Take a deep breath and believe me when I say you can do it and it can be easy! Promise! You might be saying goodbye to traditional versions of dairy-laden favourites, but you won’t miss them.
Why? Because there are dairy-free recipes that are so delicious and satisfying (not to mention healthy) that you’ll forget you ever craved the original versions. I know because I’ve done it and I’ve helped others do it too.
Removing dairy from your diet is a little daunting, to begin with, but pretty soon you’ll be enjoying your dairy-free recipes and alternatives without feeling deprived.
First, why you should go dairy-free?
More and more people are going dairy-free. Reasons vary but we can mostly attribute this shift to the increase in dairy-intolerance awareness and also the rise of plant-based and vegan diets and lifestyles.
Many milk drinkers also reconsider cow’s milk when they realize that humans are the only mammals to drink another mammal’s breast milk. This might make your tummy do a summersault. We also drink cow’s milk well into adulthood, unlike any other mammal, even more unsettling.
Dairy allergy vs. dairy intolerance
These two terms might be used interchangeably but they refer to different things. An allergy to dairy involves the immune system and reactions can be immediate and life threatening. A dairy intolerance, however, is usually non-immunological and symptoms are generally more non-specific including bloating, digestive issues and fatigue. Symptoms of dairy intolerance can also present themselves hours or days after consumption.
Although cow’s milk is one of the main dietary allergens in the modern day diet, dairy intolerance affects much more people than a true dairy allergy.
A whopping 65-75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, meaning they lack the enzyme called lactase. Lactase is responsible for digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk. This confirms that cow’s milk might not be the most health supportive beverage for humans.
Often the idea of going dairy-free and committing to dairy-free recipes is seen as ludicrous. We need dairy, don’t we? School lunch programs and celebrity marketing have been telling us this for decades. We need to drink milk to have pearly white teeth, big biceps and strong bones. Is all that being thrown out the window? Yep, pretty much.
What about calcium in dairy?
The biggest question that comes up when debating whether to ditch the dairy is “where will I get my calcium?”.
Because we’ve all been told that milk is our main source of calcium, we often forget that this essential mineral is also found in many other foods. In fact, many of us were never taught about these other sources in the first place. You might be surprised to learn that calcium is available from a wide variety of plants and vegetables like leafy greens, tofu, almonds, sesame seeds and whole grains.
Rest assured that a whole foods diet high in vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds provides ample calcium. That being said, focusing on calcium and milk consumption could be leading us down the wrong road.
It’s been suggested that regular dairy consumption and too much calcium n the diet is harming our health and damaging our bones. Recent studies have shown correlations between a higher calcium intake and increased fracture risk. Osteoporosis rates are also higher in countries where the most dairy is consumed, leaving one to ponder the bone protective properties of milk.
What does seem to be important is our overall diet and the balance of calcium in and calcium out. A diet high in animal protein, salt, sugar, and alcohol can increase calcium excretion. So while we’ve been focusing a lot on how much calcium we gain from our diet, really we should be considering how much calcium we might be losing because of our diet.
Our bones will be better off in the long run if we focus on whole foods, eat that variety of vegetables, and minimize processed, packaged and refined foods.
Now that we’ve lightly touched on issues that might come up when going dairy-free let’s get to how you can replace classic dairy ingredients in your diet with plant-based alternatives.
Non-dairy kinds of milk
Non-dairy kinds of milk are available in most grocery stores and there is no shortage of variety! Soy milk is the traditional non-dairy option but the nut, seed and grain kinds of milk are becoming more and more popular allowing you to sample them all and pick your favourite.
I personally prefer almond milk and enjoy making my own. It’s easy and takes no time at all! Here is my favourite vanilla almond milk recipe. You should also experiment with other nuts and seeds, like walnuts and pumpkin seeds, to find your favourite non-dairy milk.
Easy vanilla almond milk recipe
- 1 cup raw almonds
- 4 cups filtered water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 Medjool date, pitted (optional)
- Pinch sea salt
1. Add almonds and water to a large blender and blend on high for 1 minute.
2. Using a nut milk bag (available at most health food stores) strain the milk into a large bowl. Alternatively, you can use a cheesecloth-lined strainer.
3. Rinse the blender and return the strained milk to the blender along with the vanilla, date, and salt and blend again on high for another minute. Note, the date is used to add a hint of sweetness, omit to make an unsweetened version.
4. Transfer to a glass container and enjoy within 3 days.
Non-dairy ice cream
Who doesn’t like to sit down with a bowl of rich ice cream? Again, dairy-free alternatives abound in most organic and health food aisles of your local market. Coconut, cashew, and almond ice cream products are very popular with flavours ranging from chocolate brownie to mint chocolate chip. Sorbets are also a great substitute.
Even though there are many pre-packaged ice cream alternatives, my favourite way to enjoy non-dairy ice cream is a dairy-free recipe that can easily be whipped up at home!
The main ingredient in this recipe is a banana! Frozen bananas make a fantastic ice cream alternative and they are easily paired with other delicious flavours such as nut butter, caramel, and other frozen fruits.
Banana ice cream is way healthier, cheaper and easier to make than your traditional dairy ice cream. I like to combine almond or peanut butter with chocolate, see below!
Frozen bananas make a fantastic ice cream alternative and they are easily paired with other delicious flavours such as nut butter, caramel, and other frozen fruits. Banana ice cream is way healthier, cheaper and easier to make than your traditional dairy ice cream. I like to combine almond or peanut butter with chocolate, see below!
Chocolate peanut butter banana ice cream recipe
- 4 large bananas, peeled sliced and frozen
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
1. Add the frozen banana slices to a high-speed blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Unless you have a powerful blender with a plunger you may need to add a few tablespoons of almond milk or soymilk to get the blending going.
2. Next, add in the cocoa powder and peanut butter and continue to blend until creamy. Serve right away or place in the freezer for 1-2 hours.
This is a big one for most people; the ultimate road block to a dairy-free diet. Many cheese lovers can picture a life without milk or the occasional ice cream cone but no cheese? This seems impossible!
Not true! Not only is it possible, it’s easier and more satisfying than you might think.
Fortunately for us, the non-dairy cheese movement has had enormous success! There is now a variety of soy and nut based cheeses available in most grocery stores, not just the health and organic grocery stores, but the main stream food markets are starting to carry these alternatives in order to meet the high demand. You can now purchase firm and soft vegan cheeses as well as shredded, spreadable and melt-able varieties.
When I think cheese I think decadent macaroni and cheese or a cheesy nacho dip. Again, making your own is possible and of course, there are plenty of dairy-free recipes to choose from. The recipe below is an easy cheese sauce recipe that is divine over fresh pasta or warmed as a bread or nacho dip.
Dairy-free cheese sauce recipe
- 2 cups cashews, soaked in water overnight
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
1. Drain cashews well and transfer to a blender or food processor.
2. If using a high-powered blender simply add all ingredients to the blender and blend on high until the mixture is smooth.
If using a food processor, process the cashews first until a creamy, buttery texture is reached. You may have to scrape down the sides occasionally. Once the cashews are pureed, add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
3. Use this sauce how you would any cheese sauce. Mix with freshly cooked pasta, or warm on the stove and use as a cheese dip for fresh bread, nachos or veggies.
Have you given up dairy? If so do you miss it and what’s your favourite dairy-free recipe or food alternative?