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The author's son, Jack, with Pete Miller of Miller Dairy Farm in Vernon. 

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Talk about confusing! Got milk? Get milk? Don’t get milk? As nutritional information vacillates between pro- and anti-dairy, where do (potentially confused) dairy lovers stand in this dilettante romance? Kicking dairy to the curb is, for many of us, an impossibility, but for the lactose sensitive among us, it seems imperative.

Ever wonder why those who can’t drink bovine milk can eat cheese, or source milk from mammals other than our beloved dairy cow? Well that just might be because there’s a (not-so) new protein in town wreaking havoc on our digestion.

Among the variety of proteins that exist in cow’s milk, beta-casein makes up about 80 percent of them. The two more prevalent variations, A1 and A2, have gained a more recent spotlight in the health world. Despite their names, A2 has been around much longer than its interloping counterpart, A1. When broken down in our digestive tracts, A1 beta-casein has been found to create an opioid effect within our bodies, which reportedly messes with our tummies.

Dr. Steven Gundry, author of “The Plant Paradox,” breaks it down simply. When our body digests the A1 casein protein, a byproduct (beta-casomorphin 7, a powerful opioid) attaches itself to the beta cells, which are insulin-producing cells, creating an immune attack on our pancreas. Insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes are epidemics these days. In addition to poor diet, could the A1 protein also be to blame? Are we lactose intolerant or A1 sensitive?

The A2 beta-casein doesn’t seem to affect us as readily, which is why some dairy farmers have made the move to breed their cows to get back to basics, and get rid of A1.

Pete Miller is one of those dairy farmers. He was kind enough to host me at the beautiful Miller Dairy Farm in Vernon where he and his partners keep 170 head of cattle and yield over 1,500 gallons of milk a day. A fourth-generation dairy farmer, Pete’s eyes are soft and kind. Although not intolerant to dairy (thank heavens,) Mr. Miller steers clear of eating animals, including cows. Perhaps this is why the cattle look at him in a trusting, loving fashion.

When asked about the move toward isolating the A2 beta-casein in milk, Mr. Miller informed me that 54 percent of their cattle produce solely A2 milk. By genetically selecting only A2 cows in their breeding efforts, they’re moving toward producing 100 percent A2 milk within five years.

So what, now, is the real reason we’re crazy for A2? Doesn’t nature know best?

HistoryOnce upon a time, all milk contained only the A2 beta-casein protein and everyone lived happily ever after. Until one day, about 8,000 years ago, a villainous protein, A1, entered the tale as a result of a genetic mutation in Northern Europe. Only some cows suffered this mutation, including the predecessors of Vermont’s beloved Holsteins.

The story doesn’t end there. The entrance of the A1 protein has been linked to multiple health conditions, not the least of which are heart disease, inflammation, diabetes, and digestive issues. Some in the scientific community speculate that the digestion of the A1 beta-casein protein could contribute to mental health afflictions such as autism and schizophrenia. More studies are needed in this area.

But we’re mammals!

One resounding argument I hear again and again is that we, as adult mammals, are the only group as such that continue to ingest a substance meant to catapult a baby to mature adulthood in a matter of months. Some effects people experience from dairy: GI issues, bloat, skin irritations, among many, may be less of an intolerance to lactose, and more of a side effect to the digestion of A1 beta-casein.

Human mothers’ milk is naturally A2, making it easily digestible for tiny humans. Goats’ milk is naturally A2 as well, making it more tolerable to those who are sensitive to mainstream (A1) dairy, but Mr. Miller’s milk is well on its way to eliminating that pesky protein.

Recovery Remedy?Recently, chocolate milk has been deemed the perfect post-workout recovery drink. Pete has just the thing for you. Made with organic chocolate and sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt, the milk is pasteurized at a lower heat (150° for 30 minutes) which maintains its integrity to a greater extent.

The Millers offer only whole milk products, which makes me wonder if they’re ahead of their time. In the wake of the low fat, fat-free craze, whole milk is emerging as the clear winner. With approximately 4% milk fat naturally, not messing with the fat content in milk has been linked with lower rates of obesity. It’s more satisfying when we take in a bit of fat, and with its protein content, it’s no wonder we feel sated.

Indian Pudding Recipe

Ingredients

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4 cups milk

1¼ cup organic corn meal

splash of olive oil

2/3 cup robust molasses

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ ground cloves

¼ ground ginger

1/8 tsp all Spice

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons whole milk yogurt

1 cup raisins (optional, but suggested)

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 x 11 baking dish with light olive oil cover.

Bring milk to a near boil. Lower heat and add corn meal slowly while whisking the mixture. Allow to thicken over lower heat. Add spices and molasses.

Add yogurt and raisins and fold into mixture.

Pour into baking dish and bake for 45 minutes to one hour or until firm.

Serve hot or cold.

Katharine A. Jameson, a certified nutrition counselor who grew up in Williamsville and Townshend, writes about food and health for Vermont News & Media. For more tricks, tips and hacks, find her on Instagram: @foodforthoughtwithkat