Isadore Sparks is tired of being big.
He’s 37 years old and has been overweight most of his life. But in the past 22 weeks, Sparks has undergone a pretty remarkable change.
In May, the Southern University maintenance worker tipped the scales at 336 pounds. By early October, he’d shed nearly 60 pounds, thanks in part to a whey protein shake he now drinks every morning.
Sparks said he’s completely changed his lifestyle over the past months, incorporating exercise and smaller food portions into his daily routine. But he gives most of the credit to a grant program Southern’s AgCenter is conducting along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA gave the Southern AgCenter a three-year, $280,000 grant for the “Combating Childhood Obesity with Caregivers as Change Agents” program.
The grant seeks to reduce childhood obesity rates by first inducing a lifestyle change in parents and guardians. They hope those changes will trickle down to their children.
Results of the study could be particularly meaningful in Louisiana, which, along with Mississippi and Arkansas, is typically on the list of states with the country’s heaviest people, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This particular 24-week program at Southern seeks to determine the health benefits of whey protein and resistant starch.
Weight-loss gurus are starting to promote whey protein more and more under the belief that it packs a variety of health benefits.
Whey is a milk-derived substance consisting of protein, lactose, small amounts of fat and assorted minerals. It is usually a by-product from making cheese.
Some believe that whey has cancer fighting value, helps people feel full, boosts immune function, supports healthy serotonin levels in the brain and may help reduce stress.
Resistant starch is a type of fiber believed to promote fullness and increase fat burning. It is found in carbohydrate-rich foods, including grains, beans, potatoes and bananas.
Every morning at about 6, Sparks pours a powdered whey protein and resistant starch mixture into a cup, adds water and shakes it up to make his 8-ounce breakfast. It’s called a “Whey To Go” shake.
“Before the program, I never ate breakfast,” Sparks said. “Now I feel better, I have more energy and I don’t eat nearly as much as I used to. My goal is to get down to 200.”
The researchers at Southern won’t go so far as to say that the protein-and-starch mixture is the sole driver of Sparks’ weight loss, but they do feel it has played a significant part.
Of the 26 enrolled in the program — 15 in the treatment group had “Whey To Go” shakes while 11 in the control group consumed placebo shakes made with wheat starch — results have varied.
Porsche Holmes, a member of the control group that did not have the benefit of the appetite-stifling “Whey To Go” shakes, has lost 22 pounds through exercise and improved eating habits she picked up in the healthy eating classes Southern has been offering as part of the grant program.
Southern’s researchers won’t have conclusive findings on the study’s effectiveness until later in the year after the last weigh-in has taken place and the data has been compiled.
Fatemeh Malekian, a professor of Food Science and Nutrition at Southern’s AgCenter said the point wasn’t to find a quick-fix for obesity.
“We believe that whey protein and resistant starch helps you lose weight, but not by themselves. You have to modify your diet and change your lifestyle,” Malekian said. “There is no magic pill or powder that you can pour over your body and it will make you skinny.”
Malekian said the study could reinforce what nutritionists already believe: A body slowly burning calories while asleep can be jump started most effectively in the morning with a light meal — even better if the meal contains healthy proteins.
“Most of the time, people with weight problems don’t eat breakfast,” Malekian said. “You’ve got to have that fuel to get through the day. And that protein gives you that boost.”