Protein supplements, have you ever wondered what those terms mean on the label?
By Dr. L. Lee Coyne, Ph.D.
- 5 min read.
Photo by Jose Soriano / Unsplash
Have you ever wondered about the jargon used in protein supplement advertising and in popular articles extolling the virtues and pitfalls of various types of protein supplements?
The following is an abridged explanation of some commonly used terms which hopefully will make you a more informed consumer.
Soy, Whey, or Egg Protein "CONCENTRATE"
This usually refers to a protein supplement source which has been concentrated through high heat drying (dehydration), acid extraction or filtration to reduce the original source to a more concentrated protein commodity.
This is the least expensive method of protein extraction but unfortunately other things like lactose, fat and some impurities are also concentrated with it.
It is usually 60 - 70 percent protein by dry weight.
Soy or Whey Protein "ISOLATE"
Isolates are created through an alcohol wash or a water wash or some ionization concentration techniques.
The objective is to separate the carbohydrates and fats from the protein. The water method is the least expensive and the ionization technique is the most expensive method.
The concentrate or should I say isolate is then filtered to further purify the protein fraction. In the case of soy protein isolates, the alcohol version will be devoid of the now famous "isoflavones" which are the "phytochemicals" on soy responsible for many of the "good" things attributed to soy.
Isolates are usually 90 - 95 percent protein and the best will be water extracted.
Microfiltration and Cross Microfiltration
These are merely terms to describe the type of filter used to further remove some of the unwanted variables from the concentrated protein.
No Magic here - just a process similar to Reverse Osmosis in the water purification industry.
All molecules possess negative or positive electrical charges. This method extracts or separates protein molecules from most other fractions in the source by taking advantage of these electrical charges.
It is primarily used to create Whey Protein Isolates. Again, No Magic here.
Hydrolyzed or hydrolyses is a method of adding water to protein molecules to help break (lyses) them into smaller parts called peptides.
Peptides are collections of 2 to 5 amino acid (the building blocks of protein) chains which are theoretically absorbed faster. It is something like a form of pre-digestion.
My sources indicate that this method is the most expensive approach to concentrating proteins and rarely appears as the first ingredient on a protein supplement label.
Some companies will add enough to get it on the label in an attempt to make their product look better.
A second issue is that unless you are very ill (hospitalized and on venous drip) or you have a very challenged digestive system, there will be little benefit to this more expensive version.
Rapid absorption might be of value to rapid recovery during a long power lifting competition.
PER (Protein Efficiency Ratio)
An outdated method of evaluating protein quality based on the rate of growth of young rats using various protein combinations.
A PER above 2.5 was considered excellent based on Egg and casein (milk protein) with a PER of 3.0.
This method gave too much weight to the importance of the essential amino acid Methionine which is more important to developing hair on the rat than it is to human nutrition.
NPU (Net Protein Utilization)
Another outdated or seldom used measure to reflect the value of protein foods.
It is basically the amount of protein that a given food makes available to your body based on digestibility and the amino acid composition.
A value of 100 indicates that every of protein eaten would be used to produce lean tissue. The highest NPU is egg protein with a score of 94.
BV (Biological Value)
Also outdated but it is a system which evaluates protein based on the amount of nitrogen retained by the body after absorption of a protein food.
Again the egg is the standard and the highest value possible is 100 even though some companies try to tell you different about their products.
A mouthful but currently the protein quality system considered to be most reliable.
The highest score is 1.0 and this is given to any protein source considered complete for use by the human body.
Soy protein isolates, egg white, whey protein isolates and casein proteins supplements all scored 1.0 on this test.
Beef scored 0.92 and beans were at 0.68.
Hopefully this little exercise helps you become a wiser consumer.
About the Author
Dr. L. Lee Coyne, the Healthy Professor, is a nutritional consultant, lecturer and author of Fat Won't Make You Fat and the LeanSeekers nutrition program. He may be reached at 1-800-668-4042 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org