Decoded: What Is A2 Milk and Should You Switch to It?
Desi Gir cows at an organic farm in Noida
Desi Gir cows at an organic farm in Noida(Photo: Sanjay Bhalla/The Way We Were Farms)

Decoded: What Is A2 Milk and Should You Switch to It?

“My daughter, who was pregnant at the time, visited her gynaecologist in the UK because of some digestion issues. Her doctor advised her to shift to drinking Bos Indicus milk,’ says Sanjay Bhalla, an organic milk and vegetable farmer in Noida. That was the beginning of his journey to set up ‘The Way We Were’ farms.

Currently his farm houses over 188 cows – all desi Gir variety that he initially sourced from Rajasthan. Gir is among the desi Bos Indicus species of cows found in India along with Tharparkar, Gir, Kankrej, Red Sindhi and Sahiwal.

What makes this variety, specifically Gir, special is its ability to produce A2 beta casein protein rich milk.

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The A2 organic milk movement is on trend now. In organic stores, speciality websites, in artisanal fairs - packaged A2 ghee, buttermilk, milk, butter etc, are a rage.

Farms that exclusively breed desi cows, and raise them ‘organically,’ have sprouted. They are small, they are local and they are expensive (think Rs 1800+ for 500 grams of ghee). And they all market, the health benefits of drinking organically or naturally grown A2 milk.

Operation Flood

Operation Flood was launched to  increase India’s milk yield.
Operation Flood was launched to increase India’s milk yield.
(Photo: Sanjay Bhalla/The Way We Were Farms)

They are all packaging nostalgia, for the ‘way we were’ before Operation Flood or the White Revolution. In the 70s, as the country struggled to meet the demand for milk, the Bos Taurus species of cows like Jersey and Holstein, were imported and bred with the desi cow to increase the yield.

Most desi cows produce 1,600-2,500 kilograms of milk per lactation cycle. Holstein Friesians and Jersey purebreds, and crossbreds, have a yield of over 4-5000 kilograms per cycle. The increased yield helped make Operation Flood a massive success. But it also meant that the desi breed of cows were no longer attractive.

Also Read : The Truth About Milk: Is It Good Or Bad for Your Health?

What is A1 and A2 Milk?

Gir cows produce A2 milk.
Gir cows produce A2 milk.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

The protein component in milk is made up of up to 80% casein. A1 and A2 are types of beta casein proteins found in cows milk. Jersey cows, imported from the UK, produce a mix of A1 and A2 beta casein protein and Holstein cows, imported from Europe, produce A1 protein. In fact, mostly commercially produced milk and milk products have A1 beta casein.

Desi cows are special because they solely produce A2 beta casein protein rich milk.

What’s interesting is that A2 is actually the original beta casein protein found in cow’s milk. Approximately 8000 years ago, a mutation is believed to have taken place leading to two types of beta casein being produced by different species of cows.

In 1993, a New Zealand based scientist made an interesting discovery. He found that milk, specifically A1 milk was linked to increasing instances of Type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and certain neurological disorders. He made another interesting discovery. That A2 milk was easier to digest and was healthier.

Here in India, the study backed our traditional beliefs that desi cow’s milk, which produces almost 100 percent A2 beta caseins, is far richer in its nutritive value.

Several studies have claimed desi cows are more robust and resilient and are more suited to the Indian climate and environment. They have better heat tolerance and are resistant to diseases. And they need saving.

The A2 Movement

Sanjay Bhalla of the ‘Way We Were’ farms says his initiative is to conserve and protect the desi breed of cows. What makes the milk more healthy though is not just the A2 protein, but how the cattle is bred.

Cows are fed organically grown fodder.
Cows are fed organically grown fodder.
(Photo: Sanjay Bhalla/The Way We Were Farms)
What we are growing here is organic soil. We use our own fertilizer using cow urine and cow dung. Cows are fed with herbs like Ashwagandha, Jivanti, Shitawari, lemon grass, basil & many seasonal vegetables along with seed residue cakes of Mustard & Sesame & almonds, all extracted by us.
Sanjay Bhalla

Bhalla says, the fodder that’s organically grown on the farm has helped increase the yield – from 6 to 7 litres in a day to almost 14 litres in some cattle.

When probed about the high cost of A2 ghee, he explains that from 30 litres of milk, he gets only 1 kg of fat. Nothing is wasted. Fat is turned into ghee and the rest into buttermilk.

Also Read : On World Milk Day, Let’s Go Natural!

Should You Switch to A2 Milk?

If you must have milk, make sure it is farm fresh.
If you must have milk, make sure it is farm fresh.
(Photo: iStock)

We asked nutritionists in Delhi and Mumbai if they would advice people to switch to A2 milk.

They say most milk we get in the market is adulterated at source in some form. Hormones and antibiotics have been pumped in the cow to increase the yield. Milk, once it reaches the shelves has undergone a lot of processes – the nutritive value is already limited.

So if you must have milk, have natural or organic.

It takes 4-5 years for soil to be turned truly organic.What is sold in the name of organic in India is mostly natural or ‘as close to organic.’ For vegetarians who don’t get enough protein from other sources, I advise they have natural milk products sourced at these farms.  Whether it is A1 or A2 is not as important.
Delnaaz T Chanduwadia, Chief Dietician, Jaslok Hospital

Rupali Datta, a Delhi based nutritionist says,

A2 milk has higher anti-inflammatory markers and it is better tolerated. So if you have digestive issues, or are borderline lactose intolerant, A2 is an option for you.
Rupali Datta

Shikha Sharma of Nutrihealth Systems agrees.

A2 milk is lighter on the stomach than regular milk. In fact, some studies suggest a significant amount of people are improperly diagnosed with lactose intolerance when in reality they just have a sensitivity to the A1 protein. So people with lactose intolerance are mostly allergic to A1 protein found in milk.

The more important question to ask, when deciding which dairy you plan to source your milk from, is what standards and practices the farmer follows.

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