The kinds of milk available to consumers have expanded dramatically over the past seven decades or so. In the 1960s, U.S. consumers’ choices were basically limited to full-fat cow’s milk and buttermilk. By the 1970s, plant-based milks and lactose-free varieties started to become available. These days, consumers have a dizzying array of milks to choose from, including cow’s milk and a wide variety of plant-based milks, including almond, cashew, soy and pea options, to name a few.
In recent years, A2 milk — which is sometimes marketed as being better for digestion than regular milk — has become more common on grocery shelves and easier to purchase online. As with many milk alternatives, it asks the question, is A2 milk significantly different or superior to regular milk?
[SEE: Foods High in Calcium.]
What Is A2 Milk?
When comparing A2 milk to regular milk, it’s important to keep in mind some basic facts about their many similarities, says Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator based in Miami. She’s a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
To start, the predominant protein in all cow’s milk is beta casein. About 80% of the protein in cow’s milk is beta casein and 20% is from whey, says Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian based in Philadelphia. In the U.S., the majority of dairy cows produce milk that contains roughly equal amounts of the beta casein variants A1 and A2. However, elsewhere in the world, cows are more likely to produce milk that contains just the A2 variant of beta casein.
“Simply put, A2 milk is real milk that comes from cows that only naturally produce the A2 protein and no A1 protein,” Kimberlain says. “Some cows produce only the A2 protein and no A1. It’s genetics.”
Basically, A2 milk is the same as regular milk, but without the A1 beta casein variant. Cows in Africa and Asia are more likely than their counterparts in the U.S. to produce milk with only the A2 variant.
A2 Milk vs. Regular Milk
In terms of nutrition, A2 milk is no different from regular cow’s milk, says Erin Palinski-Wade, author of “2 Day Diabetes Diet” and a registered dietitian based in Sparta, New Jersey. “The only difference is the composition of the beta-casein protein,” she adds.
Both A2 milk and regular milk are great sources of:
— Vitamin B12.
— Vitamin D.
These nutrients provide an array of health benefits, notes Kaylee Jacks, a registered dietitian with Texas Health Sports Medicine in Dallas.
For example, protein repairs and builds muscle, supports hormone function and is used by the body for energy. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone health, and vitamin B12 plays a role in energy metabolism.
Is A2 Milk Lactose-Free?
About 36% of the U.S. population is estimated to be lactose intolerant, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases — that’s roughly 119 million people. Lactose intolerance is characterized by digestive symptoms after consuming beverages or foods that contain lactose, a sugar that is naturally found in milk and milk products. This can cause lactose malabsorption, which occurs when your small intestine is unable to digest all the lactose you consume.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance, or malabsorption, include:
It’s important to keep in mind that A2 milk has the same amount of lactose as regular milk, Jones says. However, you can purchase both lactose-free versions of A2 milk and regular milk at most grocery and big box stores.
Is A2 Milk Easier to Digest?
Some A2 brands market the idea that A2 milk is easier to digest than regular milk. Many A2 brands make this claim without specifying whether they mean that their product is easier to digest for lactose-intolerant people, or because it supposedly causes less inflammation.
While there’s not a large amount of research on the topic, one study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition in April 2022 suggests that it’s “possible to conclude that consuming cow’s milk containing A2 instead of A1 results in an improved gastrointestinal status and reduced milk related gut discomfort.”
Uses for A2 Milk and Regular Milk
When it comes to consuming milk and using it in various dishes and recipes, there’s no difference between A2 milk and regular milk, Kimberlain says.
Whether you’re pouring milk into a bowl of cereal or a cup of coffee, making a milkshake or a smoothie, whipping up homemade ice cream or baking hot milk cake, you can use A2 milk and regular milk interchangeably.
“A2 milk would be used the same way regular milk is used in recipes,” she says.
More from U.S. News
Update 11/28/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.