Hydrolyzed protein: It’s a complicated name for a complicated process. But its benefits can’t be overstated for people who have trouble digesting whole and conventional food sources of protein.
Protein is a necessary macronutrient in the human diet—one that supports everything from cell function to muscle maintenance and generation. It’s composed of long chains of amino acids, many of which are individually necessary for human health.
But for people with compromised digestive function, separating and absorbing those complex chains of amino acids can be difficult, or even impossible, says Vanessa Carr, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., clinical nutrition manager for Kate Farms. That’s where hydrolyzed protein comes in.
What the heck does “hydrolyzed” mean?
“Basically, it’s the unchaining of long protein strands into smaller chains or single amino acids,” says Carr. This process involves breaking down the peptide bonds that hold amino acids together, and it’s accomplished using enzymes like the ones produced in the human pancreas or other digestive organs.
Protein molecules can be “partially” hydrolyzed, meaning their amino acid chains are cut down into smaller segments, or they can be fully hydrolyzed, meaning every amino acid has been isolated, Carr explains.
Why is this necessary?
Digestion involves breaking down food molecules so the body can put them to good use. But again, for some, that breakdown capability is impaired. Because hydrolyzed proteins are already broken down—basically, pre-digested—the body can absorb them with little to no effort, Carr says.
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Who benefits most from hydrolyzed proteins?
They’re especially important for people who are missing parts of their intestine, along with those who have pancreatic disease or other conditions that make protein digestion a struggle.
“People with malabsorption disorders,” Carr says, “and people with food allergies or sensitivities can usually tolerate a hydrolyzed protein formula better than the others.” It’s used in hypoallergenic infant formulas, for example.
Hydrolyzed proteins may also cause less of an upset stomach for those with gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. They have also been shown to benefit those with slow stomach digestion.
Historically, all hydrolyzed proteins were dairy-based. That’s since changed, and Kate Farms has been at the forefront—more on this later.
How many amino acids are found in protein?
Twenty different amino acids can combine to make protein, says Carr, though a single protein molecule can include a sequence of 200 or more single amino acids in various combinations.
Think of a protein molecule is a train. A big train can have 200 cars, made up of 20 types of cars.
Are all of them essential?
Nope. Only nine of them are essential, which means the human body cannot produce them on its own.
Ever hear that some foods are “complete” proteins? That means the food contains all nine essential amino acids in the right proportion. While it’s true that animal sources of protein are complete, Carr says, it isn’t necessary to eat only animal products to get all the essential amino acids.
What makes Kate Farms’ hydrolyzed protein different from everyone else’s?
Kate Farms’ Peptide Plus 1.5 formula contains hydrolyzed pea protein, supplemented with other plant-based amino acids. “We’re the first company to hydrolyze a complete plant-based protein,” Carr says. “Every other hydrolyzed formula—every single one—uses whey, which is from dairy.”
Carr says some people with dairy allergies (or intolerances) can benefit from a hydrolyzed whey protein, but they may experience symptoms when exposed to whey-sourced amino acids. “All Kate Farms products are vegan,” she says, “so there’s no animal sourcing whatsoever.”
In addition, pea protein is not one of the top 8 food allergens. Kate Farms shakes are free of corn as well, unlike the single amino acid formulas on the market.