I’ve been dairy free for several years, but this change definitely didn’t happen overnight. I slowly weaned off by trying out milk alternatives, playing around with dairy-free recipes, and finally, I gave up cheese.
I stopped consuming dairy for many reasons, including allergies. When I finally eliminated all dairy from my diet, many of my allergy symptoms disappeared. I was particularly happy to bid adieu to a chronic cough that had plagued me since childhood. I also found that my sleep improved, as did my energy levels.
When I first told my doctor about my decision to make the change, she was reluctant to support and urged me to supplement with calcium. At first, I followed her advice, but after doing a bit more research, I learned that there are so many plant-based sources of calcium. Not to mention that the calcium found in these foods is potentially more bioavailable (easily absorbed) than the calcium found in cow’s milk.
Some great sources of calcium include leafy greens (kale, collard greens, bok choy, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, and more), sesame seeds, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, almonds, chickpeas, black turtle peas, lentils, kidney beans, figs, oranges, and much more. Recently, I went for a blood test after years of being dairy free and my calcium levels were excellent!
Making these changes in my life drastically improved my health. Because of this, I love helping others who seek to reduce or eliminate dairy from their diet. Now I’ll share my tried and true strategies that’ll help you navigate life beyond diary!
Explore the Alternatives.
If you’re used to having milk on your cereal, creamer in your coffee, cream cheese on your bagel, mozzarella on your pizza, or yogurt with granola, don’t worry! Even without dairy, you can still have all these things without compromising taste.
There’s a wide range of milk alternatives, including almond, soy, hemp, flax, rice, oat, hazelnut and coconut. I recommend trying several of these to discover what best suits your palate. Nutrition tip: if you’re keeping an eye on your sugar intake, always look for the “unsweetened” options. For coffee lovers, there are a variety of creamers and “barista” style non-dairy milks on the market that blend really well into hot drinks. If you are a DIY type of person, there are tons of quick and easy non-dairy milk recipes online. Just ask google!
Given that there are many non-dairy milks, naturally there are also countless varieties of non-dairy yogurt. Some of the more popular choices include soy, coconut, and and almond yogurt. Health food stores are usually your best option for non-dairy yogurt, but lately lots of conventional grocers carry them too.
Over the past few years, the vegan cheese industry has grown exponentially and many delicious choices are available. Fermented nut cheeses, like Fauxmagerie Zengarry, offer a fantastic alternative to soft cheeses (like brie, gouda and Boursin). You’ll also find a range of harder cheese and cream cheeses available at most health food stores, and even some large and small grocers. You can also buy pre-shredded cheese or, better yet, try grating your Zengarry fauxmages when they’re frozen; It makes a great topping on pizza and pasta! Try out a bunch of different vegan cheeses and you’re bound to find something that you love!
Rethink Your Regular Meals & Snacks.
We often fall into routines, or patterns, when it comes eating. Sometimes simply adjusting your way of thinking about certain foods, or trying new combinations, can yield wonderful results. If you’re replacing one great food with another great food you won’t feel deprived, rather you’ll be creating a new staple that is equally enjoyable and satiating.
A game changer for me was hummus. For my entire life, I’ve loved having cheese on sandwiches and wraps. Nowadays, hummus is my go-to for sandwiches and wraps and I haven’t looked back. I also used to love dipping raw vegetables in ranch or french onion dressing; again, it’s hummus to the rescue! Besides being incredibly delicious and versatile, I love hummus for its health benefits. Unlike cheese, it’s free of cholesterol and contains very little saturated fat, and is a good source of dietary fibre.
If you love creamy salad dressings, fear not! You absolutely do not need dairy to achieve this texture, taste or mouth feel. Tahini (sesame seed paste) has become a pantry staple for me. After ditching dairy, it became a fast favourite as a base for salad dressings. Mix it with some olive oil or sesame oil, an acid (lemon or vinegar), salt and pepper, possibly some minced garlic, ginger or herbs, and you’ve got yourself a nice creamy dressing. Soaked and drained cashews or almonds, blended with oils, an acid, and other seasonings of your choice, will also create a lovely creamy dressing. There are lots of great recipes online that will get you started.
Have you heard of nutritional yeast (sometimes called savoury yeast flakes or nooch)? It’s a very popular condiment in vegan or dairy free cooking known for its cheesy taste and is often used to make dairy-free cheese sauces. It’s a form of yeast that has been grown on molasses and then harvested, washed, and dried using heat to “deactivate” it. While neither the name nor its description are super appealing, if you’re going dairy-free, it’s worth picking up from your local grocery store, health food store or at Bulk Barn. It can be sprinkled on pastas or steamed veggies. I also love using it to make cheesy popcorn. I make my popcorn the old-fashioned way, on the stovetop, using coconut oil (instead of butter) and I top it with nutritional yeast and sea salt. Although this is not the conventional way to season popcorn, you’ll be surprised at how good it tastes!
Amy Longard is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Plant-Based Chef who lives in Ottawa, Canada. For recipes, nutrition tips, and general health information, visit her website at www.AmyLongard.com.