Whey proteins as a functional food: Health effects, functional properties, and applications in food

J Am Nutr Assoc. 2023 Nov-Dec;42(8):758-768. doi: 10.1080/27697061.2023.2169208. Epub 2023 Feb 1.


Functional foods are defined as foods and ingredients that exhibit health benefits beyond their nutritional value. Research on functional foods is increasing rapidly as they may help prevent and manage some non-communicable diseases. Whey proteins are recognized as a high-quality nutrient source and known to contain some bioactive components. They are rich in essential amino acids such as cysteine, branched-chain amino acids such as leucine, valine, and isoleucine, and bioactive peptides. Whey proteins look promising as a potential functional food, given its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, blood pressure lowering, anti-obesity, and appetite suppressing effects that is discussed in the literature. Whey proteins also show functional properties that play an essential role in food processing as an emulsifier, fat-replacer, gelling and encapsulating agent and are known to improve sensory and textural characteristics of food. This review focuses on the functional food aspects of whey proteins, associated health effects, and current food applications.

Keywords: Whey proteins; antioxidants; food quality; functional foods; inflammation; obesity.

Plain language summary

Current literature suggests the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, and blood-pressure-lowering effects of whey proteins.Whey proteins are rich in essential amino acids and bioactive peptides.Whey proteins can improve textural and sensory characteristics of food with its physiochemical properties.Developing a novel functional food that includes whey proteins may potentially address some non-communicable diseases and may have additional benefits regarding sensory and textural characteristics.