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Lactose Intolerant? A2 Milk May Be The Answer

By Carrie Havranek 
October 8, 2021

A lot of people have started using plant-based milk in their cereal and coffee — which has been great for those of us who are lactose intolerant. If you have a hard time digesting regular cow’s milk and don’t want to be bothered taking a pill containing lactase enzyme all the time, the proliferation of nut milk and oat milk has been a boon. But recent published research has revealed that there’s a specific protein in milk that may be contributing to the digestive distress that some folks experience. That’s where a particular kind of milk, called A2 milk, comes in.

Sounds like something out of sci-fi, right? As it turns out, it’s actually a whole lot simpler (and totally natural).

What is A-2 Milk?

Most cow’s milk has two beta-casein proteins in it, both A1 and A2. But while they might seem fairly similar, they actually affect the body very differently. In recent studies, researchers have found that the A1 protein may be the sole culprit behind milk’s notorious GI issues, and some studies have indicated that symptoms of lactose intolerance can be avoided by consuming A2 milk.

In fact, the first human study, conducted by Curtin University in Australia and published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2014 found that even people who didn’t identify as having issues with ordinary milk had fewer symptoms when drinking milk with just the A2 protein.

Read next: Is Oat Milk Actually Healthy?

A study in 2020 found that those who drank a2 milk showed a reduction in abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea among test subjects who drank conventional milk with both the A1 and A2 proteins. 

However, it’s important to note: This stuff is still milk, so if you have a dairy allergy, please steer clear of it. And it’s not necessarily a get-out-of-jail free card for those with lactose intolerance, although many who are lactose intolerant have fewer digestive issues after drinking this milk.

It turns out that the A1 protein is the result of a genetic mutation that arose in European cows 10,000 years ago. Cows are the only mammals known to have this genetic mutation, says Blake Waltrip, CEO of the A2 Milk Company, which produces milk that does not contain the offending protein. This makes sense when you consider that a lot of people who can’t tolerate cows’ milk can enjoy goats’ milk and sheeps’ milk just fine. 

How do you make A2 Milk?

“We don’t do anything to the cows to get them to produce only A2 protein milk. It’s purely based on genetics — like when someone has brown eyes versus green eyes,” says Waltrip. “We test and select cows that naturally produce only the A2 protein type and no A1.”

Basically, while the genetic mutation in cows that produces the A1 protein is not visible the way that eye color is, it’s still just a normal part of their genetic makeup. By employing genetic testing, the company can identify the cows that produce the A2 protein. Then, herds of A1 and A2 cows are kept separate from each other and milked separately on their farms. 

These farms are all located in the United States, and the milk is produced without the use of the growth hormone rBST, which some people choose to steer clear of because it’s an additional hormone, although it should be noted that the FDA says it’s a safe way to increase milk production. Like many other commercial milks, A2 milk’s is also ultra-pasteurized, which meant it’s heated for a short amount of time to kill bacteria, which gives it a longer shelf life before it is opened.

Their farms are also Validus certified for animal welfare, a distinction that requires that farms adhere to strict, comprehensive criteria specific to animal welfare, environmental integrity, along with increased worker care.

So how does it taste — and what’s in it?

We tasted whole and 2 percent a2 milk from the brand, and put some half and half in some coffee — and honestly, we couldn’t tell too much of a difference. It tasted just like regular milk; cold, creamy, and refreshing. It’s still milk, so you’re still going to consume the same amount of protein, minerals, and vitamins. Whole milk has 160 calories per 8-ounce serving, with 9 grams of fat, 12 grams of sugar and 8 grams of protein. You’re looking at 300 milligrams of calcium, along with some vitamin A, D, and potassium, in a serving of a2 milk. (These are all comparable to conventional milk, which has 150 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 276 milligrams of calcium.)

Where to Buy A2 Milk

You can buy A2 brand milk on Amazon and at supermarkets across the country, but Costco also offers a Kirkland version of milk with the A2 protein. Any dairy can produce milk with this single protein — it’s just about choosing the right cows. 

The Verdict?

If you’ve given up regular milk because of digestive issues, you may want to give this a try. While nut milks and oat milk have their own benefits, many also contain emulsifiers and stabilizers, which help to create a smoother and creamier consistency. 

Recipe: DIY almond milk

However, some of those ingredients (namely, carageenan), are also linked to digestive distress in some people. So if you want milk but you’d rather not deal with potential gastrointestinal distress, A2 may be your best bet.

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