That is the question posed by Dr Ian Givens as he takes to the stage at the inaugural Food Protein Vision event in Amsterdam next month.
Here, he highlights dairy proteins’ role as an underestimated solution to tackling long-term disorders, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and poor bone formation that are proliferating in modern society.
“I think the biggest nutrition-health challenge we face relates to type 2 diabetes,” he said. “There is emerging evidence that whey protein (and maybe others) have the ability to stimulate insulin production.
“This of course is not much help if the individual is insulin resistant but I think this is a potentially a valuable finding which needs further development. If effective the impact would be very large.”
Dr Givens, professor of food chain nutrition at the University of Reading, refers to research that looks at whey protein’s abilities to slow gastric emptying and stimulate incretin hormone secretion
This in turn, reduces the post-meal glycaemic response. Whey protein is also a source of amino acids, which also affect insulin secretion, contributing to the reduction in post-meal glycaemic response.
With the rising burden of diabetes worldwide, this may represent a cost-effective nutritional approach to improve fluctuating blood sugar levels.
Processed English breakfasts
However, Dr Givens recognises more aspects need a closer inspection, not least the long-term benefits of its consumption for overall glycaemic control.
The optimal dose and timing of whey protein intake is also a consideration.
“For reducing muscle mass loss in the elderly the greatest effect is when protein is consumed immediately after resistance exercise,” he explained.
“Both have an anabolic effect but together the effect is greater than the sum of individual effects.
“There is some evidence that consuming more protein in the first meal of the day reduces hunger more effectively.
“It is interesting to note that the so-called English breakfast used to be protein rich but has been rapidly replaced by carbohydrates, often substantially processed.”
The demand for protein-based food products is a topic that has generated much interest, not least because of its relevance to the ordinary consumer, professional athlete and the elderly.
Food Protein Vision looks to discuss its popularity, long-term viability and the issues that are determining the protein space for business, research and regulation.
In particular, experts like Dr Givens will discuss current protein trends such as the consumer interest in increasing dietary protein content.
“For most people the combination of slightly increased protein intake coupled with low GI carbohydrate is helpful to reduce weight regain after weight loss,” he explained.
“Protein is the most satiating of the macro nutrients,” Dr Givens added. “The combination of resistance exercise and protein has been shown to reduce muscle loss in the elderly (and of course increase it in young sport individuals). So the evidence for protein is quite strong but its effect, if nothing else is done, will be more limited.”
Dr Givens’ presentation, entitled ‘Dairy proteins: The overlooked weapon in the fight against chronic diseases’ is just one health aspect that Food Protein Vision intends to highlight.
In summing up what the gathered audience can expect, the professor is adamant the evidence presented so far points to a health-enhancing nutrient that provides space and opportunity for product innovation.
“Broadly there seems to be advantages of milk proteins (whey protein especially) in relation to muscle issues and our work suggests similar benefits of whey protein for blood pressure reduction and glucose disposal.
“There may be other mechanisms but the branched chain amino acids, leucine in particular seem to be important and whey protein is a rich source.”