Spoiler alert 😬...
Any whey protein that is being legally sold in the United States is denatured.
Ack! Say it isn't so!
It is so, but this isn't a bad thing! To understand why we must clear up a few misconceptions about denaturization.
A protein is considered "denatured" when it's molecular structure is altered or changed. This can happen due to heat (i.e. frying an egg), chemical reactions (i.e. pickling an egg in vinegar), or mechanical force (i.e. scrambling an egg with a fork). 🍳👩🍳
As you can see, denatured proteins are actually quite common and totally normal (especially if you're an egg!) and since denaturation reactions are not strong enough to break the primary structure (aka the bonds that hold together the protein's unique sequence of amino acids) the essential qualities of the protein remain the same, so the benefits of the protein are not lost, and may actually be improved, after a denaturation process.
So how does whey protein get denatured?
All whey protein powders are denatured because pasteurization is required by law. Whey protein powders sold as "native whey" are pasteurized at least once and whey protein powders that are produced during yogurt manufacture are pasteurized twice. For more information about our whey protein pasteurization process, please see this article.
Filtration is another necessary step in the whey protein manufacturing process that contributes to denaturization, and all whey proteins are filtered once, if not multiple times. (Fun fact: This is how you go from whey protein "concentrate" to whey protein "isolate". To learn more about this, check out our blog post on the subject!)
The final element that contributes to denaturization is the drying process. Again, this involves mechanical force as the liquid whey protein is sprayed from tiny nozzles (ie. spray drying) which compresses the molecules and evaporates out excess water.
Does denaturization compromise whey protein's health benefits?
Absolutely not! All of the numerous studies on whey protein showing a host of benefits from increased lean muscle mass to reduced body fat have been conducted using denatured whey protein.
And, even if you managed to get your hands on a miraculously undenatured whey protein, it would become denatured as soon as you ingest it. Your stomach is full of enzymes and digestive acids which, you guessed it, will immediately begin to denature any protein you consume.