Can I have whey protein on a ketogenic diet?

By Dr. Stephen Phinney and the Virta Team

Whey protein is a double-edged sword: it has a very high biological value score, meaning that this source of protein contains the essential amino acids in the right proportion required by humans, but it also causes higher insulin secretion than other quality protein sources like meat and eggs. My other concern with isolated whey protein is that it does not come along with intracellular minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. In that sense, it is not a complete food like eggs, fish, poultry, or meat. Whey protein can have a place in a well-formulated ketogenic diet as long as that diet contains adequate vegetables.

Read more in our deep dive on protein.

Back to Keto FAQ


Related blog posts

Dr. Stephen Phinney on Nutritional Ketosis and Ketogenic Diets: Video Series - Dr. Stephen Phinney put together a three-part video series on ketogenic diets and nutritional ketosis. You'll learn the nutrition science… ... Read More
Ketone Supplements: The Pros and Cons - Ketone supplements rapidly and transiently increase blood concentrations of BOHB. On the surface, this seems like it should promote positive… ... Read More
Sarah Hallberg, DO, MS Reversing Diabetes 101 with Dr. Sarah Hallberg: The Truth About Carbs, Blood Sugar and Reversing Type 2 Diabetes - You may have heard a lot about type 2 diabetes, but do you know what it actually does to your… ... Read More

16 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Does this advice apply equally to isolated milk protein (20% whey, 80% casein)?

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Thanks for reading! Yes, it does apply to milk protein blends as well.

      Reply

  2. Avatar

    What about High Degree of Hydrolyzed Whey protein…highly absorbable

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Hydrolyzed whey protein is a highly absorbable form of protein however it will still have an insulinogenic effect.

      Reply

  3. Avatar

    Im doing ketogenic diet with IF (16 to 20hours fasting and sometime OMAD) for 5months now. I was able to hit my idela weight now. Im planning to take whey protein after workout. Will it not break my ketosis? Thanks

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      As it mentions in this post, whey protein can increase insulin secretion but there is no way to predict if it will break your ketosis or not.

      Reply

  4. Avatar

    Can the insulin effect of whey isolate be mitigated by consuming with high fat such as avocado or full fat heavy cream?

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Fat can certainly help with reducing the insulin response but to what extent will vary by person.

      Reply

  5. Avatar

    Dairy, especially milk, has as high an insulin spike. I feel I need 3 servings of bioavailable calcium. Is that throwing me out of ketosis?
    Mary

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Cow’s milk has 12 g of carbohydrate in an 8 oz serving and is likely too high for a ketogenic diet. Cheese is another good dairy source of calcium and only has 1 g of carbohydrate per 1 oz serving. Other, non-dairy and low carb sources of calcium with decent bioavailability include cooked collard greens, canned salmon or sardines (with the bones) and cooked turnip greens.

      Reply

    2. Avatar

      Several research studies have been done showing that it’s a very bad idea to use calcium supplements because it does absolutely nothing for bone health. Instead, it increases the chance of heart disease by increasing arterial plaque. I’m sure you can google it and find the research documents.

      Reply

      1. Avatar

        Data on excess calcium and heart disease largely debunked and was from a secondary analysis. Aim for your RDA, as much as possible from natural food sources

        Reply

  6. Avatar
    What's the frequency, Kenneth? March 27, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    Something tells me the best policy for someone reversing diabetes on keto or someone who has a dedication to stay in high ketosis should avoid recipes and products with whey protein (including whey protein isolate.) Further, I also consider it a strike against it that it’s not a whole food. It doesn’t mean one should never have any. It just means to me that it should be used sparingly.

    I tend to wince when I see recipes using it, particularly those used to substitute for other “vices” like buns, rolls, breads and candy products. The better part of valor is probably to limit using such crutches. As we’ve seen with diet sodas, the “solution” to vices by replacing them with other products not exactly natural can be as bad or worse, when the results are tabulated. This is a lesson I take from Jason Fung’s “The Obesity Code.”

    Reply

  7. Avatar

    There is why protein in my cream cheese and I can’t give that up because it is a good fat fiend keto. Just hoping it’s not too much.

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      The concern with whey protein is in regards to whey protein supplements, not whey that is naturally occurring in foods.

      Reply

  8. Avatar

    Hi All,
    Regarding protein shakes,
    1. Whey protein results in higher insulin levels as compared to casein.
    2. But given that casein is slower in absorption, can we assume that the elevated insulin lvls will be longer as compared to whey?
    If so,
    Q. Is it better to have higher insulin levels(whey) for a shorter period of time, or a lower elevated insulin level(casein) but for a longer period of time?

    Thanks

    Reply

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.