Does Heating Protein Powder Denature It?January 7, 2016
Wow, this is a million dollar question! As a registered and licensed dietitian working with the weight loss surgery community, it is a frequent question. If I counted the times I’m asked about this and exchanged it for dollars I might be rich by now! For the answer, I’ve reached out to food industry manufacturers, scientists, and other healthcare professionals and the consensus is YES.
I want this article to be informative in your weight loss journey, helping each of you to achieve your nutrition and weight loss goals. As you know, protein is essential and you may find that getting the needed protein into your daily diet can be challenging. After reading this article, you’ll have information you need to enjoy scrumptious foods and beverages that will meet your nutrition needs, and help you achieve your goals.
Getting to Know Protein
Protein is one of the three main building blocks of food, along with carbohydrates and fat. Protein is necessary throughout life, building cells, tissues, and muscles in the body. It also repairs and helps your body heal cuts and wounds.
Protein is made up of amino acids which are needed for muscle growth, maintaining protein stores depleted during exercise, and aiding in the repair of damaged muscles. It also plays a key role in the immune system helping to build the antibodies to protect the body from viruses, and bacteria.
What is Denaturation?
It is the process during which the molecular structure of protein is modified or changed by the addition of heat, acid, or alkali substances. Think about it this way: protein is sensitive to heat, so if it is mixed with liquid that is too hot (above 140 degrees Fahrenheit) it will clump. This is a lot like the reaction you see when you cook an egg, and the texture changes from being a liquid to being more of a gel or solid. In the cooking process, the texture is the only thing that changes, not the nutrition. The egg still contains the same amino acid makeup and nutrients that were there before cooking.
While it's true that proteins can be denatured or altered by heat, unless the protein structure is particularly delicate or exposed to extremely high temperatures for extended periods of time, any denaturation that takes place is likely to be minimal. It is also important to keep in mind that denatured does not equal non-nutritious or unavailable nutrients.
Your body denatures protein through normal digestion. Enzymes in the body that breakdown the food in the stomach will denature the protein. The amino acids in protein unfold and separate during normal digestion. This does not eliminate the nutrients or mean the food has no value. The stomach acid and digestive enzymes break protein into smaller and smaller sections so that it can absorbed.
All protein denatures when it is heated; this includes soy, meat, eggs and fish to name a few. That is why egg whites and fish change appearance and become opaque when they are cooked. Even marinating fish or seafood in an acid like lime or lemon juice will denature it.
Good Things to Eat
There is welcome news on the horizon with the growing interest in health and wellness. Food and beverages manufacturers are touting protein and boosting protein content in their products. According to Packaged Facts report released in 2014,”Functional Foods: Key Trends & Developments in Ingredients,” protein is the hottest functional food ingredient trend in the United States.
Many food and beverage companies are now including whey and plant-based proteins as the protein source in innovative new options on product shelves. Commercial bakers often include whey protein in some of their products to enhance browning and create a fine, even crumb. Whey protein can also extend the shelf life of certain products. The addition of whey protein in baked goods improves the nutrient content of protein and minerals.
You can enjoy all of your personal recipes that include cooked and uncooked protein powders. Protein powders are a great way to boost protein consumption and meet your estimated daily needs. You can definitely cook with protein powder. Yes, heating will slightly denature the protein, but as stated earlier, this will not have a negative impact on the overall functionality of the protein once it enters your body.
If you’re cooking pork or chicken, the recommended internal temperature for those protein sources to reach is 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Though the oven dial may show a higher oven temperature, the interior temp of the meat is significantly lower and the protein will experience minimal denaturation.
When baking with whey protein powder, you will want to decrease the cooking temperature or the cooking time slightly to prevent browning the food too quickly. It is not advised to substitute whey protein powder for all of the flour in a recipe or you will end up with a finished product that most likely will not rise correctly. The rule of thumb is to exchange 1/3 cup whey protein powder for flour in a recipe. You may also need to increase the liquid in the recipe slightly or add a bit more oil, applesauce or cottage cheese to make the finished product moister.
Whey protein powder mixes smoothly into tolerant batters, such as those for pancakes, waffles, or boxed cake mixes. Add just a scoop or two to boost the protein content. A scoop is generally equal to about 1/3 cup and contains between 20 and 25 grams of protein. If you're making your own protein bars, you may be better off finding a whey protein powder recipe with the ingredient ratios adjusted to accommodate the addition of powder.
You may also stir whey protein powder into cooled prepared oatmeal or grits. As a snack, you can blend the powder with peanut butter and roll it into candy-like balls. For hot beverages or soup, heat milk or water first to 140 degrees or less and follow the package directions or recipe.
I’ve included just a few suggestions for pumping up the protein with whey powder. You can also find many healthy, nutrient dense recipes on numerous online resources.
Daniels, Stephen, (Dec. 23, 2014) ‘Protein is the hottest functional food ingredient trend in the United States’: Packaged Facts
ABOUT THE AUTHORMichelle Stewart, MPH, RDLD/N, CDE, better known as the "The Nutrition Planner" is a registered and licensed dietitian with extensive experience in both clinical and food serviced management. Michelle is a Certified Diabetes Educator, and also holds certifications in Adult, Adolescent, and Childhood Obesity and is a Certified Wellness Coach. Michelle serves on several boards including FAND, Family and Consumer Sciences Family Nutrition Program, HEBNI International, Body Mechanics Wellness Foundation, and, Nutrition & Fitness Taskforce of Broward County.