As awareness about nutrition, environmental issues and animal welfare gains more momentum, so too does the number of people choosing to go dairy-free. This could be for ethical reasons, lactose intolerance or purely for their own health gains.
Either way, the evidence for dairy not being as good for us as we once thought it was is stacked up, and we might be starting to think about how we could reduce or completely eliminate it from our diets.
Numerous health benefits have been reported as a result of taking this leap. People have reported various skin conditions vanishing within weeks of cutting out dairy. Thousands of personal success stories have emerged from people who quit dairy and resolved a medley of mystery illnesses – from migraines to stuffy noses to an improvement in behavioural conditions such as ADHD.
It has been estimated that 70% of the world’s population suffers with some degree of lactose intolerance. Although symptoms can be mild enough to go undetected, they can cause a variety of problems with our digestion nonetheless.
Digestion is the stage at which all our nutrient absorption is done, and dairy has been noted to inhibit this process for many people. So less dairy actually has the indirect effect of you absorbing more nutrients from the rest of your food, which comes with a myriad of health benefits.
But even with all of this information, the act of actually cutting dairy out of your diet can seem difficult if not impossible given its huge presence in our daily diets. In this guide, inSpiral want to dispel the myth that a dairy-free diet is difficult, and help you on your way.
Before you can get started, there are a few things you will need in your kitchen. Obviously we’re not going to list everything you could have (there’s so much), but here are a few things that you should stock to make your journey a little easier.
-A blender (probably the most important of all!)
-Raw nuts (cashews, macadamias, almonds, etc)
–Nut butter (whichever you prefer)
-Plant-based milk (almond, hemp, oat, etc)
-Agar agar flakes (for solid cheese substitutes)
-Coconut milk (canned)
Before you can go dairy-free, you’ll need to know what how to replace the gap that it leaves in your diet. Here are some alternatives to get you started.
This is a big one for most of us. It is used in tea, cereal, baking, sauces and soups. It is also the key ingredient in a lot of other popular food – cheese, yogurt and ice cream to name but a few. But it isn’t as unavoidable as it might seem once you discover the alternatives.
There are a variety of plant-based milks that are not only dairy-free, but high in various vitamins and minerals. They include nut milk, seed milk and milks made from grains. Some popular varieties found in shops are almond milk, hemp milk, rice milk and oat milk. They are all highly nutritious and make convincing milk substitutes.
Coming in both thick and light varieties, coconut milk is an excellent substitute for milk across the board. The thick canned variety is great for making creamy sauces and the light version found in cartons in most shops is great for using in place of cow’s milk. It is also free from gluten, nuts and dairy – so great for those who suffer with intolerances.
The majority of plant based milks can be made at home with minimal effort. Simply take your chosen ingredient and blend it with water and sweetener to taste. If using nuts or seeds, be sure to soak beforehand!
Cheese is the mammoth hurdle all people cutting dairy out need to jump, and there are very few alternatives on the shelves that satisfy the cravings. But fear not; there are a number of substitutes that you can make at home with little effort.
There is a whole range of nut cheeses that you can make at home for a creamy spreadable alternative to cheese. Many of them use cashew nuts, so it is useful to stock them in your cupboard. These cheeses are filling and packed with all the nutritional benefits of whichever nut you use – take a look at my Cashew Nut Cheese to get you started!
Convincing substitutes to cheese that slice, grate and melt. Any vegan will understand that this is life altering!
This amazing little ingredient is perfect for replacing the cheese flavour in your cooking. The cheesy tasting flakes can be blended into sauces, soups and sprinkled on salads for a nutty boost. As a bonus, it is also very high in b vitamins, including b12, which is notoriously sparse in plant-based diet.
Butter & spreads:
The perfect alternative to butter – this oil is revered amongst the nutrition community for its numerous health benefits. From helping burn more fat and boosting brain function to helping fight bacteria; populations that eat a lot of coconut are among the healthiest on the planet. Join them!
Affectionately referred to by many as ‘nature’s butter’, this dreamy fruit is a god send for those going dairy free. Naturally rich and creamy, when ripe, avocado can be used as a spread or mashed with other ingredients for a guacamole. Make them a staple in your new dairy-free diet.
Nut butters are great for giving your food an extra protein boost, and if you’re trying to cut dairy out, they are sure to fill the gap. Peanut butter is the most common variety, but why not try making your own very simple nut or see butter?
When you mention the fact that you’re thinking about cutting dairy out, many people will instantly comment on the lack of calcium, which milk is a primary source of in most modern diets. This might be a concern at first considering its importance for our bone health, but the truth is, better quality sources of calcium can be found elsewhere, but you do need to make sure you’re eating a lot of them, or supplementing.
Bear in mind though that optimal vitamin D levels are necessary for calcium absorption, and many people are deficient, especially in the UK. Vitamin D is another vitamin vegans need to think about. It is now being researched that perhaps we need less calcium in our supplements if we are fully replete in vitamin D.
Kale is extremely high in calcium and is also one of the most nutrient dense food on the planet (all the more reason to eat lots of kale chips!). Beans, tofu, orange juice, fortified plant-based milk and much more also contain just as much calcium, without all the problems that come with cow’s milk.