Protein is a highly essential macronutrient that is needed for innumerable physiological processes including muscle growth and repair, production of enzymes, hormones, immunity, oxygen transport, nerve stability, skin and hair integrity etc. Protein powder is a common topic of discussion for fitness enthusiasts and non-athletes alike. It has become popular for people to use protein powder as a way to meet their daily required protein intake.
People have been experimenting with different ways to meet their daily protein intake. From hot pancakes for breakfast, to desserts like cookies, protein powder can be a versatile and delicious ingredient as well as a healthy addition to your diet.
When it comes to protein shakes and recipes, many people think that cold or raw protein powder is the best way to go. The most common fear expressed by those who consume protein powder is if it gets destroyed by heat as in cooking or baking or microwaving. The simplest and shortest answer to this is ‘NO’.
To understand what happens when the protein is heated, let’s look at the structure of a protein.
Amino acids are the basic units of protein like the whole cloth is made of a matrix of threads and thread in turn is made of cotton or synthetic fibres. Proteins are chains of amino acids that are linked via peptide bonds. These amino acid chains then go through additional restructuring and folding, resulting in primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structures.
A unique linear amino acid sequence that makes up a single polypeptide chain constitutes the fundamental structure of a protein.
In the secondary structure, the above linear structure folds into sheets and helices as a result of atomic interactions between the amino acids. These are called α–helices and β– sheets.
Further folding of the secondary structure leads to the formation of the tertiary structure. This makes the protein look globular as in haemoglobin or fibrous as in muscle tissue. This structure is held together by bonds that are relatively weaker like hydrogen or electrostatic or van der waals.
Tertiary structure further associates with required sub units, protein chains to become a functional unit in the body.
What happens when you heat or cook proteins?
Protein molecules in their native or natural form are bonded to have a stable structure. Heat or cooking breaks the bonds that makeup a protein molecule and dismantles its three-dimensional structure. This is technically called ‘denaturing of protein’
So does cooking your protein really reduce its efficacy?
The reason meat, including eggs, becomes harder when cooked is due to the denaturing of proteins. In fact, vegetarian pulses need higher temperature to cook as compared with meat. But as a whole, denaturation leads to the unfolding of the quaternary, tertiary and secondary structures, whereas the primary structure or amino acids remains intact. The protein powder remains unharmed in terms of its nutritional quality.
An interesting fact to be noted here is that the body naturally breaks down the complex structure of a protein from any source into its simplest form that can be easily absorbed and digested.This means that irrespective of whether the protein is denatured or not, the body ends up breaking it into its simplest form i.e amino acids. The denaturation process actually helps cut down this tedious process and aids in faster absorption and digestion. So, adding plant protein powder during cooking or baking or mixing with hot porridge/soups will not spoil its efficacy.
Rest assured that mixing Plant protein powder during cooking is not only safe, but also 100% effective.