Whey components: millennia of evolution create functionalities for mammalian nutrition: what we know and what we may be overlooking. Academic Article uri icon


  • Nutrition is undergoing a revolution owing to the recognition that some foods contain trophic, health-promoting factors distinct from essential nutrients. In this revolution, whey is increasingly being viewed as more than a source of proteins with a particularly nutritious composition of essential amino acids. Milk evolved under continuous Darwinian selection pressure to nourish mammalian neonates. Evolutionary pressure appears to have led to the elaboration of a complex food that contains proteins, peptides, complex lipids, and oligosaccharides that act as growth factors, toxin-binding factors, antimicrobial peptides, prebiotics, and immune regulatory factors within the mammalian intestine. Importantly, these trophic macromolecules are not essential, although the health benefits that their biological activities within the intestine provide likely contributed to neonatal survival. Human and bovine milks contain many homologous components, and bovine whey may prove to be a source for molecules capable of providing biological activities to humans when consumed as food ingredients. To approach this potential, food and nutrition research must move beyond the description of food ingredients as delivering only essential nutrients and develop a mechanistic understanding of the interactions between dietary components and the metabolic and physiological properties of the intestine.

published proceedings

  • Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr

altmetric score

  • 5.33

author list (cited authors)

  • Walzem, R. L., Dillard, C. J., & German, J. B.

citation count

  • 217

complete list of authors

  • Walzem, RL||Dillard, CJ||German, JB

publication date

  • July 2002