Whey protein isolate is a highly refined protein supplement made from whey, the byproduct of making cheese and other milk products. Other whey protein supplements exist, but whey protein isolate is lower in lactose than the other types, making it tolerable for some people who are sensitive to lactose. For vegetarians, the supplement may help provide some of the protein needed in a meat-free diet. Always ask your doctor before adding any new supplements to your routine.
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A protein deficiency can lead to fatigue, muscle loss, muscle weakness and slow growth in children. For athletes who don’t get enough protein, muscle growth and repair can be endangered. People who are vegetarians may not get enough protein, because protein-rich fish, chicken, beef and pork are not part of the vegetarian lifestyle. Alternatively, busy vegetarians may eat protein plentifully, but may fail to combine their non-meat protein foods with the grains necessary to provide all the amino acids found in meat. A third issue which whey protein may address is lactose intolerance, an issue for vegetarians who can’t have milk products for protein.
For vegetarians, whey protein isolate is meant to fill the gap left from a meatless diet, or one in which combining foods for complete amino acids isn’t always feasible. The supplement may be added to smoothies or juice or used in baking. According to the National Dairy Council, whey protein isolate provides nutrients for people who can’t get complete proteins from meat or from combining plant proteins, or those who are sensitive to the lactose in dairy products. The NDC also states that whey protein isolate, a source of branched-chain amino acids such as leucine, works with the protein in your muscles to build and repair tissue.
Professional opinions vary on the wisdom of using protein powders as a supplement. MayoClinic.com gives whey protein products an “A” for providing protein to the daily diet, and notes that they provide an easily-digested form of protein. But WomensHealth.gov also addresses the use of whey protein isolate and other protein powders as a supplement for a vegetarian lifestyle. The government health website notes that if vegetarians combine high-protein plant or dairy foods with grains, they’ll get all the amino acids needed for complete protein. A rice and beans dish is a classic example of a complete vegetarian protein, as is a grilled cheese sandwich or a roll spread with nut butter. Your doctor can best advise you if whey protein isolate is suitable for you and your family.
Protein is just one nutrient vegetarians must be especially aware of, notes the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Zinc and iron, which are plentiful in red and white meats, are more of a challenge with a vegetarian lifestyle. Eating foods high in vitamin C while consuming plant-based iron sources such as legumes and spinach can help your body better absorb iron. The best way to get the amount of zinc you need is to eat a wide range of foods. If your diet tends to also be low on dairy products, be sure to ask your doctor about supplements for such nutrients as vitamins B12 and D.