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Native Whey - Facts & Fiction

What is Native Whey - Benefits of Native Whey? - Is "Native" whey a scam? The Best Native Whey?

What is Native Whey? 

"The great thing about honest information is that it always makes it's way out there, albeit sometimes it takes the scenic route via pack mule." ~ AGN Roots Founder

At AGN Roots, we've taken on the responsibility to source the best grass-fed whey protein the right way, but also to provide every detail setting the precedent that claims made impacting the welfare of animals, the environment, and our health need to be verified. 

Lately, we've been getting a lot of significant inquiries around the term "Native Whey." As the questions stem from customers who've had recent dealings with a native whey supplier, we've approached this article through the following angles - 

  • What & Why - "Native Whey"
  • Is Native Whey better than Grassfed Whey?
  • Is Native Whey Protein Powder Better than WPC?
  • What's Different about Native Whey? 
  • What are Native Whey Facts?

Background: In the last decade, as the health & wellness boom has naturally elevated discussions around nutrition and specifically whey protein powders, there has been a corresponding rise in the number of whey protein brands representing their products as "native whey." The industry's most popular offenders of false claims like "grass-fed" are private labels and not the significant brands or ingredients companies. In contrast, the big-name brands are notorious for misleading information in terms of the stated benefits of a particular process or product. 

We did the research and are happy to put on paper the facts about Native Whey. The "Native" Whey process was not developed and is not in practice today with the consumer in mind, but rather, this process benefits ONLY the bottom line of the whey suppliers while misleading consumers.  

What Exactly is Native Whey -

The word "native" in this application (adjective to describe the whey) refers to a process in which whey protein and the milk become separated. Emphasizing that the whey as related to being "native" is NOT a byproduct of a cheese manufacturing process (coagulation/curdling) but instead is isolated from the milk by pressuring pasteurized milk through a very small Micro-Filtration (MF) system. The system's membrane is sized-right to allow whey protein particles to permeate while filtering the other macro nutrition (casein proteins, fats, sugars) at the membrane wall. 

Why Does Native Whey Exist -

Despite the promulgation of perceived benefits directed at the consumer as to why Native Whey is superior, the truth is; the driver behind processing whey protein directly from pasteurized milk (native whey) via ultra-filtration and micro-filtration is big business and their bottom-line.

If you are a global leader selling powdered ingredients with no interest in the creation of whole dairy products (cheese manufacturing), the shortest path of whey extraction is best.

This path would not involve curdling (naturally separating curds & whey applying enzymes to warm milk) as curdling requires time, equipment, enzymes, and an exact application of controlled heat. Thus, the native processing method of filtering out whey protein directly from the milk saves the whey supplier time & money.

There is a caveat, however, which is that this practice is only feasible when the milk in question is of low grade and otherwise set for disposal by the farmer as a result of surplus. The ingredient company can then afford to strip the milk of whey and discard the remaining potential for other dairy products to form due to the milk acquisition costing roughly nothing.

Over time Native Whey has been sensationalized by big-dollar marketing while the truth behind it's inception was left behind.

In summary (described in more detail later) "Native Whey" became fashionable for these reasons -

  1. Native whey allows ingredient companies (selling & making dry powders) to cut out the middle man (cheese manufactures) and purchase milk directly from the farms with no dependencies on whole dairy products.
  2. The farmer can sell the milk that otherwise would cost $.03 a gallon to properly dispose directly to the ingredient company.  
  3. The ingredient companies selling Native Whey began providing solutions to problems more easily perceived by consumers by weaving in current and trending verbiage around "Undenatured" & "Cold Processed." 

    What Are the "Native Whey" Talking Points?

    The most common talking points include - 

    1. Native whey is better because it's not a byproduct of cheese manufacturing.
    2. Native whey has Higher Leucine Concentrations than WPC (Whey Protein Concentrate).
    3. Native whey is less denatured or Undenatured or Non-Denatured
    4. Native Whey is Cold Processed

    Is Native Whey Better Than Grassfed Whey?

    At first glance, this question may not sit right. Native whey refers to a process after the milk is pasteurized and has no dependencies on the milk's origin. The native-whey method can easily apply to milk from grass-fed farms; however, it is not likely as you will discover further in the article.

    Benefits of the Cheese Manufacturing "Byproduct" of Traditional Whey Protein -  

    From a global perspective, specialty cheese making is considered a delicacy with traditions and cultures going back centuries, over 7,500 years ago. Cheesemakers care deeply about the quality of their production, a condition that hinges directly on the quality of milk received.

    Grass-fed milk produces the best quality dairy products. When a process like "native" whey processing eliminates the cheese manufacturer from the supply chain, the once existing incentive to procure the highest-quality grassfed milk is gone, replaced for the cheapest milk possible. The business case for the advent of native whey processing represents the same reason why Native whey originates from milk that doesn't meet the minimum quality required by cheesemakers. 

    Native Whey Is Not Better Than Grassfed Whey -

    Grassfed milk is costly compared to milk made from conventional feedlots or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). Organic milk, although not necessarily grass-fed, is also expensive in comparison.

    The reason, grassfed whey is not $25 per lb is because the milk used to make the best-grassfed whey on the planet, is also the same milk that produces the best-grassfed butter, the best-grassfed cheese, etc. All these products are made from the same milk vat and without any waste. This reason is why cheese manufacturers are willing to pay so much for high-quality grassfed milk; they can make, then sell, many high-quality dairy products with it, not just the whey.

    The incentives to start with the best milk are permanently lost using the native-whey process; purchasing high-quality dairy wouldn't be feasible if the byproduct (waste) were everything needed to produce incredible cheeses and butter. 

    Why Does Native Whey Cost More -

    As mentioned above, the costs to process native whey from milk compared to traditional cold processing whey protein isolate are much less (comparing process times). Like any product in the business of perceived health, Native Whey is generally sold as a "premium" product compared to standard cold-processed whey protein despite the underlining quality of the milk and therefore the whey yielding no measurable benefit and in almost all cases a much lower quality.  

    When whole milk is pressured through a mesh size of .05 microns to extract the whey protein directly via the Native Whey process, the macronutrients left (sugar, fat, casein, MFG (milk fat globules) are considered disposable. To cost recover what is usually revenue from high-quality cheese and butter, the native whey producer needs to charge a premium for the whey protein.

    At this point, there is no harm done IF alignment exists between the quality and benefits of the native whey versus the marketed claims.

    The Native Whey Myth Exposed -

    Attempting to distinguish between the numerous angles in which Native Whey markets itself would take some time. Fortunately, no matter the specific nuance in focus (undenatured, cold processed, high leucine content), there is a particular & very false premise to which the advantages of native whey project. This false premise or inference is that there's something about the cheese-making process that renders standard whey protein useless (denatured, non-bio-available) relative to the way native whey is processed. The brands that are responsible for making claims in this space are unfortunately counting on you to make some pragmatic inferences such that you walk away with two beliefs that would never explicitly be published, as they are falsities.

    1. Native whey protein is somehow extracted either before pasteurization or at temperatures less than milk pasteurized before making cheese. Included is the myth that milk, to make cheese, somehow has to go through multiple pasteurization processes; this is simply not true.
    2. The temperature applied to a milk & culture (rennet) mix to separate the curds (casein) from the whey during the initial curdling step of cheese-making is somehow damaging, and more so than pasteurization by itself. Somehow protein structures are permanently deformed and no longer sustain bio-availability as a result of heightened temperature exposure. 

    The Truth About Native Whey: The temperatures seen by milk to make cheese depends on the type of cheese and the rennet used. For soft cheeses, milk requires curdling at lower temperatures, like 84°F. Harder cheeses require higher temperatures like 103°F during the curdling process. As you can probably infer, this is lukewarm at best and isn't even close to the temperature milk undergoes during the pasteurization process, which happens upstream of this step. When it comes to denaturing protein as a result of processing (from liquid to finished product), there are a few steps that can create issues (pasteurization types). Still, the initial phase of cheese making is NOT one of them. 

    For more about the temperatures at which specific protein fractions become susceptible to denaturation, please visit - "Undenatured & Non-denatured."

    Native Whey 101 - What the Science Shows

    If you were to look up the science behind "native whey," you'll find a handful of studies, none of which conclude or even suggest that there is evidence of Native whey being superior to standard whey collected from coagulation. These are two excerpts from the limited studies on the topic of Native Whey - 

    "The mechanisms underlying the beneficial effect of Native Whey remain to be identified. Unfortunately, the experimental approach used in the current study cannot provide direct evidence. Nevertheless, we can speculate about these effects." - Citation (1)

    "...when supplemented as 20 g protein doses immediately and two hours after resistance exercise in elderly individuals. We observed no differences between WPC- 80 and native whey in the ability to stimulate post-exercise.." - Citation (2)

    Native Whey Vs. Whey Protein Isolate -

    Native whey is not better than standard whey protein. 

    When pressuring freshly pasteurized milk across a membrane to isolate out the whey protein from the other macronutrients (fat, sugar, casein), the mesh size needs to be right-sized.

    An optimally sized mesh screen is both big enough for whey protein to permeate the membrane but small enough for casein proteins to be left behind along with the other unwanted components. 

    An individual casein micelle has a diameter of 100nm-250nm (smaller than whey proteins by a factor of ten) and represents the smallest unwanted particle [1]. Allowing for variance and assuming like-particles group together, the mesh size for native whey micro-filtration is tighter than 0.05 Microns.

    In stark contrast, the MF (Micro-filtering) cold processing mesh membranes used in processing conventional whey protein isolate (90% protein by volume), as well as whey protein concentration (80% protein by volume), are much more significant in size, 125 microns.

    The reason that the mesh size for standard cold-pressed (cold processed) whey is much bigger (125 microns vs. 0.05 microns) is because the system isn't optimized to remove casein (casein is already removed via coagulation).

    When preparing conventional whey protein from freshly pasteurized grass-fed milk, the first step is to separate the curds (casein and fat) from the whey via the curdling process. The 125-micron filter only removes excess sugar and fats; all other nutrients quickly permeate the screen.

    The question then becomes, "What are the unintended consequences of Native Whey due to the use of such a small tight membrane of < .05 Microns, what else falls victim to that filter?

    Does Native Whey Contain Less Glutathione?

    Yes, Native Whey, although a high protein content commensurate with a whey protein isolate (> 90% protein, thus marketed as containing "more leucine" than whey protein concentrate - True in a gram for gram comparison), native whey will provide a lot less GSH (Glutathione). GSH exists within the membrane surrounding a milk fat globule (MFG). The MFG particle is much bigger than 0.05 microns, thus is not able to permeate through the native whey micro-filter mesh. In contrast, GSH quickly passes through the 125-micron micro-filtration system endemic to standard cold processed whey. 

    What Impact Does The Native Whey Process Have on the Other Protein Fractions?

    The average particle size for Whey Protein Fractions is 20nm (.02 Microns).  When the particle sizes of the protein fractions fall, a single standard deviation outside of the .02 Micron average, the Native Whey process inadvertently strips the protein fractions out. 

    In closing, when it comes to whey protein supplementation, there are many whey protein forms to consider.  We would be remiss to guide you away from grass-fed whey protein isolate due to the massive difference in nutrient potential.  When it comes to the goal of most around muscle protein synthesis and achieving our daily intake goals of branched-chain amino acids, essential amino acids, lactoferrin, & glutathione, hands down, grass-fed whey isolate is the way to go!

    For more information or questions you have, please feel free to reach out and contact us!

    ~AGN Roots Grassfed Whey Team 

    Grass-Fed Whey, Sourced the Right Whey!

    [1] Morr, C V. “Chemistry of milk proteins in food processing.” Journal of dairy science vol. 58,7 (1975): 977-84. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(75)84669-8
    Garcia-Vicencio, Sebastian et al. "A Moderate Supplementation of Native Whey Protein Promotes Better Muscle Training and Recovery Adaptations Than Standard Whey Protein - A 12-Week Electrical Stimulation and Plyometrics Training Study." Frontiers in physiology vol. 9 1312. 19 Sep. 2018, DOI:10.3389/fphys.2018.01312
    Hamarsland, H et al. “Native Whey Induces Similar Post Exercise Muscle Anabolic Responses as Regular Whey, Despite Greater Leucinemia, in Elderly Individuals.” The journal of nutrition, health & aging vol. 23,1 (2019): 42-50. doi:10.1007/s12603-018-1105-6
    "Finding Good Milk For Cheese Making.New England Cheesemaking Supply Company,
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