I wrote here on the difference in European bread versus bread produced in the United States.

Many of my patients (myself included) also discovered a distinct difference between the dairy in Europe versus in the States, as well. Here’s why.

Different Components of Dairy

There are three main macronutrients in general: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Milk contains all three.

The primary milk carbohydrate is lactose (milk sugar), and of course, it’s highest in milk itself, as well as in dairy products made from milk. Cheese and yogurt contain little to no lactose, because it’s been fermented out; therefore, if your only dairy sensitivity is to lactose, you probably tolerate cheese and yogurt without a problem. However, so if you’re lactose intolerant, I’m afraid you will be in Europe, also. 

The two primary milk proteins are whey and casein. Whey is an occasional allergen, but casein is the big offender (and more specifically, beta casein). Casein is still quite high in cheese and yogurt, since the fermentation process leaves protein untouched. Casein is also high in milk itself, and in any product made from milk. More on this below.

Milk fat is not allergenic; even if you’re dairy-sensitive, milk fat alone should not bother you. The challenge is in finding products that contain no casein. The only truly safe option is ghee (clarified butter), as the butter has been heated so that the protein and the fat separate, and then the protein is scraped off, leaving only the milk fat. Other very high milk fat products may be well tolerated for those who have only a mild casein intolerance, even here in the states—these include butter, heavy cream, sour cream (if it’s true sour cream; sometimes it can be combined with milk to make “lite” sour cream), creme fraiche, and cream cheese (ditto—true cream cheese should be made from heavy cream, but it is often combined with some milk).

Casein in The States vs Casein in Europe

First, let’s talk about proteins in general: a protein is a structure comprised of a unique sequence of individual amino acids (of which there are twenty). Beta casein is a chain of 229 amino acids. The difference between the cows in the United States and the cows in Europe hinges on amino acid number 67.

In European cows (and in the cows of antiquity), as well as in all other mammals producing milk (including goats and sheep), amino acid number 67 is a proline.

But due to a genetic mutation in American cows, amino acid number 67 is a histidine.

Why this is important: amino acid 67 anchors a peptide (protein fragment) called beta-casomorphin 7 (BCM-7). BCM-7 is associated with dairy intolerance. It also stimulates opiate receptors, and has been associated with autoimmunity.

Upon digestion, BCM-7 is either released into the bloodstream… or not. It depends upon the amino acid that anchors it. The proline found in European cows (Jerseys, Asian and African cows—also called A2 cows) holds BCM-7 tightly, while the histidine found in American cows (Holstein cows—also called A1 cows) does not. This study found that BCM-7 released in hydrolyzed (pre-digested) milk from A1 cows is four times higher than that from A2 cows.

Fortunately, when the gut is healthy, very little BCM-7 gets absorbed into the bloodstream, regardless of the type of milk consumed. It’s only those with gut inflammation to begin with who are likely to be affected.

The Upshot

If you have Celiac Disease, you should avoid all dairy products completely, as casein is a molecular mimic to gluten.

But if you’re merely sensitive to casein (but not lactose), consider:

  • Consuming high milk fat products, such as ghee, butter, heavy cream, or true cream cheese or sour cream.
  • Dairy products from mammals besides cows (sheep or goat’s milk)
  • Dairy products from A2 cows. It is harder to find in the States, but brands that come from A2 cows will announce it proudly.