The protein industry is huge and ever-growing. Traditionally, the market has been dominated by whey and casein products, and while whey and casein are solid sources of protein, there is a new kid on the block and amazingly, it’s plant-based! So how does Spirulina compare? Let’s dive in…
What are whey and casein?
Whey and casein are proteins in cow’s milk. Whey makes up 20 percent of the protein in milk, and casein (sometimes simply called “milk protein”) makes up 80 percent. Both are considered complete proteins, meaning they have all nine of the essential amino acids necessary in the human diet to build and repair cellular proteins in the body. (Side note: Spirulina is also a complete protein—and one of the only plant-based sources of it!) Whey is typically absorbed and metabolized quickly, which is part of what makes it so popular, whereas casein is digested more slowly. Both are made into protein powder concentrates and isolates and dominate the protein powder industry. One of the key differences between Spirulina and Whey/ Casein however is Spirulinas status as a ‘whole food’ vs Whey and Casein which are considered ‘By products’.
Where whey and casein don’t measure up
As we described in a previous post the process of farming Spirulina and creating powders and other Spirulina products is very efficient and sustainable on the whole. The process for whey and casein, on the other hand, is not.
Too much processing, too many resources
To extract whey and casein from cow’s milk to create separate products requires a lot of processing. On top of that, the process of cultivating good cow’s milk to get the whey and casein is far less efficient than growing Spirulina, since cows require grass, hay, and grains that all use tremendous amounts of water to grow—not to mention the cows’ consumption of water is also high. While Spirulina uses lots of water to grow, all the water used in our Spirulina growth process is recycled and reused after harvest so compared to Whey and Casein the efficiency of water use is far higher.
Additionally, casein and whey tend to cause more allergy issues than Spirulina. Considering casein and whey are animal products, some peoples’ bodies don’t process them well. For instance, some bodies mistakenly identify casein as a threat and trigger a fight response from the body. (This is not the same as lactose intolerance, another dairy-based allergic response, which occurs when the body doesn’t make enough of the digestive enzyme lactase.)
Spirulina, being plant-based, is vegan by nature, so it complies with nearly every diet and nearly all dietary restrictions you can find. It is a whole food by itself, so very little processing is needed. And because we grow it in greenhouses, the product has little interference with other organisms and substances that could compromise its integrity. Although casein and whey are less expensive to produce on their own than Spirulina, if you look at them as a separate by-product of a dairy operation, the negative environmental impact is much greater.