We live in a land of choices, and now more so than ever, in the milk aisle. Conventionally we grew up with the standard choices, differentiated by milk fat content, eventually organic and grass fed entered the mainstream market, and in recent years our choices exploded with new possibilities of non-animal source milk, milk alternatives or "mylks".
Traditional milks (whole, reduced fat, low fat and fat free) are all nutrient-rich by-products of farm animals. Typically consumer made their decision based on the milk's fat content, unaware of another element to choose from, the milk protein structure, which until now has been virtually limited to just the A1-protein type.
A Scientific Explanation
Cow’s milk is naturally rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals and calcium; it has Casein protein, the two most common forms are the A1 beta-casein and A2 beta-casein. Between the two, they differ in how they digest in the human body. Research suggests that the A2 protein is easier to digest and may avoid the discomfort experienced with milk rich in A1 protein.
Today more so than ever people seem to have become allergic or more sensitive to milk than previous generations. While there is no explanation for why people are becoming more allergic to some foods, there are theories, one being improved hygiene standards now results in children having fewer infections and consequently weaker immune systems because of less exposure to infection. The same mechanism that fights infections also fights allergies, and that extends to sensitivities or intolerances.
On the other hand, A2 beta-casein protein has a different amino acid structure, more comparable with human breast milk, goat, sheep and buffalo milk, which makes it much easier to digest. There are studies that suggest individuals with milk protein allergies and lactose intolerance can tolerate and benefit from drinking milk with the A2 protein.
Sheldon Creek Dairy
Sheldon Creek Dairy is the only farm in Ontario currently producing A2 milk, which has opened the opportunity for many to now reconsider introducing or reintroducing fluid dairy milk in their diets without fear of digestive discomfort.
Who are the people behind Sheldon Creek?
Sheldon Creek Dairy was built upon generations of their family-operated pedigree dairy farm in Simcoe County - Haanview Farm. back in 1953, John and Bonnie den Haan purchased their farm in the Sheldon Valley and their first cow, Maggie. Three generations later in 2012 the family-operated farm opened Sheldon Creek Dairy to craft milk from their farm's purebred Holstein herd cows.
Sheldon Creek has about 75 cows. Their herd started with Maggie in 1953 and her descendants make up a third of herd today. In total there are five 5 families of cows (Maggie, Dena Star, Ina, Plum, and Alda). The de Haan family has detailed family trees for all of their cows, knowing them by name, working face-to-face each day, literally. Their cows eat only what is produced on the farm, they graze on pastures from May through November, in the winter they are fed grassy alfalfa hay, high moisture corn and a mix of silage. Each cow has its own individual meal plan as their needs change, monitored by a dairy nutritionist to ensure they all get what they need to be happy and healthy.
Is Sheldon Creek Dairy organic? Antibiotic, Hormone-Free?
Sheldon Creek Dairy is fresh, natural, hormone-free and minimally processed. While they are not certified organic, they do believe keeping their cows from suffering if they are sick. Should they ever need to treat a cow with an antibiotic, all her milk is dumped for at least 60 days after treatment and is tested until all antibiotic residue is gone. Ontario has strict regulations on farmers to ensure their milk is free from antibiotics, with possible recourse including losing their right to ship milk, imposed fines, and dumped product.
Sheldon Creek milk is unique in that they do as much as possible 'to not mess with it'. Their milk is non-homogenized and minimally pasteurized at 72 degrees for 16 seconds, leaving the nutrients intact and making it easier to digest.
How do they 'make' A2 milk?
Firstly, the difference between A1 and A2 milk actually comes from the cow, but nothing is 'done' to make a cow produce one type or the other. Cows naturally produce A1 beta-casein, A2 beta-casein, or both. Sheldon Creek decided to DNA test their cows to understand which type of beta-casein they produced. With a hair sample of each cow, they realized that about 30% of their cows produced only the A2 protein type. With that the dairy company launched the first A2 milk product in Canada, and the only one in Ontario.
A2 milk tastes exactly as you would expect fresh milk to, there's no distinguishable taste differences between the two types of milk. So why switch to A2 milk if the more common A1 type doesn't cause any digestive issues or discomfort? Some observational studies are associating the A1 beta-casein protein with higher health risks. If these studies are correct they suggest that the A2 type is actually healthier for you. Further, often as people age, they tend to develop some lactose intolerances; switching to the A2 milk type can be an effective way to mitigate the digestive changes our bodies undergo with age.
A2 versus Lactose-Free Milk
Milk consumption consumption is decreasing in Canada year after year, while non-animal based milks’ consumption and lactose-free milk consumption are increasing. One of the reasons is likely linked to the digestive issues associated with A1 milk, and consumers mindset shift to non-animal based or lactose-free products .
Lactose-free milk opens the possibility for people with milk digestive problems to drink milk again. Though it is important to know that the production process of lactose-free milk eliminates the lactose sugars, but still leaves some of the proteins (for example, the casein protein). As a laboratory-modified milk, it eliminates some important nutrients that exist naturally in A1 and A2 type milks - vitamins, calcium and carbohydrates.
All Your Options: Trying Non-Dairy "Mylks"
Califia – all the milk from Califia brand is plant-based, that means no lactose in any of them. They believe that individuals who eat more plants tend to be healthier, have lower risk of many major diseases and live longer. Also, a plant-based diet can help you to lose weight and improve digestion. Califia products have only real and fresh ingredients, like coconut, almonds and gluten-free oats. Though the taste is completely different to dairy milk, their coconut milk, original almond and vanilla are quite delicious.
Minor Figures – Their oat mylk is specially made for people who can not drink/eat dairy, but also can’t live without coffee. It the best non-dairy milk for coffee because it retain the coffee's finest characteristics, it has great texture and excellent micro-foam when steamed. More generally oat milk has proven to be one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly plant-based milks because its very little water is used to produce it.
Malk – At Malk everything is about family. The founder, August Vega together with her brother, Justin Bodnax (co-owner) and their cousin, Joel Canada (co-owner) created this brand because August was born with dairy allergy and always struggled to find delicious non-dairy products. After her son was born with the same allergy, she decided she had to do something, and they created Malk, which is a unique brand because nothing is artificial. All the products are made with six ingredients or less and are cold pressed in a way to retain all nutrients and not lose its flavour. It is a delicious alternative to artificial, with their oat milk, almond milk and others.
Mylko – This alternative milk brand started in Toronto’s Farmers Markets. Their purpose always was and always will be creating delicious alternatives to dairy substitutes. With only real unadulterated ingredients it's a great (and great tasting) match as a milk-substitute for coffee, cereal, smoothies and other recipes. They have milk for every taste: coconut milk, oat and others.
Elmhurst – Committed to simplicity, each plant-based milk is made with no more than six ingredients. They do not add any gums or emulsifiers, delivering the whole nutrition of the source nut or grain. Elmhurst is a company that existed since 1925, but with cow’s milk, making it a great traditional milk company in New York City. But, in 2016, with all the American diet changing, they closed. In 2017, Henry Schwartz (founder) reappeared as a completely innovative plant milk company. He realized that more and more people were eating healthier and becoming mindful of environmental impact and so was he. So, he decided to start this new Elmhurst. Their milk uses just water to separate the natural components of the grains, nuts or seed before reassembling them as a tasty beverage. Nothing is added after this process, so all the nutrients of the ingredients are preserved. They have lots of delicious and healthy plant-based milks for people to try in three different segments of milk (unsweetened, sweetened and barista options): cashew, almond, oat, hazelnut, walnut and many others.
Millkadamia – This brand works in a way called Regenerative Farming – which focuses on restoring the biodiversity and composition of the soil, while other methods tear the soil, ripping apart the micro ecosystems that sequester carbon, nourish plants and feed the Earth. Regenerative farming allows the Earth to breathe easier, preserving all the micro ecosystems in the soil. Their macadamia milk is made from the finest raw macadamias, being deliciously different!
Sproud – They are committed to be the best tasting non-dairy milk. Their milk has a neutral taste (it doesn’t taste like peas) and creamy texture, being able to blend in every food and drink like cereals, coffee, tea and smoothies. The unique thing about them is that they do not use oats or almonds, for example. They are so innovative that they use peas. Their milk is nutritional, healthy, environmental friendly and delicious!