Milk’s Secret Weapon…Protein

By Mary Nicholson

Did you ever wonder about Little Miss Muffet who sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey?  As a kid, for one thing, I thought it was “way”, and how could you eat that anyway?  And what in the world was a tuffet?  Since then, I learned that a tuffet is similar to a hassock or ottoman.  More importantly, I learned that the “way” was actually whey – the nutrient-rich liquid that is part of the cheese making process.  The curds, the solid part of the process, have a little more notoriety.

So what is whey, by the way? Whey is one of two major proteins found in cow’s milk; the other one is casein. The proteins found in milk are referred to as “complete proteins”, meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs.  Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins that are in every cell in your body.  “Essential” amino acids are the ones that your body can’t make on its own; they need to be obtained from the foods you eat.  Other foods that contain complete proteins include meat, eggs, cheese, fish and poultry.  The high quality protein in cow’s milk is one of the key reasons why milk is such an important human food.

Why is protein such a big deal?  One reason is that protein contains nitrogen, which is necessary for cell life.  Protein is needed to rebuild and repair muscles, and that is really important!  Considering that the heart is a muscle, I want mine to be in great shape!  Also, diets high in protein have been shown to help people feel fuller longer, which may reduce the desire to snack or over-eat, leading to decreased caloric intake. Higher protein, reduced calorie diets have also been shown to improve the quality of weight loss by increasing the loss of body fat and/or reducing the loss of lean muscle. In addition, starting at about the age of forty, muscle mass begins to decline, but including whey protein at each meal can be an easy and healthy way to help minimize this loss.  Need to add some protein to your diet?  Here are some recipes to give you some new ideas.

You may have heard news about chocolate milk being a great after-exercise recovery drink.  The protein in chocolate milk has a lot to do with that!  It helps to build and maintain lean muscle.  But there’s a lot more to chocolate milk than protein – the potassium it contains is an electrolyte that helps regulate fluid balance.  And of course its calcium not only helps maintain strong bones and teeth and reduce the occurrence of stress fractures, it also helps in promoting normal blood pressure.  To see videos about chocolate milk in action, check out: Refuel with Chocolate Milk.

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