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Beware of Questionable Whey Proteins Labeled “100% Grass Fed”

Does “Grass-Fed” mean high quality? Not always when it comes to whey proteins. If you’ve tried a few of the “grass fed” whey proteins, you’ve probably noticed poor solubility and a strange aftertaste in some of them. So what does that mean?

It means that some grass fed whey brands are of inferior quality. And yes, what you taste is what you get.

The notion has been widely circulated that grass fed cows always yield the best whey proteins. But in reality, “grass fed” is only one of several criteria you need to consider when evaluating whey protein quality. If the whey is derived from grass fed cows but fails the other criteria, it cannot be classified as a quality whey.

The whey industry, like any other, is driven by profit. And just as in any other profit driven activity some segments will “cross the line,” sacrificing quality for profitability.

There is a dirty little secret that lets whey distributors sell cheaply produced low quality grass-fed whey proteins at premium high prices — — and it’s 100% legal and legit. All they need to do is purchase whey powders that are industrial by-products of casein manufacturing and label them as premium whey. It’s just that simple. Some of these companies even claim special attributes or processing which allegedly distinguish their products from those of their competitors. Some say their product comes from USDA certified grass fed cows. It’s all a smoke screen, because “grass fed” is not the only thing that determines whey quality.

How can you recognize a questionable grass fed whey?

Start by checking the claims on the packaging.

If the label claims “our whey is not a by-product of cheese manufacturing,” it means the company selling this whey is trying to fool you into believing their product is superior to cheese whey.
Two of the main determiners of whey quality is what happened to the milk before the whey was produced; and what kind of manufacturing is used to produce the whey. To be classified as a quality whey, the proteins needs to be derived from whole milk used for sweet cheese production. A whey protein claiming to “not be a by-product of cheese manufacturing” is most likely a by-product of industrial casein manufacturing, which is cheaper (i.e., more profitable) and of lower quality.

There are two kinds of casein whey: acid casein whey and rennet casein whey. Both are commonly used in industrial and agricultural applications (plastics, canned foods, animal feed), and both can be labeled as expensive premium grass fed whey if they originate from places like Australia and New Zealand where pasture feeding is most common practice.

Beware of Questionable Whey Proteins Labeled Grass FedCheese Whey vs. Casein Whey

Unlike cheese whey which is derived from whole milk that is carefully handled to maintain its raw whole milk properties and good flavoring, casein whey is derived from skim milk which is processed and nutritionally deficient. Casein whey is more acidic — — this is what gives it the funky aftertaste. It also has very poor solubility in its non-instantized form, which indicates broken proteins and possibly rancidity. And it contains casein, an ingredient that is not appealing to many whey consumers who are sensitive to casein.

How to Choose Your Whey?

Don’t let whey companies fool you with fancy grass-fed labels and high prices. When you choose a whey protein, trust your own senses. You’ll be able to instantly notice how viable the whey protein is by checking its smell, taste and solubility. If the whey powder has a bad smell, poor solubility and a funky after taste, stay away from it as this may indicate low quality, degradation, rancidity or spoilage.

Ask the company who distributes your “grass fed” whey to reveal whether their product is made from casein or from sweet cheese manufacturing. If the whey distributor refuses to address that question, he may have something to hide.

Another important criterion: one of the major differences between sweet cheese whey and casein whey is fat content. Ask the whey distributor for a certificate of analysis. Casein whey has only 1 percent fat (similar to whey isolate) whereas quality sweet cheese whey has 4-6 percent fat. Check the fat content on the certificate of analysis as this will give you another clue about the whey’s quality.

So the bottom line here is that there is no shortcut for determining quality in whey proteins. You need to go past the “grass fed” label and the high price. Evaluate taste, smell, solubility and fat content. Only then will you know if the whey product in your hands is of the quality that you should make part of your life.


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About Ori Hofmekler — founder of Defense Nutrition and author of The Warrior Diet, is a nutritional and fitness expert. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

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