Does Whey Protein Raise Cholesterol?

Scoop of chocolate whey isolate protein in black plastic containter
Whey protein powder comes in several flavors. (Image: deymos/iStock/Getty Images)

Whey protein is naturally found in milk and sold as a supplement for anyone who needs to boost protein consumption. It should not raise cholesterol -- in fact preliminary research suggests it may help lower cholesterol. However, you should still consume whey only in moderation as part of a balanced diet -- whey supplements do contain small amounts of cholesterol, so they contribute to your cholesterol consumption and count toward your daily intake limit.

Whey Protein Basics

Milk contains two major groups of proteins known as casein and whey. Whey protein is metabolized faster than casein, resulting in a rapid increase of amino acids in the bloodstream, notes a review in the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition" in September 2007. By comparison, casein causes a moderate but longer-lasting increase in amino acids. Whey protein is a better source of branched-chain amino acids, which provide energy for your muscles. Branched-chain amino acids help boost protein production in muscles and may reduce exercise-induced muscle damage, according to a report in the “Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness” in September 2008.

Impact on Cholesterol

Scientific studies suggest that whey protein may help lower cholesterol, but results have been inconsistent, and more research is needed to determine whether it’s effective, notes a December 2013 report in “Nutrition Research Reviews.” An earlier study published in “Clinical Nutrition” in August 2011 found that cholesterol and triglyceride levels dropped in overweight women who took whey protein for four weeks. When overweight subjects took either whey or casein supplements, the group that consumed whey had lower cholesterol after 12 weeks than the group that took casein, according to the study in the September 2010 issue of the “British Journal of Nutrition.”

Cholesterol in Whey Supplements

The amount of cholesterol you’ll get from whey protein powders varies quite a bit from one brand to the next. For example, one brand may have 35 milligrams of cholesterol per scoop of powder, while another one has double that amount. If your serving of whey protein has 60 milligrams, it provides 20 percent of your daily cholesterol, based on American Heart Association recommendations to limit cholesterol to no more than 300 milligrams daily. Cholesterol from supplements counts as part of your total intake; cut back on high-cholesterol foods if necessary so you don't consume more than the recommended amount.

Protein Recommendations

Most people consume enough protein in their diet that they don’t need supplements, reports Iowa State University. Your protein needs may increase if you’re involved in sports or other athletic activities, but even then the International Society of Sport Nutrition recommends getting all of your protein from whole foods. If you decide to take supplemental protein, the duration and intensity of your activities determine how much you need. The recommended daily intake is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. By comparison, women athletes may need 66 grams to 94 grams of protein daily, while protein needs for male athletes may increase to 84 grams to 119 grams daily, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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