Going Dairy Free
by Nutritiously June 2020 VEGAN LIFE
Do you struggle with indigestion, skin issues or chronic disease?
Going dairy-free might be something worth trying to reclaim your health and lower your environmental footprint at the same time. You’ve probably noticed the recent trend of dairy-free recipes and wondered if this dietary choice can lead to better health or even weight loss.
Granted, dairy is in the overwhelming majority of foods you can buy at the grocery store, so why would you take it upon yourself to make this change?
Making the switch to a more plant-based diet, perhaps transitioning from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet, actually comes with a whole host of wonderful benefits and is one of the quickest ways to contribute to saving the environment.
In this article, you will find out what the side effects of going dairy-free are, what changes to your body are possible, the sneaky names through which dairy can find its way onto your plate and the best dairy alternatives on the market!
But first things first – why consider going dairy-free?
Top Dairy-Free Benefits
There are good reasons why you should try a dairy-free diet! No matter if you want to resolve some health issues, deal with chronic disease, lose weight, lower your environmental footprint or if you are simply concerned about the ethical issues surrounding dairy production and what it means for the animals, here are the top dairy-free benefits in a nutshell.
Please note that the following health benefits are related to skipping dairy products, but there’s no guarantee that everyone will experience all of these benefits.
Better digestion for those struggling with lactose intolerance, which can cause gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and nausea; about 70% of the world’s population has some degree of lactose intolerance, and it’s especially common in people of Asian or African descent.
Preventing milk allergies and sensitivities, which can cause things like nasal congestion, digestive issues, hives or even life-threatening anaphylaxis; these allergies can appear at any time of life but are very common in young children.
Easier weight loss due to an overall lower calorie density of your diet as well as a lower saturated fat content; studies have shown that people on a completely vegan diet are the only group that consistently average a healthy BMI. This means that for the best results, you should replace meat, fish and eggs in your diet, too.
Fewer food cravings. Not only is cheese a real fat and salt bomb (both of which can drive cravings), but it’s also mildly addictive due to naturally occurring morphine-like substances that can lead to overconsumption.
Better insulin levels since dairy products contain an insulin-like growth factor that can worsen diabetes, PCOS and other metabolic disorders.
Lower chance for heart disease and stroke because dairy foods are the number one source of saturated fat in the Western diet, which contributes to high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease.
Lower risk of some types of cancer (especially prostate) that are promoted when consuming too much dairy.
Healthier hormone levels because you’re not consuming mammalian estrogen and progesterone from cows or sheep, especially if you increase your fiber content at the same time.
Better absorption of some nutrients which can be blocked by dairy.
Better skin and less acne because dairy contains natural hormones as well as a form of sugar and is pro-inflammatory, all of which can work against you and your skin.
Reduced exposure to added antibiotics, added hormones as well as pesticides (that accumulate in the feed), which is common practice at all conventional dairy farms. Animal products are also more likely to be contaminated with PCBs or dioxins and go bad more quickly.
Less animal suffering since dairy milk is arguably more unethical than meat due to the constant impregnation of the mother cow. When the mother cow finally does give birth, her child is immediately taken away from her, just so we can take her milk.
Cows often end up with physical maladies like mastitis or become too weak to walk – once they are “spent,” they are sent to the slaughterhouse just like any animal in the meat industry.
Reduced negative environmental impacts that occur in dairy farming, such as high water usage for cows and their feed, the production of manure, ammonia and methane, deforestation or ocean dead zones.
Time to Get Motivated
Although we ended on a pretty serious note there, you can take these benefits of going-dairy free as a motivator to start taking action and change your diet!
Switching from an omnivorous or vegetarian diet to a fully vegan one offers a slew of advantages, which you’ll soon recognize and help you stay on track.
If taking the step to go dairy-free overnight seems a bit daunting now, we’ve got you covered – just keep on reading to find out how to easily make the transition.
Why Is It so Hard to Go Dairy-Free?
As with any change in our lives, we need to have a strong internal reason..
for both questioning what we’re doing and then going against our habits.
This relates to both picking up new habits and breaking old ones, such as quitting smoking, going to the gym regularly, keeping our workspace decluttered or changing our diet.
You grew up eating dairy pretty much every day of your life – you’re accustomed to the taste and texture, and it brings up so many childhood memories!
Plus, it’s just much more convenient to not have any dietary restrictions at all if you’re eating out or meeting with friends.
What’s more, as we mentioned above, dairy naturally contains casomorphines, a mild form of morphine that was put there by mother nature to form the strong bond between the calf and the mother cow so that the baby keeps coming back for more
You might have guessed it – that’s why dairy (especially cheese) is so hard to give up for many people. It’s also what keeps vegetarians from going vegan, even though they are aware of the ethical reasons for a fully plant-based diet.
Dairy products are often high in fat and calories (we’re talking cheese, cream and butter here especially) which makes them incredibly calorie-dense – and, due to evolution, our brains love to get as many calories per bite as possible.
Add to that the natural sugars occurring in dairy plus the added sugar that often appears in foods like yogurt or cheesecake as well as the high amount of salt in cheese and you have the perfect recipe for neverending cravings!
Are There Any Side Effects of Going Dairy-Free?
Well, you need to be looking for dairy alternatives if you want to go dairy-free. Simply no longer consuming any dairy can cause you to involuntarily undereat on calories, calcium or protein.You can find out how to replace the nutrients in dairy towards the end of this article.
No need to go out and buy all of the vegan cheese and cream you can, though! These foods are great for culinary pleasure, no doubt, but they are not necessary to have on a dairy-free diet.
Grocery shopping might be a bit more time-consuming in the beginning since you need to check the labels on any processed food to see if it contains any form of dairy (find a detailed list of ingredients to look out for below).
Once you know what products to shop for that don’t contain any dairy, we can promise that you won’t need to spend any extra time at the store.
Eating out on a dairy-free diet is a bit more complicated, too – as is the case with any dietary restriction. There are some easy tweaks like ordering pizza without the cheese or going to Asian restaurants (which rarely use any dairy products to begin with) and you’ll get the hang of it soon.
What to Avoid When Going Dairy-Free
You’d think that eating no dairy should be pretty easy – just swap the cow’s milk for oat milk, butter for margarine and omit the cheese.
Ha! The dairy industry loves to put dairy and its by-products into anything from tomato sauces to vinaigrettes, cereals or breakfast bars.
And dairy can have many names, too! Besides the obvious milk, butter or cheese on the label, here are some sneaky ways dairy can end up in your cart.
List of Dairy Ingredients
Is Vegan Dairy-Free?
Yes, vegan products are always dairy-free as per definition since vegans don’t consume any animal products, including dairy.
Certain ingredients, such as the aforementioned “lactic acid,” can be found in vegan, dairy-free products because, despite its name, this ingredient is most often derived from plants and not mammalian milk.
In general, someone eating a dairy-free diet isn’t necessarily vegan, though – there are many people who have milk allergies or are lactose intolerant. Some popular diets like the paleo diet also discourage the consumption of dairy products.
Living dairy-free is just one part of a vegan diet (which abstains from all animal products, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey and gelatine), and vegan diets are only a portion of a vegan lifestyle.
According to The Vegan Society, veganism is
“a lifestyle which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
How To Replace Dairy
Now, let’s get to the fun part! We hope you haven’t been discouraged to try going dairy-free by the list of names that dairy can have. If you just follow the vegan food label, you can make your life a lot easier – and over time, you’ll know exactly which foods are dairy-free anyway.
Going dairy-free allows you to branch out and try a lot of new and delicious foods you probably wouldn’t have had on the radar if you just kept eating dairy! Let’s check out all the different options and replacements.
This will probably be the easiest swap! Plant-based milk alternatives have become super popular over the last few years and you are in no way just stuck with soy.
Although this healthy legume (which has been unfairly demonized and is actually really good for us) comes closest to dairy milk in terms of its nutritional profile, some people just dislike the taste.
You could try vanilla or chocolate soy milk if you like, or simply opt for another plant-based variety.
There’s milk made from almonds, rice, oats, hemp, cashews, macadamia, peas, coconut and more! Each has its unique taste and works for different uses.
We love barista editions in our coffee (especially Oatly), coconut milk in our Asian stir-fries and cashew milk in our oatmeal. Just try different dairy-free milks to find your favorite!
Another cool idea is to make your own plant-based milk alternatives at home. You can just blend some soaked almonds or oats with water and then strain it for a very easy version, or you can even get a soy milk maker!
The next most common dairy alternative at the store is probably yogurt. Often made with soy, almonds or coconuts, you can opt for unsweetened, plain varieties or go for vanilla, berries or lots of other flavors.
In our kitchen, we also replace sour cream and cream cheese with plain soy yogurt. Common brands at the store include So Delicious, Kite Hill, Alpro, Silk, Almond Dream and Sojade.
Again, try different ones or even make your own yogurt with non-dairy probiotics at home, which is surprisingly easy! Here’s a simple recipe for coconut yogurt.
Store-bought dairy-free cheese can be a hit or miss. Don’t go out expecting to find something that exactly replicates cow’s milk cheese, but rather look for something that tastes nice and can be used in a similar way.
Common brands are Kite Hill, Tofutti, Simply V, Follow Your Heart, Miyoko and Daiya (depending on your location). These vegan cheeses are made with vegetable oils or nuts and come in all shapes and sizes, from cream cheese to shredded cheese, sliceable cheese or parmesan.
We sometimes prefer to make our own cheese at home by blending cashews with nutritional yeast for a quick and healthy vegan parmesan or make a delicious creamy cheese sauce from either nuts, beans or even veggies!
If you’re looking to replace cream cheese on bread, there are other sandwich toppings you can try such as avocado toast (yummy!) or hummus.