The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

Dairy is Whey More than Milk

By Hon. Tom Vilsack
World Food Prize Council of Advisors

Whey protein can become an effective weapon in the fight against global malnutrition and food insecurity

Hon. Tom Vilsack

What do people think when they hear the word “dairy?” 

Some see a tall glass of milk like the one my late friend Dr. Norman Borlaug drank every morning to kickstart his day with protein. Others visualize a slice of melted cheddar cheese on their hamburger, or an ice cream sundae topped with a cherry.

Few people think of whey protein.

As the former U.S. Agriculture Secretary and the current CEO and president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), I want to see that perception change, both in the United States and globally. I’m excited about the health benefits of whey protein and its potential to become a reliable arrow in the quiver of tools fighting nutrition insecurity worldwide.

Whey protein is easily digested and works well in products designed to quickly provide nutrients to the body. Bodybuilders have used it for years after working out, and the rest of the world is catching on to whey protein’s health benefits..

Literally thousands of new applications are being created every year. Whey protein has become a common ingredient in pancake mix, soup, chocolate bars, chips and more.

Yet, most people don’t know where whey protein comes from. In one study, only 25 percent knew it comes from milk. More people (29 percent) thought whey protein is a wheat product.

What exactly is whey protein? The famous nursery rhyme provides a clue.

"Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey; along came a spider, who sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away."

Whey is the liquid expelled from curds during the making of cheese. Years ago, whey was mostly discarded, put on farmers’ fields or given to nutrition-savvy people like Miss Muffet. Today, the United States is meeting increasing global demand of whey protein, with minimal processing, by turning it into three main types of powders:

  • Sweet Whey (DSW), which typically contains 11% to 14.5% protein.
  • Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) is more concentrated, with common protein levels of 34 percent or 80 percent (WPC34 and WPC80).
  • Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) has even higher protein content, 90% or greater.

I see potential for these protein-packed ingredients to help fight malnutrition. The World Food Program states, “There is a clear need to accelerate reductions in malnutrition, which remains the underlying cause of 45 percent of deaths among children under 5 annually.”

One major problem is stunting, the impaired growth and development that children can experience from poor nutrition. An estimated one out of four children is stunted worldwide. In some countries, like Vietnam, it’s closer to one out of three. This results in decreased learning capacity, reduced wages and a growing risk of chronic diseases.

No wonder the Vietnamese government has set an ambitious goal of increasing the average height of its citizens an inch or more by 2020, largely through an expanded school milk program.

Literally raising the stature of your citizens is a noble goal. So is fighting obesity.

Research we have conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstrates that whey protein helps decrease abdominal fat and reduces weight. This finding has been confirmed by several reviews and meta-analyses. 

Dairy, including whey protein, can improve health outcomes, which in turn leads to economic growth. According to research from The World Bank, reducing the prevalence of stunting can increase gross domestic product by up to 11 percent a year in Asia and Africa.”

In May, USDEC teamed up with the United Dairymen of Idaho (UDI) to gather nutrition researchers, international development executives, private voluntary organizations, food product developers and U.S. dairy suppliers in Boise, Idaho. We focused on the links between stunting, economic growth in the developing world and consumption of dairy-containing supplements.

Dr. Borlaug believed in the power of science to change agriculture and the power of agriculture to change lives. No better example exists to support his belief than milk - nature's perfect food.

07/10/2017 9:02 AM |Add a comment |Comments (1)
Excellent article and refreshing to hear dairy and it's benefits being exulted! My dad was a dairy scientist, Penn State 1961, and always spoke of dairy being what he called a "complete food."

Dana Wendt | | | 07/11/2017 10:31 PM
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