungry, and had lower glucose spikes and a reduced HbA1c (an average of blood sugars over a 3 month period) compared to those on the other two diets (“Large Whey Breakfast,” 2016).
The scientific thinking behind this is that whey protein has more of a “thermogenic” effect than the other proteins- meaning that the body burns more energy (in the form of calories) to make use of it. The other possible perk of whey protein is that it suppresses the hunger-hormone ghrelin which is mainly responsible for appetite. It stands to reason then that having less of an appetite makes it easier for the body to regulate blood sugars because there's less food eaten to stress the system (Jakubowicz & Froy, 2012).
Despite the knowledge that a protein rich breakfast is an effective weight management strategy, skipping breakfast continues to be a very common issue. For those who have difficulty tolerating or preparing breakfast, let alone a protein-rich one, having a shake at breakfast is a promising health behavior to consider working on.
From ENDO 2016: Large Whey Breakfast May Help Manage Type 2 Diabetes. (2016, April). Retrieved July, 2016, from http://endocrinenews.endocrine.org/3697-2/
Jakubowicz, D., & Froy, O. (2012, July). Biochemical and metabolic mechanisms by which dietary whey protein may combat obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Journal of Nutrition Biochemistry, 24(1), 1-5. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2012.07.008