Exposed & Solved: Is the nutritional value of protein lost through cooking?

I received a lot of messages regarding the denaturation of protein while being cooked. A lot of you asked me specifically about protein powder.
If you follow me on Instagram you see that I use whey protein for all kinds of recipes. I bake with whey protein powder, I  cook with it and I mix it with hot water. ​

Here is another episode of #exposedandsolved.‌‌ Make sure to follow this hashtag and me on Instagram for more busted myths. ​

What is denaturation? ​

Never heard of denaturation before? Don't leave, I'll keep this short and sweet, but it is important to consider the bigger picture.  ​

Let's start with a very brief overview of protein chemistry. Proteins are chain-like molecules made up of amino acids. ​Denaturation refers to a physical change that takes place in a protein when exposed to abnormal conditions in the environment. Meaning, heat, acid, high concentration in salt, alcohol etc..  ​

When a protein denatures, its complex folded structure unravels which involves breaking of weak bonds within the protein molecule that are responsible for the highly ordered structure of the protein in its natural state.

What most people forget about: Denaturation is also a natural part of digestion. Yep, during digestion, protein denaturation takes place in our stomaches. Smelling, tasting and eating food triggers cells in the lining of the stomach called parietal cells to secrete hydrochloric acid. As the proteins land in our digestive systems, they're denatured by said acid.

Now let's get to the most pervasive myths out there.

​​Does cooking  protein powder cause irrevocably damages because of denaturation? ​

Yes, protein powder denatures when cooked. No, this is not a bad thing and the protein is definitely not damaged or "useless".

Cooked or not, our bodies absorb the exact same amino acids from the protein we eat. It is true that baking (or heating up in general) does alter the structure of protein slightly. However, the nutritional value of protein remains unchanged. ​

However, overcooking protein-rich foods can destroy heat-sensitive amino acids ( for example lysine) or make the protein more resistant to digestive enzymes. ​

By the way, refrigerating cooked foods or freezing protein-smoothies will not denature the proteins. ​

Here's my favourite protein powder baking recipe

Ingredients

(for approx. 8 slices)

  • 15oz (450g) ricotta cheese
  • 8oz (230g) low fat cream cheese
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 scoops (50g) chocolate protein powder
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp stevia
  • 5oz (~150g) low fat greek yogurt

Macros per slice

  • Calories: 100 kcal
  • Carbs: 5g
  • Protein: 15g
  • Fat: 2g

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C and prepare a spring form with non-stick spray or butter.
  2. Add cream cheese, ricotta cheese, protein powder, flour, stevia and egg white to a blender or mixer and blend until smooth.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared form. Spread evenly.
  4. Bake for 35-40 minutes.
  5. Let it cool for a few minutes. Then spread the greek yogurt over the top and sprinkle with powdered stevia (or whatever topping you like).
  6. Enjoy this creamy and gooey cheesecake without guilt!
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