Make your transition to a dairy-free diet EASY with these dairy-free swaps and tips. Learning how to go dairy-free can be overwhelming but it doesn't have to be complicated.
In fact, it can be rewarding! Learn about the best dairy-free products as well as how to transition your favorite recipes so that you can still enjoy them
Making the choice to go on a dairy-free diet & eliminate dairy products can be a huge step.
While dairy is commonplace in our society, there have been a lot of articles recently showing the adverse effects of dairy. The most common issue being inflammation (which is also the least severe).
As a Certified Nutrition Coach, I have been dairy-free since roughly 2017.
Initially, I eliminated dairy at the request of my Holistic Nutritionist to aid in getting pregnant. Once I was pregnant (as well as afterward) I noticed I was unable to tolerate any dairy products.
What Is "Dairy-Free"?
Choosing to go dairy-free whether it is for ethical reasons or allergy reasons means that you're opting to exclude dairy products from your diet.
This means milk as well as milk products. And though eliminating the dairy products as is will be your first step. you'll also need to start looking at labels.
Find the answer to: are eggs a dairy product?
Many household products like crackers, chips, and candy contain dairy ingredients.
Common Symptoms Of Dairy Intolerance
It's said that roughly %65 of the population is unable to tolerate dairy. Unfortunately, the majority of the time this is simply overlooked.
We live with many of the symptoms (learn more about the effects of dairy on inflammation) because we either don't know better or do not want to know better.
Some of the biggest symptoms of dairy intolerance are:
- Digestive stress/bathroom issues
- Eczema, psoriasis
Unfortunately, the only way to determine that you have a dairy intolerance is to completely eliminate dairy products from your diet.
This means making sure it's not in foods you may eat like chips, crackers, or protein bars also.
Eliminate it for 4-6 weeks, re-introduce it, and see how you feel. For me, acne, headaches, and bloating simply are not worth consuming dairy products.
However, this blog post isn't debating the benefits or risks of having dairy in your diet.
If you're here, you've probably already decided to try a dairy-free diet (and know the benefits of a dairy-free diet) and you want to know how to go dairy-free without losing your mind.
Basic Tips On How To Go Dairy-Free
For many people, just the thought of going dairy-free is enough to cause a panic attack. dairy products are woven so easily into your days. What about cheese? Baked goods? Yogurt?
Keep in mind that learning how to cut dairy out of your diet is a habit, just like anything else. It's going to take some effort and some time to switch over what feels most natural to you. But it can be done.
FYI here are the best dairy-free baking tips.
Focus on the areas you normally overlook:
- check your packaged snack ingredients for dairy
- find a dairy-free swap for coffee (more below)
- don't assume (dairy is an ingredient often hidden where we'd least expect it)
- have a digestive enzyme on hand in case (I use one from Renew Life)
It's one thing to make swaps to your most used products. It's another thing to begin reading labels!
However, if you're eliminating dairy due to an allergy this is crucial. In order to really avoid dairy and dairy-like products, you're going to have to do some reading.. and not just the label.
I've long since learned that marketers have fun sneaky ways of getting around a health claim only to add another ingredient in its place that should be there.
So spend some extra time reading the ingredient lists to be sure, it's the only way you can really learn how to go dairy-free is to figure out what ingredients are just hidden forms of dairy.
More often than not, items like crackers are made with "milk powder" or whey.
Read labels and when in doubt, use a digestive enzyme if you need to!
But What About Calcium?
While we definitely need calcium in our diet for health, it doesn't mean you need cow's milk.
There have been lots of talks as well about how much calcium we even absorb from cow’s milk and it’s my understanding it’s not crucial. Find ways to boost calcium in other areas of your diet.
Below are simple swaps to help you make the transition to a dairy-free diet. More often than not it's about getting used to buying new brands and adjusting flavors.
Dairy-Free Swap #1 Milk
This is perhaps the biggest and the most obvious swap. If you're about to start a dairy-free diet, you're not going to be running out buying a jug of cows milk.
But you will probably want some type of milk on hand for breakfast food, smoothies, and baking recipes.
Thankfully, there are lots of options on the market! While I used to originally stick to almond milk, I have since started alternating between that and hemp milk (specifically homemade hemp milk!).
This is mainly because too much of anything can cause issues and it's always good to rotate your fats.
In regards to soy milk, it isn't something I recommend a lot of as a Sports Nutrition Coach. Soy milk, and excess soy in general can cause some issues hormonally. Especially since you'd probably be consuming high amounts of soy milk, I'd choose a different option.
After much trial and error, we settled on two brands of almond milk (Silk & Earth's Own) While there are a few new brands on the market I haven't looked into, originally the Silk brand was one of the only ones that didn't contain carrageenan (a thickener).
This is really just a personal preference. Some people believe that carrageenan causes some serious inflammation and digestive issues so it's something I try to avoid.
Rice milk is one of the dairy-free alternatives that many people love. It does work well for smoothies and baking recipes however it does tend to be very thin- so normally not a favorite for granola!
We also love Pea Milk (it's oddly creamy) but I won't deny that it's extremely pricy.
How To Interchange Dairy-Free Milk
When it comes to baking, you can simply use the same amount that you normally would of cow's milk. Most dairy-free milk I've noticed is interchangeable for baking.
If you're thinking of smoothies or cereal, it's a bit of trial and error as to what you enjoy. I find that almond, cashew or pea milk work the best for cereal as I find rice milk far too watery.
Swap #2 Coconut Milk For Anything Creamy
Coconut milk is going to become your new best friend. However, there are two kinds: the one in a can and the one in a box similar to the nut-based ones above.
The one in a box can be used interchangeably with any other milk. It is normally very watered down. The one in a can however is your solution to:
- making things creamy (think one pot alfredo pasta or this coconut milk alfredo sauce)
- plant-based, coconut whipped cream (you need full fat for this)
- any kind of indulgence
The milk in the can is thick, creamy, and hardens when placed in the fridge. It's the best substitution for cream in a recipe.
Swap #3: Yogurt
There are so many dairy-free products for this now, it's great!
My first tip is to learn more about your specific reason for going dairy-free.
If it's the protein lactose you can't digest, you may be able to enjoy a lactose-free yogurt (liberty brand has one). However, it is still dairy so if you're doing it for personal reasons omit.
Again, if your reason is specifically with cows milk, your digestive system may have no problem tolerating sheep's or goat's milk.
Goats yogurt is becoming more popular as it's easier to digest. Though admittedly the taste takes some getting used to as it's a bit more bitter.
Since I use yogurt for a protein source, more often than not I grab a coconut or nut-based yogurt and mix some collagen powder into it to give me more fuel.
Some great dairy-free products are:
Another option in place of dairy-free products though is to... make your own coconut yogurt! I know what you're thinking... uh.. Joyous Health has a wonderful recipe and tutorial on how to make your own coconut yogurt.
And it only contains two ingredients! You can flavor it how you like and it's much more cost-effective than buying.
Daiya now makes vegan greek yogurt in individual cups. It is rather delicious my only complaint is that they don't offer a plain version and thus the sugar content is a bit high for me.
Their Greek Yogurt in bulk is also extremely thick which is the most similar to a traditional Greek Yogurt. It works extremely well in recipes.
Swap #4: Cheese
Cheese is perhaps the biggest hurdle when learning how to go dairy-free.
There are a lot of soy-based cheeses (vegan cheese) on the market like Daiya that come in shredded or sliced form.
As far as dairy-free products go, I personally dislike the Diaya brand for cheese (most things actually) as it doesn't melt.
Instead, try Earth Island cheese. They have both shredded and sliced and it truly melts when you heat it (though it does take longer).
On that note: keep in mind that vegan cheeses do tend to be overly processed. If you're big into gut-health, they may be something you look into using every so often and not every day.
For appetizers like crackers and cheese or using a spreadable cheese on sandwiches/wraps, there is the option of cashew cheese!
This cheese is tasty, decadent, and of course expensive. It's a great alternative to your favorites and comes in a variety of flavors.
My favorite brand is Nuts For Cheese. I'll be the first to admit that I could eat a whole sleeve of it myself. It is tasty.
Learning to use Nutritional Yeast will open a lot of baking doors as well. It's one of the best dairy-free alternatives once you know how to use it!
On its own, nutritional yeast is a bit odd but when you learn to use it correctly it definitely helps make recipes flavorful!
It adds a cheesy flavor to sauces, popcorn, and baked goods.
Swap #5: Cream-Based Dairy-Free Products
Be it for your coffee, cupcakes, or any other random concoction you feel you're missing out on, there is a solution: coconut milk.
Really! Coconut milk makes the perfect cream replacement as it's thick and decadent.
It works well to thicken, to use as a creamer, and to make whole30 whip cream.
However, there are a ton of dairy-free products like frosting on the market today. So if you're not into making your own, it's pretty easy to find a store-bought version.
Swap #6: Chocolate
If ever there was something I refuse to give up it's bloody chocolate. Seriously, that's not even an option! and thankfully, I've learned to work around it.
Making your own chocolate-based products is simple thanks to cacao powder (and check out the amazing benefits of this awesome powder, as well as tasty chocolate recipes here!).
For chocolate chips, I use the brand Enjoy Life brand but I also keep a stash of straight dark chocolate squares too. in my experience, anything 80% normally doesn't have dairy in it because they use cacao butter as the base.
These chocolate squares are probably my favorite!
Swap #7: Ice Cream
There's been an explosion of this year when it comes to dairy-free ice cream.
While many brands simply offer their usual ice cream with a lactose alternative, I prefer something different.
So Delicious is my preferred brand of ice cream. Specifically the cashew-based one. The coconut one is like flaked water. The cashew ice cream though is creamy and in texture much more similar to the norm.
That said, I also make a lot of my own protein ice cream too.
Great Products For Dairy-Free Cooking
Much of the struggle when cutting out dairy is learning to make new renditions of your classic recipes which means having a few more staples on hand.
Below are some common dairy-free products you're going to want to have on hand:
Frequently Asked Questions About How To Go Dairy-Free
While most symptoms will take a few weeks to get out of your system, some things like bloating and migraines can be improved after just a few short days of eliminating dairy.
No, eggs are not a dairy product. However, eggs are amongst one of the top allergens for adults.
Eliminating cheese when switching to a dairy-free diet is hard. Take it step by step and find alternatives to your regular meals. For some meals, you can use dairy-free products. For others, you'll want to switch completely. Spreadable cashew cheese is delicious and nutritional yeast + coconut milk are great dairy-free products to give recipes a creamy flavor similar to cheese.
Dairy-Free Recipes To Replace Your Favorites
Having some staple dairy-free recipes on hand to replace your traditional ones will make the transition to eating dairy-free easier.
Below are a few reader favorites:
- Slow cooker tuscan chicken
- Dairy-free hoy chocolate
- One pot creamy sausage pasta
- One pot chicken alfredo
- Creamy chocolate pudding
- Dairy-free tomato soup
- Easy chocolate frosting
- The best dairy-free chocolate cupcakes
- Chocolate chip crumble cookies
- Dairy-free birthday cake
- Macaroni salad
- Chocolate ice cream
Making the choice to switch to a dairy-free diet will force you to change your habits (want to listen?
But there are lots of dairy-free foods, dairy-free alternatives, and tricks you can implement while still enjoy delicious food.