If you had told me a several years ago that I would no longer be eating cheese, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I probably would have been super sad about it. But now I can safely say that I’ve transitioned my diet into a dairy-free lifestyle and don’t even miss it – so I wanted to share how and what dairy alternatives helped make it easier.
So, I didn’t just wake up one day and decide I was going dairy-free. I actually stopped eating it when my second daughter was about a month old because I was nursing her and she was having lots of reflux issues. I tried different things (avoiding acidic foods like tomato sauce, giving her gripe water and even Gaviscon, believe it or not) and nothing helped. Since I ate a lot of it, something told me that I should try to avoid dairy and I chatted with her pediatrician about it and was told it takes weeks for it to actually leave my system.
So, I just went cold turkey and stopped eating dairy! It was hard. Really hard. But it helped my daughter so much! For most of my life, I had used cheese, butter, etc. in most things I cooked so suddenly, coming up with dinner ideas was challenging. I had previously avoided all things Whole30 (because it seemed like a fad), but I started looking for dairy-free recipes on Pinterest and realized that practically all of them fell under the realm of Whole30 or Paleo. I reserved the Whole30 books and cookbook from the library and started digging into it a little more and finally tested some recipes, too. I quickly found out that Whole30/Paleo recipes are actually delicious and don’t need dairy in them to taste good! That was the start of a mindset shift for me, really. I just naturally put cheese on everything in the past, but since I was no longer able to do it, I actually found I enjoyed the flavor of recipes without it. It really wasn’t until a few months down the road, when I accidentally ate chocolate fondue loaded with heavy cream, that I realized just how bad dairy made my body feel. I remember feeling lethargic for several days after this and my stomach was bloated and painful – it was super unpleasant and obviously, it was an extreme reaction because I hadn’t eaten any dairy for months. Obviously if you eat certain irritating foods every day, you don’t notice reactions in an extreme sort of way, but it will ultimately make you feel not your best overall. Cutting dairy permanently for me meant improved energy, flatter abs and less breakouts.
How to Transition Away From Dairy
Even though I noticed I felt better soon after going dairy-free, it was still hard to give up something I’d eaten my entire life. It was also hard to know what dairy alternatives would be a good substitute for our favorite recipes. It was definitely a learning curve, but truthfully, being open to trying Paleo and Whole30 recipes made it much easier to do!
My advice would be to take baby steps if you’re trying to cut dairy by choice.
- Stop using cheese to top salads and other dishes that don’t necessarily need it and replace it with nuts, nutritional yeast or dairy-free cheese if you must have something.
- Start exploring dairy-free recipes and don’t fear Whole30 or Paleo recipes – they are so good and the healthy fats satisfy you and make you forget about dairy altogether!
- Figure out the best plant-based alternatives for your favorite dairy products so you can continue to enjoy your favorite recipes.
And, of course, if you’re cutting dairy out of necessity, it may not be feasible to take baby steps – but I can tell you confidently that it can be done by following the same tips.
My Favorite Dairy-Free Alternatives
This is my favorite part to talk about! As a self-professed foodie, I love trying new things and have never shied away from vegan or plant-based foods. Even when I still ate dairy, I preferred to use almond milk for everything from cooking to cereal, etc. Now that I’ve been dairy-free for quite a while, I’ve built up a list of my favorite non-dairy products. You can also find all of my Trader Joe’s favorites here.
- Silk Almond Creamer in Vanilla – Love this in my coffee…they also have a pumpkin spice flavor in the fall!
- Silk Unsweetened Almond Milk – We use this to cook with primarily but I like it in cereal, too.
- Silk Cashew Milk – This helps make excellent chocolate fondue and it’s strangely good at making scrambled eggs fluffier.
- Silk Soy Yogurt – I’m not a huge fan of eating lots of soy products, but every now and then I really like a cup of yogurt and this one tastes great.
- Kite Hill Almond Milk Yogurt – I’m a newbie to Kite Hill but their products are great!
- Daiya Mozzarella + Cheddar “Cheese” Shreds – Hands down my favorite non-dairy cheese – I use it on pizza, nachos, taco salads and when making cheese ‘sauce’ for cauliflower gnocchi.
- Trader Joe’s Vegan Cream Cheese Spread – This is a great alternative if you’re making a creamy dip and also works well on a bagel! You can also find Daiya and Kite Hill brand at some stores.
- Trader Joe’s Vegan Pesto – One of the only pestos I know that is dairy-free and SO good!
- Earth Balance Butter Spread – We mostly cook with olive oil but if something calls for butter, we use this instead. It also works well in Rice Krispie Treats (I’ve taken these to the girls’ school).
- Coconut Oil – A great cooking oil and also works well in place of butter.
- Canned Coconut Milk or Coconut Cream – This is a staple if you’re making Whole30 or Paleo recipes – it’s thick, creamy and works great in comfort food dishes.
- Nutritional Yeast – This gives foods a cheesy flavor and can be used to make a cheese sauce for things like nachos or macaroni and ‘cheese.’
- Hilary’s Chia Ranch Dressing – Occasionally I’ll crave ranch and love this one because of its clean ingredients and of course, no dairy.
- Daiya Cheesecake – If you like cheesecake, try this one! No, it’s not identical to the real thing, but it’s really good and still rich and creamy without the dairy.
- Orgain Protein Powder – I’ve talked about Orgain many times but it really is my favorite plant-based protein powder! I really like Vanilla for the versatility (I even bake with it!) but Chocolate is good, too.
I’m sure there’s more than I’m forgetting but these are the dairy-free staples we like to keep on hand (okay, the cheesecake is more of a special occasion treat!). I hope these tips help if you’ve been considered going dairy-free for health or lifestyle reasons!