Dairy-Free

All You Need to Know about Dairy-Free Diet: 10 Substitutes and What to Avoid

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Updated on January 24, 2024

Reviewed by Israa Saeed

We are all different, and for some people, it is advisable to avoid dairy products and go for dairy-free foods because their bodies can’t digest lactose or they have an intolerance or allergy to proteins found in cows’ milk, such as casein, albumin, or whey, whilst others can. Suppose you are allergic to these proteins and consume them. In that case, you may experience a strong stomach reaction, a skin reaction, difficulties breathing, other forms of inflammation, or a milder reaction.

So, what should you do now? It is best to avoid dairy products, but why is your body reacting so strongly? Lactose is found in milk from cows, goats, sheep, and humans. Lactose intolerance occurs when your body does not create enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose in your intestines.

As we all know, dairy can play a significant nutritional function in your diet due to its high calcium levels, vitamins and protein. However, there are other sources of these nutrients. Many people adopt a dairy-free diet due to an allergy, intolerance, personal preference, or ethical considerations.

While eliminating all dairy from your diet may sound challenging, going dairy-free may be a healthy, stress-free option with the proper nutritious replacements.

So, suppose you’ve recently discovered a dairy allergy or wish to exclude dairy products from your diet. In that case, this article will come in handy with a comprehensive guide to everything you can and cannot eat. 

What Is a Dairy-Free Diet?

There are two things you should know about the dairy-free world. First, dairy-free is often known as vegan or plant-based. Second, and most importantly, many dairy-free products, from cheese to butter, are made with a nut foundation, notably cashews, to give them a meaty flavour. If you have nut allergies, it’s always best to double-check what you’re eating and read the ingredient list first.

Let us return to your critical question: “What is a dairy-free diet?” Simply put, a dairy-free diet eliminates nearly all dairy products. This includes milk from any animal and milk-containing foods and drinks such as cheese, yoghurt, butter, and cream. It may appear complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, you will find it simple.

Are the Vegan and Dairy-Free Diets the Same Thing?

Everyone is confused by this subject, and let us add to your confusion: all vegan food is dairy-free, but not all dairy-free food is vegan. Let us elaborate. They are similar but not the same.

Dairy-Free

A Vegan Diet

A vegan diet excludes all animal-derived items. This includes dairy, meat, eggs, and fish.

A Dairy-Free Diet

Dairy-free diets, on the other hand, eliminate all or most dairy products. This includes milk and any items produced with milk, which implies they can eat meat and fish normally. 

Is It Necessary to Take Supplements if You Follow a Dairy-Free Diet?

As previously stated, dairy products include calcium and other vitamins. If dairy is eliminated from the diet, a calcium substitution is likely to be necessary, particularly for children and pregnant women. Although many green vegetables contain significant calcium levels, the body may only sometimes absorb them quickly.

Tofu is an excellent source of calcium, which is why many dairy-free diet followers eat a lot of it. Not to add that silken tofu provides a light and creamy filling in cheesecakes that does not leave you feeling deprived of dairy. Other calcium-fortified products, such as milk alternatives, are available. However, it is always best to see your nutrients or doctor to verify you are on the right track and your body is not vitamin deficient, although supplements can be a good option in some cases. 

What Are the Benefits of a Dairy-Free Diet?

Dairy-free diets can have both health and environmental benefits. Let us tell you more about the benefits that will make your body appreciate you later for this incredible diet modification.

Decreased Inflammation:

Dairy products have been shown to increase inflammation, which might help reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Gastrointestinal Relief:

Do you have lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy? By removing lactose from your diet, you can eliminate gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhoea, and nausea.

Lower Risk of Some Cancers:

According to research, avoiding dairy products may lessen the risk of prostate and ovarian cancer. It is worth mentioning, however, that dairy consumption is thought to protect against colorectal and breast cancer.

Reduced Environmental Impact:

Eliminating or limiting your dairy consumption can significantly impact the environment. This is because dairy cows and their waste produce greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Dairy-Free Diet?

Anything has pros and cons; therefore, when it comes to any diet, becoming dairy-free may have a lot of benefits and potential concerns; if you’re wondering why, read on. However, thinking about it, cutting out or eliminating a food group from your diet reduces the amount of calories and nutrients you consume.

You should be aware that we are all different, and how our bodies react to other stimuli varies from person to person. As a result, the advantages and disadvantages of a dairy-free diet might differ based on the individual., their understanding of a balanced diet, their present dietary patterns, and their specific needs.

Let us begin with the advantages of a dairy-free diet

Going dairy-free is harmless as long as nutritional requirements are met. Just know that if you quit eating dairy products, you will immediately feel relief from unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea. Without a doubt, your body will thank you for it.

A dairy-free diet is also beneficial for those who have:

  • Lactose intolerance causes problems digesting the sugar in milk.
  •  Cow’s milk allergy
  •  Other dairy-related sensitivities

Now for the disadvantages of a dairy-free diet

The main disadvantage of a dairy-free diet is ensuring you get enough nutrients your body requires to function correctly. Dairy products are known to be high in vitamin D and calcium; deficits in those elements can lead to bone density problems.

Another drawback worth highlighting, not related to health but more of a budget kind of situation, is that many milk substitutes and other dairy-free foods are much more expensive than their dairy equivalents and are only available in some grocery stores across the country.

Last but not least, switching to a dairy-free diet is a big step that requires planning ahead of time for grocery shopping and cooking. It will be challenging at first and necessitate trial and error until you find the products you like, but once you get the hang of it, it will be a piece of dairy-free cake.

What to Eat and Avoid

The first step is to identify what you should and should not eat on a dairy-free diet.

In general, you’ll want to look out and consume:

  • Dairy Substitutes
  •  Dairy-free foods high in calcium, protein, and vitamin D
  •  Products labelled “dairy-free” and “non-dairy” should be avoided.

Dairy Substitutes

If you believe that being dairy-free means that your food cravings and outstanding cuisine have ended, think again since there are a few alternatives to dairy to explore.

Dairy-Free

Soya Milk

Soy milk is well-known and available in sweetened and flavoured varieties. Most are a suitable substitute for cow’s milk in cooking, but they may thicken when added to hot drinks; however, barista-style versions are more heat resistant. Remember that children allergic to cow’s milk protein are more likely to be allergic to soya, especially if they are under six months old.

Soya-Based Cheeses

Another soy option many dairy-free consumers appreciate and consider their go-to is Soya-based cheeses are getting better and dairy-free alternatives to mozzarella, Parmesan, blue cheeses, and Cheddar.

Soya Cream

Soya cream is another soya choice, so you don’t feel like missing out. Completely cold, soya cream can be substituted for single cream. Plus, Soya ice cream is easy to find.

Nut Milk

Plant-based milk derived from nuts, such as almonds, hazelnut, and cashew, can taste fairly sweet. These are suitable for breakfast, coffee, and desserts. You can even create your almond milk at home. Keep in mind that nut milk has less protein than nuts or soy milk. Cashew cheese and ice cream contain the entire nut; therefore, they contain all the protein.

Coconut Milk 

Coconut is well-known and abundantly available. If you like a strong coconut flavour, coconut milk is available in tins and cartons. It is an acceptable substitute for cow’s milk in most prepared recipes. Some tinned coconut milk separates overnight into a watery liquid and a thick solid that can be beaten to make a delicious alternative to whipped cream. 

Coconut Butter

Coconut butter is a ground coconut paste, like peanut butter, and can be substituted for dairy spreads.

Coconut Oil

In baking, coconut oil is an excellent substitute for butter because it has a milder coconut flavour. It can also be used as a spread.

Oat Milk

Oat milk has a slightly porridge-like flavour because it is created from oats and water, making it a bit thick, and it has a moderate amount of protein and carbs. It’s fantastic for cereals and savoury items but too strong for desserts. Barista-style versions are more heat-resistant and creamier in texture, making them ideal for hot beverages.

Rice Milk

Rice milk, as the name suggests, combines rice and water, making it richer in carbohydrates than other milk and fairly sweet. It lacks nutrition but works well in pancakes, various desserts, and sweet drinks.

Vegan Cheeses

If you are a cheese lover and think that after going dairy-free, your life is doomed, think again because vegan and lactose-free cheeses are available, with several made with coconut oil. Cashew nuts can make cream cheese and other lighter vegan cheeses.

Double-Check These Foods Before Consuming Them

Milk is one of the most common allergens; hence it must be listed in the ingredients list of prepackaged food or drink by law. Most items in the UK use a bold font to indicate the presence of milk. Some dairy-free products aren’t that black and white. Milk can be found in a variety of unexpected manufactured foods. When beginning a dairy-free diet, make it a habit to read labels, especially if you are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy.

Remember that dairy can be found in processed meals like breaded meat and seafood. Choose unprocessed meals whenever possible, and if you must eat processed foods, read the labels carefully.

 The following dairy-free foods are hit-or-miss, so read the label carefully before purchasing:

  • Bread
  •  Cakes & biscuits
  •  Cereals
  •  Cold cuts
  •  Crackers
  •  Crisps
  •  Dark chocolate
  •  Frozen puddings
  •  Margarine
  •  Pasta
  •  Pastries
  •  Processed meat
  •  Rice pudding
  •  Salad dressings
  •  Soup mixes
  •  Sweets

Foods to Completely Avoid if You Want to Eat Less Dairy

Now that we’ve discussed what you can eat and enjoy knowing it’s dairy free, let’s move on to the downside and what you should avoid.

Aside from popular dairy products like milk, cheese, cream, yoghurt, and butter, you should avoid certain foods or components. Except for alcoholic beverages, all allergies are required by law to be listed on food labels. 

Dairy-Free

If the allergy is severe, it is important to be cautious and consult with the producer because milk proteins are used in the refining process of many alcoholic beverages.

  • Artificial cream
  •  Casein and caseinates
  •  Cheese powder
  •  Curds
  •  Custard
  •  E966 may contain lactose and should be avoided if the allergy is strong
  •  Galactose
  •  Ghee
  •  Lactalbumin
  •  Lactoferrin
  •  Lactoglobulin
  •  Lactose
  •  Margarine
  •  Milk powder
  •  Nisin preparation
  •  Rennet
  •  Whey, whey syrup

What to Look For on Food Labels

If you have an allergy, it is an unspoken rule that you must first read the label. So, a few keywords will help you choose whether the item you are purchasing is a big no or a yes-go! The first thing you should understand is that Food goods containing any of the nine major food allergens must bear plain-language labels (such as “contains dairy“) to assist consumers in avoiding them. Milk, for example, is one of those allergens, but it’s still a good idea to carefully read the label and contents list.

There are no labels at restaurants; however, it is always wise to ask what is in the meal you will be enjoying. 

Products with the label “dairy-free.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate this phrase. Therefore, these goods may contain casein (a milk protein) or whey.

Products with the label “non-dairy.”

Technically, FDA laws permit these goods to include a tiny proportion of milk by weight as casein.

Include Dairy-Free Nutrition in Your New Diet 

While we all know that low-fat dairy products are essential to a healthy diet, the USDA highlights other ways to meet your nutritional needs if you are unable or wish not to consume dairy. It is widely recognised that the nutrients included in dairy foods, such as calcium and vitamin D, help maintain bone health and immunological function. Of course, you’ll want to ensure you acquire enough nutrients from another source.

Not to mention, if you exclude dairy from your diet for health reasons, you may notice a potential weight loss, so be sure you’re still ingesting enough calories each day to maintain your body running properly.

You should have no issue filling the protein gap if you aim to include a generous dairy-free protein source with each meal. Purition, a dairy-free protein powder, is a good option if you have a hectic schedule and are concerned about missing out on protein while converting to a dairy-free diet. Each serving contains 15-20g of dairy-free protein produced from seeds, nuts, and European-grown plant protein, which provides a valuable protein boost when switching to a dairy-free diet.

Dairy-Free

Dairy-free protein sources

  • Eggs
  •  Fish
  •  Meat

Vegan protein sources

  • Beans & legumes
  •  Nuts & seeds
  •  Tofu & tempeh

What’s the Difference Between Lactose-free and Dairy-free Products?

This is confusing for many people, but let us break it down. A dairy-free product contains no milk. Lactose-free products may still contain milk, but lactose, a natural sugar in milk, has been removed. We hope this makes things clearer.

Last Piece of Guidance

If you’re considering becoming dairy-free, consult your doctor first, particularly if you have a medical problem. Based on your unique circumstances, they will be able to discuss the dangers and benefits of a dairy-free diet, or they will refer you to a nutritionist or dietician. Remember that there is no single answer to any diet options, so always choose what works best for you and your overall health.

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