In the world of health and fitness, “organic” is a pretty common word. Unfortunately, there tends to be a pretty considerable debate about what actually constitutes organic. Different countries have different standards, and people have varying opinions on the validity of those rules. The situation get’s even more complicated when it comes to organic whey protein powder, and other products that are derived from milk. With all this confusion, some might feel like organic whey protein is just a myth – that manufacturers simply use “organic” as a marketing blurb. Further, you may even wonder if it matters at all.
So, let’s take a closer look at what whey is, how it’s produced, what it takes for something to be considered organic in the United States and why you should care.
What Is Whey?
To really understand whey, we need to start at the beginning. As mentioned, whey protein powder is a dairy product – derived from milk. In reality, whey is a byproduct of the cheese-making process and – for a long time was basically considered waste. When a farmer would set out to make cheese, the first thing they would do was curdle milk, whether with heat, acid, or some other device. While “curdling” isn’t typically an appetizing concept, this process separates the solid and liquid portions of milk. The solid curds are skimmed off and used to make cheese (or casein protein, if desired). What about the liquid?
That’s your whey.
As mentioned, cheese-makers for centuries found uses for this ample, nutrient-rich fluid that included everything from animal feed to fertilizer. Part of the problem, though, is that this liquid whey is not very appealing, somewhat bitter and a little difficult to transport. Eventually, though, it was realized that the whey could be dehydrated and converted into a much more useful powder for human consumption.
But we’re supposed to be talking about organic whey protein, why does any of this matter?
Because once you understand where whey comes from and how it’s made, you can thoroughly appreciate the impact that the life of the cow has on what’s in your tub.
Conventional Treatment and Dairy
So what does the standard cow endure? When it comes to dairy, there are several steps that the farmers take in an effort to keep their cows productive and free of infection. For one thing, the cows are often injected with hormones that stimulant greater milk yields. Animals are also regularly given antibiotics to kill off any harmful microorganisms. Interestingly, cows that are given hormone injections tend to develop more udder infections – which, in turn, requires more antibiotics.
In addition, whether the cows are fed on feedlots or in pastures, they food crops are routinely treated with pesticides. This is done to try to increase the yield and availability of food, while keeping any potentially harmful pests out of the cows’ way.
Now, this is where the debate typically begins. Do these hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides effect the health of cows?
As we’ve seen, yes. The use of hormones, namely recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), has been shown to cause a variety of health problems in cows. But, what about us?
The Ongoing Debate
It turns out this is a pretty controversial subject. According to the American Cancer Society, early studies did show an increased risk of breast, prostate, colorectal and other cancers, but these findings have been contested by subsequent studies. Still, if there’s even a chance that these hormones can increase the risk of cancer, why risk it?
But here’s the thing, both the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture have reported that the levels of antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones that actually make it into our dairy is not significant enough to cause problems.
Of course, this does not acknowledge the findings regarding cancer we’ve already mentioned or the possible complications of repeat exposure. After all, you don’t just throw back one whey drink every couple of months. You probably have one or more scoops each day, plus milk, cheese and other dairy. The point is, even if one bottle of milk has small amounts of these ominous substances, the average person is exposed to many small doses over a long stretch of time.
What It Means To Be Organic
So, is there a better option? Organic seems to be it, but does it live up to the expectations?
Again, definitions of “organic” vary from country to country, with the United States actually practicing fairly lenient standards compared to others. To be certified organic by the USDA, a dairy farm must:
Use no synthetic pesticides
Use no hormones
Use no antibiotics
Use no foods treated with these substances.
No genetic manipulation
Cows must be pasture-fed
Of course, the rules are much are detailed than that, but that’s a basic overview of the key points. In order to gain – and maintain – this certification, farms must undergo regular inspections and testing.
Perhaps the biggest, most influential difference, though, is that cows must be pasture-fed for the farm to be awarded organic status. Why is that such a big deal? While the research about how much those hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides influences the end-product is controversial, there is solid evidence that pasture-fed cattle ultimately leads to a superior product. Specifically, meat and dairy – including whey – produced by grass-fed cattle is higher in omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids, while containing lower levels of saturated fats.
So, even if you aren’t concerned about the potentially carcinogenic hormone disruptions associated with conventionally farmed dairy, milk from organic cattle does have a distinct nutritional advantage.
The Gnarly Difference
Based on all of the above, Gnarly is proud to say that we produce our whey from New Zealand organic cattle for an all-the-way-around superior product. The organic dairy standards of New Zealand are very high – dictating that the cows must be pasture-fed and free from an exposure to GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides.
Gnarly Whey, then, is delicious and higher in everything you want from your whey protein powder. At the same time, there is nothing in that tub that you want to avoid – even in the smallest doses.