For most of us growing up in the United States, dairy products are a staple. No pizza would be complete without cheese and most of us can agree that a tall glass of cow’s milk perfectly compliments some warm oven-baked cookies.
Dairy products are convenient too! Besides being high in protein and calcium, many love the simplicity of pouring some milk into a bowl of cereal for a 30 second breakfast or grabbing a container of yogurt or string cheese to have as a mid-afternoon snack. In a society obsessed with instant gratification, the dairy industry has made it pretty easy for us to enjoy dairy any time of the day.
But what if you cannot have dairy? Maybe you are allergic or it just leaves you feeling bloated or with a stuffy nose (which is does for many of my clients)? Perhaps your functional dietitian has told you to remove dairy for a period of time as a way to discover if dairy is a problem for you..
Whatever the case may be, going from a diet relying heavily on dairy to taking none at all can be quite a shock to the system! We have to be creative and think outside of the box when it comes to finding dairy alternatives or recipes that don’t rely on cheese. That said, we also do not want to sacrifice flavor… and dairy is full of it.
Recently, I removed dairy from my diet as a means to see how I feel without it. There are days where I crave cheese, but for the most part I am quite satisfied eating dairy free and would like to share with you some great ideas for alternatives to your favorite dairy foods.
Alternatives to CHEESE
Cheese is definitely my weakness, so for me, finding alternatives that are creamy and smooth were of high importance as I can literally take a bite out of a block of cheese with no problems. Adding a little sea salt to any of these options is great way to satisfy your craving for salt and leave you feeling satisfied.
- Avocados – My favorite cheese alternative by far. Avocado is great on salads, or sliced on toast, mashed into guacamole for a great dip, or eaten by itself with sea salt and a spoon!
- Tahini – This Mediterranean dip contains two ingredients, sesame seeds and oil. It’s blended into a paste or liquid that can be used to give a creamy texture to everything from a bowl of sliced mango to a perfect pairing with roasted or baked potatoes. Tahini is fairly easy to find at most grocery stores.
- Hummus – Another Mediterranean inspired dip, hummus is also quite versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. Great as a dip with pita or raw veggies, it can also be used as a mayonnaise substitute on sandwiches and pairs nicely on a tapas plate with olives, sun-dried tomatoes and crackers.
- Cashew ricotta – A bit less well-known, there are many recipes online that can be found to make cashew ricotta. This replacement for ricotta cheese is made from very simple ingredients like lemon, garlic and nutritional yeast, but can be too labor intensive for some. Natural health food stores may stock cashew ricotta, but the best is made by hand.
Alternatives to MILK
Most grocery stores stock many alternatives to cow’s milk. For the purpose of an elimination diet or severe allergy, you should not use goat’s milk or other mammalian milk as a substitute. Stick with these plant-based “milk” alternatives for the best results. Beware, they are lower in protein and may contain a lot of gums and fillers, so be sure to read the labels to find the most simple brand available at your grocer.
- Almond milk
- Rice milk
- Coconut milk (I love this brand if you can find it)- Try a full-fat variety in your morning coffee! It’s delish!
- Cashew milk
- Soy milk – Try to buy only organic as soy beans are commonly treated with heavy pesticides and herbicides.
Alternatives to YOGURT
- Coconut yogurt – Found at some mainstream grocers, you can also typically find this at Whole Foods and other natural food markets. I will be posting my own recipe for coconut yogurt very soon!
- Coconut cream – This can be a wonderful alternative to dairy, especially in recipes that call for yogurt, but it is much higher in fat than yogurt and does taste like coconut. Not really a problem but it’s worth mentioning if you have a recipe that relies on a certain flavor or taste. You can buy it at the store or allow a can of full-fat coconut milk to settle (1 hour) at which time you can open the can and skim off the cream.
If you are planning to go dairy-free, but unsure how to make sure your diet is properly balanced without dairy products made with cow’s milk, be sure contact your functional dietitian to get more personalized tips and tricks!