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Health Food of the month - Curds and Whey

March 2019

Bowl of separated milk into curds and whey
Milk can separate into solid curds and liquid whey

Previous Health Foods of the Month...





Diet & Supplements Index

Curds and especially whey are once more on the menu

Do modern children know about little Miss Muffett? This nursery rhyme was certainly still popular when most of us were kids, telling us about this little girl who sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey.

In those days, when quite a few families still made their own cheese and dairy products, children may have known what curds and whey were. In more recent times though, few would have come across curd and whey in a modern kitchen.

But then the cycle of change continued, and in the last few years anyone with any interest in fitness will recognise the word whey. Whey protein and special whey powders are one of the key ingredients used in after exercise shakes used to build muscle.

Both curds and whey come from milk. Milk itself is a mixture of water, sugar (lactose), protein, minerals and fats, and to make cheese, an acid such as vinegar or citric acid is added to the milk. The result of the chemical reaction between the acid and the fats and protein in the milk makes the milk curdle. Natural curdling can also happen when you keep milk too long. Then it naturally curdles from a similar process but the milk becomes spoiled because of the growth of bacteria.

When acid is added to fresh milk in the right quantities, the curdling will transform the milk into heavier lumpy pieces clumping together into curds, and a thin lighter liquid called whey. This basic principle of separating milk into curds and whey is key in certain cheeses such as ricotta and cottage cheese. 

In the modern health and body building industry, the separated whey liquid can be processed to produce a very high protein end product. Whey protein is also considered to be a complete protein as it contains all 9 essential amino acids plus it is low in lactose. Whey on its own doesn’t take very appealing, but when flavour is added, it can be turned into great shakes, meal replacements and protein bars. Taking whey protein can be a pleasant and easy way to add high levels of protein into your diet.

Today modern whey supplements usually come in WPC, WP1 or WPH forms. WPC stands for whey protein concentrate and can contain various levels of protein, generally between 30 to 90 percent, and typically contains low levels of carbohydrates and fat. WPI or whey protein isolate contains higher levels of protein, usually at least 90 per cent and contains no fat or lactose. The third, WHP or whey protein hydrolysate, contains high protein but is also processed to help the body absorb the protein really fast.

Recent research from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, suggests that whey protein could be the most effective way for seniors struggling to rebuild muscle lost from inactivity caused by illness or other problems. They found that if seniors took whey protein while inactive, then muscle loss could continue; but once activities resumed, then whey supplements helped to rebuild muscle. Stuart Phillips, professor of kinesiology at McMaster and the senior author involved in the research said that the important message is that not all proteins are created equal. “Whey is one of the highest quality proteins and is ideal for older persons,” he said.

It can be difficult to ensure you eat enough protein. Very generally the guidelines for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you weigh in pounds, then multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 for your recommended protein intake. For instance, a 140-pound person would need 140 x 0.36 or 50 grams of protein a day; a 160-pound person would need 160 x 0.36 or 58 grams of protein a day. When you consider one egg contains just 6g of protein and a chicken breast around 30g of protein, it can be hard to ensure you take in adequate amounts. So adding whey supplements to a diet can seem an easy solution, but there are lots of aspects to this including the fact that the supplements may be lacking in many of the other key essential nutrients that also come with meat, eggs and other high protein food. There are also some reports that in certain cases too much whey protein can damage the kidneys and liver and even cause osteoporosis.

As always, if you are considering taking a whey protein supplement, have a word with your doctor first.

Finally, lemon curd is a different type of curd entirely, made usually from lemons, butter, eggs and sugar. With its fresh and lovely flavour, lemon curd would surely have been far more appealing to little Miss Muffett than the basic milk curds and whey that she was happily eating before the big spider frightened her.


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