Many people look to cut out dairy as a food group when shifting their diet for optimal health. It is a common trigger for unwanted side effects in the body, specifically skin and digestive issues.
But what do you use in place of your beloved cheeses and creams? Read on for the dos and don’ts of dairy-free alternatives when getting rid of dairy from your diet.
When looking to cut out dairy, it can be confusing
The topic of dairy can be confusing. Is it inflammatory? Does it cause acne? Is my bloating a result of dairy? These are all questions related to dairy that research studies have yet to provide a clear answer on.
Even so, there are many wellness experts that would agree despite the lack of research studies, minimizing dairy in your diet can do more good than harm.
If you’re looking to minimize dairy for health reasons, I would recommend removing it from your diet for a month, then adding it back in small amounts to see how you feel.
Some people are able to tolerate goat or sheep’s milk better than traditional cow’s milk products. Some experience a notable difference right away after cutting out dairy from their diet.
For others, the effect might be a little unclear. Everyone is different in how the body responds to foods, which is why it’s important to be aware of what makes you feel your best.
The Don’ts of Dairy-Free Alternatives
When a client tells me they are dairy-free, I too often see highly processed non-dairy alternatives lurking around their kitchen. If the goal is to minimize dairy consumption for health reasons, opting for a highly processed alternative is not a better choice.
Many dairy-free alternatives have a long list of ingredients that includes thickeners and additives in an attempt to create a cheese-like product. If it’s not coming from a whole foods source, you’re probably better off eating the real thing, or not at all.
A few ingredients to be mindful of include: starches, gums, canola oil, soybean oil, processed plant proteins, and processed soy ingredients.
Dairy-Free Alternatives You Can Feel Good About When Cutting Out Dairy
This is an easy one. Cows’ milk can easily be replaced with non-dairy alternatives made from a variety of nuts, seeds and even oats. Full-fat coconut milk is another creamy alternative to use in soups and as a coffee creamer.
There are great non-dairy milk products on the market that include minimal, if any, additives.
But of course, homemade is always going to be your best bet. If you’re up for it, non-dairy milks are easy to make from scratch and to be honest, taste significantly better than any you will find at the store.
To get you started: How to Make Homemade Oat Milk + The Best Homemade Almond Milk
Cheese can be one of the hardest foods to give up when trying to cut out dairy. For an equally decadent treat, most (healthy) non-dairy cheeses are made from a base of nuts. There are several fantastic products available at the store that are made from a base of cashews and almonds.
If you want to take a stab at making nut cheese from scratch, check out my tutorial on How to Make Basic Vegan Cheese + 3 Flavor Variations.
Similar in ingredients to nut cheeses, cashew cream is slightly thinner and can be used in a variety of ways. Make it sweet for a delicious fruit dip, or opt for savory and swirl into a creamy soup, use it as sour cream, or to make a decadent pasta sauce.
Check out this post in my Virtual Grocery Store Tour Series, where I uncover what to look for in dairy-free products, plus some of my favorite brands (although there are always new ones being introduced to the market!).
How to Use Dairy-Free Alternatives in Your Cooking As You Cut Out Dairy
Just because you’re trying to cut out dairy from your diet, doesn’t mean you can’t still make delicious home-cooked meals.
Many dairy-free alternatives are going to be a 1:1 replacement ratio in cooking. This includes milks, butters, and cream replacements.
To make a soup or sauce creamy without cream, there are a few different tricks you can use.
- Replace heavy cream with full-fat coconut milk
- Add a swirl of savory cashew cream to the finished product
- Puree beans (preferred), white potatoes or cauliflower for a silky smooth consistency
Related recipe: Creamy Cauliflower Vegan Alfredo Sauce + Copycat Panera Dairy-Free Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Instead of traditional icing/frosting, try out a thick cashew cream instead, like I used in these Healthy Carrot Cake Muffins with Vanilla Cashew Frosting.
Looking for a dairy-free whipped cream topping? Use the coconut whipped cream tutorial from this banana waffles recipe to add to pies and berry crumbles.
There’s nothing better than a raw dessert made with a filling of soaked cashews. Add additional flavoring along with some lemon juice and you’ve got yourself a dairy-free cheesecake!
Related recipes: Raw Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake Bars + No Bake Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Bars
I’m not a huge fan of processed soy products, but organic, non-gmo tofu can be a great way to sneak in plant-based protein into your diet. Silken tofu is super creamy when blended and makes a fantastic dairy-free pudding base, like in this Chocolate Tofu Pudding recipe.
Need a sauce for that? Try out the dairy-free tzatziki sauce from my cookbook Simply Swapped Everyday for burgers, chicken, power bowls and even savory waffles!
You might notice that a lot of dairy-free alternatives are made with nuts. If you’re looking for a nut-free substitute, try avocado! You can substitute pureed avocado for mayonnaise, like in these Dairy-Free Avocado Deviled Eggs, or add it when baking for a moist texture.
Related recipe: Double Chocolate Avocado Cookies
Whether you’re reducing dairy out of curiosity, or to debunk health issues, you don’t have to miss out on the decadence of creams, cheeses and sauces. With these alternatives in mind, going dairy-free will be easier than ever.