Frequently, I am asked for advice on how someone can start a dairy-free diet. Usually, the information is for someone recently diagnosed with a dairy allergy or someone who suspects dairy is causing a problem for their health. Here is a list of advice on some of the products we use to be dairy-free.  Both my middle daughter and I are allergic to dairy.  Personally, I think quality organic dairy from pastured cows can be a great source of nutrition so please know that I am not advocating removing dairy from your diet unless it is necessary or you are doing a dairy-free trial to see if it helps improve your health. A word of caution – some products that claim to be “non-dairy” actually have dairy protein (the casein), which is what triggers the allergic reaction. The “non-dairy” label came about for lactose intolerant people. Always read the ingredient labels of everything you buy to make sure there is no milk if you have an allergy.

I do not recommend any soy products.

SILK Almond Milk is the best drinking milk I have tried. It tastes good and is healthy. Almonds naturally contain calcium. Costco has started carrying the “Original” version, which is the one my daughter with a dairy allergy will drink, so we buy that one. However, Silk also produces unsweetened almond milk which would be healthier, but my main concern was getting something my daughter would be willing to drink. I know some people make their own almond milk and such, but I’m not there.  I just don’t have the time right now, and I’m guessing most people beginning a new way of eating are looking for a product to purchase rather than how to make it from scratch.

When looking for something creamier to use in my coffee or something similar, So Delicious makes a coconut milk drink that is creamy. For a recipe like pumpkin pie that calls for cream, I use a can of coconut milk. I place the can of coconut milk in the fridge over night. The next day when I open it the fat is solid at the top of the can. I use that for the cream in the pie and toss out the “watery” part that is in the bottom of the can. FYI, Native Forrest is the only brand of canned coconut milk that I know of that is BPA free.

Mac & cheese – Road’s End organics makes boxed Mac & Chreeze (look for gluten free and regular versions found at Whole Foods). It’s pretty good and my kids eat it. Also, Amy’s has a frozen meal version that is okay. The best is a new recipe I have been making for homemade macaroni and cheese using butternut squash. Even my daughter who dislikes all squash will eat it up.

For cheese slices to make grilled cheese sandwiches we use a vegan rice cheese (soy free). Again some rice cheeses have dairy, so look for vegan.  It looks like American cheese slices in the wrapper and I buy it at Whole Foods. It works best if we pull out the cheese slices we will be using and let them warm up in a sunny window or something similar. This helps the cheese melt in the sandwich. Otherwise, the bread tends to cook up before the cheese has a chance to melt.  My daughter, who only ate real dairy for about 6 months at the age of two, seems to be able to eat it straight, but I prefer mine grilled in the grilled cheese.

I find it difficult to enjoy the cheese replacements as much as the real cheeses I remember. In the past, I occasionally ate cheese as a quick protein snack, but now I might keep some hard boiled eggs on hand or some nuts.  Getting used to a new snack can be easier than learning to like some of the weird fake cheese out there.

The absolute BEST fake cheese ever is the fairly new Daiya cheese. We make our own pizza using Daiya fake cheese – mozzarella flavor. It definitely is the best option out there. It is carried at Whole Foods and Sprouts. In the Phoenix area, Red Brick Pizza offers it as a cheese option. I am not sure if it shows up on their menu or not, but if you ask, they can use that instead of dairy cheese. Also, Picazzo’s makes great gourmet pizzas and can use Daiya cheese.  Both of those also offer gluten-free crusts.  To find Daiya cheese at a store or restaurant near you, they have a fabulous search feature on their website.  (FYI, we didn’t like their “cheddar” flavor.)

For a buttery spread, we buy Earth Balance SOY FREE natural buttery spread, for toast, etc. I have read it can be used in recipes as well, though it’s not what I normally use.

Also, if your body tolerates it, I highly recommend including ghee in your diet. It is pure clarified butter with all milk solids removed (and thus the casein or protein is removed). Ghee is a nutrient dense food. Purity Farms produces a certified casein-free ghee that is produced from pastured cows. This means it is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K2, all of which help with and are essential for calcium absorption. It withstands high heat, so can be great for cooking and the fat aids in the absorption of fat soluble minerals and vitamins. I basically alternate between olive oil and ghee for sautéing, using the ghee when higher heat is needed. I also often use it in my baking, frequently in combination with other fats.

When baking, I use 1/4 Cup Ghee and 3/4 Cup Spectrum Organics Palm Shortening to replace 1 cup of butter.

Yogurt: The best flavor/nutrition is Amande almond yogurt. The big problem (and the kids and I agree on this), it looks funny! You stir it up and it looks lumpy like curdled milk, but if you don’t look at it, the yogurt takes great.  The solution I’ve found is to buy the big tub of plain Amande yogurt and use it to make yogurt/berry smoothies. It tastes great and you don’t see the odd look to it once it is blended. The So Delicious brand coconut yogurt looks great – like real yogurt, and it is palatable, but we didn’t love the flavor as much as the Amande. In fact, in our ideal world, the dairy-free yogurt would look like the So Delicious coconut yogurt, but taste like the Amande yogurt. (Actually, in our ideal world we could eat real dairy yogurt, but I digress.)

Finally, while some of these dairy alternatives are supplemented with calcium, I also recommend traditional broth which can also be a good source of calcium and magnesium – which is needed for calcium absorption. The simplest way to prepare it is first make a pastured chicken in the crockpot.  This is a super simple recipe was inspired by the Crockpot Chicken recipe at 100 days of Real Food and Perpetual Broth at Nourished Kitchen: chop up an onion, throw it in bottom of crockpot, pull giblet bag out of chicken, throw chicken in the crockpot, dump giblets into crockpot, sprinkle salt, parsley, basil, on chicken. Cook on low all day or 4-6 hour on high. When done, remove all chicken from bones (well it pretty much falls off), reserve meat for eating and throw everything else back into the crockpot. Toss in celery, bay leaves. Pour in water to fill crockpot. Leave on low. Cook for at least 24 hours minimum. Ideally, make perpetual broth – leave the crockpot on low all week. As you want/need take mugs of broth out to consume or cupfuls at a time to make soups, salt to taste. Refill with water and continue the broth. When the bones will crush easily when pinched with your fingers, you’ve extracted all the minerals – this will be around day 5 or 6.

Chocolate! Enjoy Life chocolate chips are allergen-free, no dairy, no soy, no wheat etc. I think Sprouts carries them and Whole Foods definitely sells them. Recently, we tried an Equal Exchange Organic Very Dark Chocolate bar. Mmmm, it was good. We all liked it. That I picked up at Whole Foods, but there is a chocolate bar section at Sprouts. We also liked a “Costa Rican” chocolate bar – I can’t recall the brand just now. Basically head to the dark chocolates and read labels, some still have dairy, but others don’t. Also, baking cocoa doesn’t have any added dairy.  Personally I like to mix half coconut milk and half almond milk and use sugar and cocoa to make hot chocolate. My daughter prefers it with all almond milk.

I hope this helps people navigate the road to becoming dairy-free and feeling better!

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