What is natural whey protein?
Natural whey protein is either unsweetened or naturally sweetened. Unless you buy a plain unflavoured or a specifically labelled "natural whey protein", the protein powder will contain some form of artificial sweetener, most commonly sucralose if it's a product manufactured in the UK. Other artificial sweeteners include aspartame, saccharin and cyclamate. All artificial sweeteners are stigmatised by a small minority people as being carcinogenic.
There are two trains of thought on this. Some individuals advocate that because sweeteners are chemically produced they are unnatural and unsafe to consume. These people usually cite studies which link sweeteners to different types of cancers that have occurred mainly in rodents. There has also been evidence published linking saccharin to bladder cancer and aspartame to brain cancer. It's important to note that in the studies conducted on rats, the dosages administered were so great that it would literally equate to a human ingesting multiple kilograms a day of the sweetener. As sucrolose is 300 times sweeter than sugar, it would be a tall order for someone to realistically consume it in dangerous quantities.
Bearing in mind that the largest soft drink manufacturer in the world uses aspartame to sweeten its diet products and that these sweeteners are used in all sorts of foods, there is obviously another train of thought that suggests this commentary is mild hysteria. There are numerous articles online that debate both sides, so ultimately it's a decision that rests with the consumer. It should come as no surprise that some people are obsessively health conscious and would no sooner knowingly use artificial sweeteners in their supplements than they would start smoking. On the other hand, there are legions of bodybuilders who use anabolic steroids or make other unhealthy lifestyle choices. It's all about goals and preferences.
Natural whey is either whey in its purest form - (naturally unflavoured) or it's sweetened with fructose (a naturally derived sweetener derived from fruit juice) or stevia. Stevia has virtually no calories and it's a naturally occurring substance derived from plants grown mainly in South America. Stevia has been used to sweeten foods in South America for centuries and over the past several decades it has also been used in Japan. It remains under scrutiny in the US, but in 2011 it was approved for use within the EU.
Would a natural whey protein suit me?
If the studies into the links between sweeteners and carcinogenics concern you, then you should look at natural whey alternatives. One of the downsides to naturally flavoured protein shakes is that they tend to cost more to manufacture and this impacts further on pricing.
The bottom line
If you're the type of person who obsesses about their health and you agonise over ingredients in your food, then you should consider a natural whey protein. It's worth noting that unflavoured whey protein concentrate and isolate aren't additionally sweetened, so if you are health conscious and you don't mind the bland taste, then this would be the best option for your diet and your bank account.
If you're still not sure, you can find a supplement that will suit your goals with our protein finder.