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Is This the Best Protein Shake Ever?

If your whey protein has the right blend of add-ins, you can do your muscles AND heart good service.

The Science:

Losing fat, preserving muscle, and increasing your strength and size are probably the main reasons you drink whey protein shakes. (Check out some other health benefits here). But a team of Lithuanian scientists found particular shake and smoothie add-ins can have a major impact on your health. 

The researchers discovered that adding calcium, Vitamin D and prebiotic dietary fiber to a protein shake (made from curd whey) can boost your heart health. In the study, published recently in the CyTA—Journal of Food the team created two different versions of a whey-based beverage. 

Vitamin D and prebiotic dietary fiber were added to both drinks, only one was enriched with calcium phosphate (the main form of calcium found in cattle milk and blood), while the other was supplemented with calcium lactate (a salt found in cheese that’s also used medicinally as an antacid and to treat calcium deficiencies)—all with the purpose of seeing how the additives would affect the health of volunteers and the beverages’ overall taste, texture, and smell.

Trained tasters and volunteers tasted the two; they didn’t find any apparent difference when it came to appearance, but they did note the calcium phosphate whey beverage didn’t taste as great after stored and tasted worse over intervals of 15, 30, and 45 days. 

With this observation in mind, the researchers only went forward with testing the calcium lactate beverage on 30 volunteers against another control drink since taste is so important to the consumption of whey protein products. Participants consumed about 2 cups of the calcium lactate beverage every day for three weeks. After 21 days, the volunteers' blood analysis showed a significant decrease in bad LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations (fatty acids).

The Shake:

The researchers used the following to create their shake: 
- Natural prebiotic dietary fiber based on acacia gum with a soluble fiber content over 90% 
- Vitamin D3 premix 
- Calcium phosphate (36% of calcium) and calcium lactate (containing 14.7% of calcium) 
- The amount of ingredients added to 100g of beverage was calculated to provide 150mg of calcium, 0.75μg of vitamin D3, and 2.5g of prebiotic dietary fiber

The Real-Life Application:

But just how easy is it for you to mimic their results? We went to the source (the researchers) and asked a nutritionist (Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach) whether there are such shakes for purchase, and if not, whether it's easy and feasible to make your own.

"At present there are many functional dairy products and store-available shakes with single functional ingredients like calcium, vitamin D, and prebiotics, but there are no shakes containing this [particular] complex of ingredients," the study authors said. (Though they do hope their findings will inspire the milk industry and/or small food producers to include these enhancements in their products.)

The researchers add, the American population is largely dependent on fortified foods and dietary supplements to meet the recommended amount of calcium (men and women aged 19-50 should consume 1,000 mg, according to the Mayo Clinic), vitamin D (600 IU for those 1-70 years of age, according to the Mayo Clinic), and dietary fiber (38g for men aged 50 or younger (30g for 51+) and 25g for women aged 50 or younger (21g for 51+), according to the Mayo Clinic.

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"Vitamin D and calcium are available primarily in capsule or tablet form but some companies do produce a liquid or powdered form that could be added to a smoothie, and dietary fiber with prebiotics in a powdered form is easily found at supplement shops," White says. But he advises consulting with a physician to determine any deficiencies before adding supplements to your diet, especially since these vitamins and minerals can easily be consumed from food sources. 

The lead study authors agree. "Foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D are not frequently consumed (organ meats are high in vitamin D, but they're also high in cholesterol and aren't super popular with American consumers), so men and women are advised to use vitamin D-enhanced products (milk, soy milk, fruit juices, cereals or others) or take supplements to get the same health benefits.  

To incorporate dietary fiber, vitamin D, and calcium to your shakes and smoothies, White and the study authors recommend the following: 

- Dietary fiber can come from a protein powder, or fruits such as raspberries, apples, pears, and bananas. 
- Vitamin D is primarily found in certain types of fish, eggs, and cheese, but the lead study authors recommend adding vitamin D-enhanced products like milk, soy milk, and fruit juices since fish doesn’t really jive with your protein shakes and smoothies…
- Calcium is very easy to incorporate; these very same fortified yogurts and milk are also excellent sources of calcium.

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