What Is Whey? Is Whey Dairy?

  • Article
  • 2 min read November 21, 2017

During your last visit to the local grocery store or walk through the health food aisle, you may have noticed drink mixes, protein bars, even yogurt cups calling out one specific ingredient: Whey. What is it? Is whey dairy?

Whey is found in dairy and is one of the two major high-quality proteins found naturally in cow’s milk.

How Whey Protein is Made

Whey protein comes from the cheesemaking process. When special enzymes are added to the milk, it separates into curds (which are used to make cheese) and liquid whey. The whey protein is then pasteurized and dried so it can be used as a key ingredient in some drink mixes, protein bars and other foods.

What Does Whey Protein Do? What is it Used For?

While most of us meet our minimum protein requirements, some (including athletes, older adults and those trying to manage their weight) may benefit from a diet higher in protein, and that’s where whey protein can help.  

That’s because whey protein contains all of the essential amino acids (or “building blocks”) that your body needs, plus it’s rapidly digested. Some folks may add more whey to their diet, in combination with resistance exercise, because it contains leucine, which has been shown to rebuild muscle when enough is eaten.*

Incorporating whey protein can help with weight management goals. A 2021 review found that increasing protein in diets led to improvements in body weight changes. Furthermore, whey protein may have beneficial effects on other metabolic measures like waist circumference, blood pressure, blood lipids and blood sugar according to a 2019 review.

Whey protein can also play a beneficial role in blood sugar management, particularly if consumed before a meal. A recent systematic and meta-analysis  found that premeal whey protein can improve post-meal blood sugar levels. Therefore, whey could be a useful addition in the diets of folks with Type 2 Diabetes.

Whey protein incorporation, alongside healthy lifestyle and resistance exercise, may help maintain or improve muscle mass, strength and physical function in older adults according to recent systematic review and meta-analysis.

If you’re looking to try whey protein, one simple way is to add whey protein powder to smoothies, oatmeal, soups, baked goods and other recipes.

* ~2.5 grams per 20 grams protein.