Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey… Although the lines were a fun little jingle to sing along to, “curds and whey” offers much more than a filler in a childhood nursery rhyme. In fact, curds and whey is actually representative of cottage cheese, with “curds” or casein providing the lumpy component. But what actually is casein protein and is it healthy?

What Is Casein and Is It Healthy?

Casein is one of the two proteins found in mammalian milk, with whey being the other – the protein content of milk comes mostly from casein, as it comprises 80 percent with whey comprising the 20 percent remainder. Sources of casein include cow, goat, and sheep milks and their associated products, including ice cream, sour cream, yogurt, butter, and that notorious cottage cheese in “Little Miss Muffet.” But despite the source, casein-containing foods offers all essential amino acids, implying the body must obtain them through the diet, as it cannot produce on its own. In addition to its amino acid content, casein is “slow-acting,” suggesting it is slowly digested, absorbed, and taken up by the bloodstream and muscles. The slow and steady flow of amino acids is advocated to dramatically slow down the rate of protein breakdown, which is crucial in sustaining lean body mass. And when considering the body requires protein for prime function and survival, of course casein is a healthful option to offer in the diet. However, should whey be discounted?

Casein Vs. Whey

Though both found in milk, each protein displays their own unique properties. Like indicated above, casein provides all essential amino acids but whey does as well. The prominent distinguisher lies in their rate of absorption, as casein is much slower compared to whey. Whey, considered to be “fast-acting,” is shown to foster protein synthesis within an hour of intake and commonly consumed by athletes for this very reason. But putting the two against one another is essentially unnecessary, as the proteins compliment one another and provide the largest benefits. Additionally, much of their users advocate to consume whey protein first with a meal, as carb intake should not be forgotten about for glycogen repletion. Proceeding with a casein supplement is then suggested to keep amino acid content stabilized and maintained for hours to follow. Ultimately, the combo can be thought of as a well-balanced diet, as there really is no one food that can offer the body everything it requires. But instead, maintaining and stimulating muscle by optimizing varying proteins and utilizing their rates to your body’s advantage. And essentially, a glass of milk may even suffice, depending on protein needs and requirements, offering both casein and whey simultaneously!