Russell Simmons

Ditch the Dairy!

Most of us grew up with the idea that a tall glass of milk with every meal was the way to strong bones and perfect health.  A sandwich or taco without cheese or a baked potato without butter and sour cream might seem incomplete, and who would even consider having unbuttered toast or a bagel without cream cheese?  Our love affair with dairy is can make the prospect of a vegan diet seem particularly daunting, but the good news is, dairy alternatives are easier than ever to find on grocery store shelves!

There are a lot of good reasons to eliminate dairy products from your diet.  The American industrialized farming system results in dairy products that are often contaminated with hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics.  About 2-3% of children are severely allergic to dairy and many more adults are lactose intolerant. Many people prefer an entirely plant based diet for health and environmental reasons, not to mention concerns of animal cruelty.  If you want to replace the dairy in your diet with healthier alternatives, here’s a good list to help you get started!

Milk:  One of the best things you can do for your body is drink more water.  Most people don’t drink enough water, so replacing the glass of milk next to your lunch or dinner plate with a glass of water is a simple way increase water consumption while eliminating dairy.  If you’d like an alternative to cow’s milk for your breakfast cereal, smoothie, or even your favorite pancake recipes, try a plant based option such as soy, almond, coconut, or pea protein milk. There are also “milks” made from rice, cashews, flax, hemp, tff, and quinoa.  Each has varying amounts of protein, calcium, and vitamins so be sure to read labels to make sure you’re getting what you need in your diet. It’s also good to be aware of added sugar, so either focus on unsweetened varieties or enjoy sweetened products in moderation.

Yogurt:  Yogurt’s reputation as a healthy snack is a testament to the power of marketing.  Most cow’s milk yogurts are loaded with added sugar. Replacing dairy based yogurt with products made using coconut, almond, soy, or hemp cuts out dairy while stilling giving your gut health a boost from live bacterial cultures.  Try to purchase plain varieties and sweeten them yourself using a bit of real maple syrup or fresh fruit.

Cheese:  Many soft cheeses have tastes and textures that can be imitated pretty well using soy and nut based recipes.  You can also make your own “cream cheese” with cashews, Brazil nuts, almonds, or macadamia nuts. Crumbled soft tofu makes an acceptable replacement for soft crumbled cheese, while nutritional yeast can be used in place of grated parmesan.

Butter:  How you replace butter depends on what you’re making.  If you’re looking for something to spread on your toast, try mashed avocado, nut butters, or coconut oil.  In cooking and baking, you can use vegetable oil blends, coconut butter or oil, or cultured vegan butter. Avoid margarines, which are highly processed and also sometimes contain whey, a dairy ingredient.

Cream:  There are delicious alternatives to cream made with coconut milk.  You can even make your own homemade whipped cream with coconut cream and will never miss the dairy!  Other cream substitutes are made with cashews, soy, nuts, or blends of vegetable oils. These are usually lower in fat and calories as well.  Be sure to avoid highly processed non-dairy creams that can be loaded with high fructose corn syrup and trans fat.

Sour Cream:  As a base for tasty dips or a tangy topping, sour cream can be replaced with plain non-dairy yogurt.  You can also buy non-dairy sour cream or make your own using cashews, tofu, or sunflower seeds!

Ice Cream:  Giving up dairy doesn’t mean giving up ice cream!  There are so many decadent options on the market using non-dairy milks.  You can also opt for sorbets, which aren’t made from milk. Just don’t get sorbet confused with sherbert, which is made with milk.  For a homemade treat, blending frozen bananas with berries or cocoa powder and peanut butter. You’ll never believe it isn’t soft serve!  

When choosing alternatives for dairy products, be sure to read the labels so you can avoid any allergens.  Some products will contain more sugar than you’d expect or will have fillers such as inulin that can be difficult to digest.  If the price tag on some dairy replacements is daunting, consider homemade alternatives. They’ll be cheaper and are less likely to contain processed ingredients.