Why Go Dairy-Free?
There are numerous health and ethical reasons to avoid dairy products. On the health side, countless people who’ve quit dairy found that their chronic congestion, digestive problems, ear infections, or acne vanished within a few weeks. You might therefore consider going dairy-free for a month to see if doing so significantly improves your quality of life. Having said that, it’s important for everyone—meat eaters, ovo-lacto vegetarians, and vegans alike—to read up on nutrition to ensure the diet they follow isn’t deficient in any nutrients.
Nutritionally speaking, dairy is bad news everywhere you look. Almost half of the calories in whole milk come from fat, and nearly all of its carbohydrates come from sugar—all of it in the form of lactose, which many people can’t properly digest. Worse yet, the fat in dairy products is every bit as saturated as the fat in beef. On top of all this, dairy has absolutely no fiber or iron. And if all that were not enough, you might contemplate why the FDA refuses to answer the question about whether there is pus in milk products.
On the ethical side, many dairy cows are never allowed to graze outdoors; they are confined to cramped stalls on factory farms. Although a cow can live twenty years, practically all dairy cows are sent to slaughter before they turn five, as the milk production of aging cows can’t match that of a younger animals. Modern dairy cows are impregnated each year in order to maximize their milk yields, and their calves are often sold to the veal industry. So if you oppose veal crates and the killing of young calves for food, you should know that buying dairy products helps to keep the veal industry afloat. For detailed information about the dairy industry’s cruel farming practices, see Jonathan Safran Foer’s superb book Eating Animals.
How to Go Dairy-Free
If the idea of rapidly removing all dairy products from your diet seems daunting, you can ease into it. Think about the dairy products you currently consume: chances are that there’s one or two such foods you love, but a dozen others you eat regularly that you’re not crazy about. If, for example, you regularly consume whole milk, yogurt, ice cream, American cheese slices, butter, and cheese pizza, it might be that yogurt and pizza are the only foods from this list that you’re especially fond of. So get rid of the others, and you’re immediately more than halfway to being dairy-free! But the real key to success in eliminating dairy foods involves not cutting them out, but rather crowding them out with superior non-dairy alternatives. And luckily, there are all sorts of non-dairy products on the market that are truly wonderful:
- Butter: Earth Balance and Soy Garden are excellent vegan margarines.
- Yogurt: WholeSoy, Wildwood, and Nancy’s all make soy yogurts and there are numerous other regional brands of vegan yogurt. WholeSoy might be the tastiest of the bunch and comes in both single-serving containers and 24-ounce tubs.
- Milk: Soy, rice, almond, coconut, and even hemp seed milks are widely available, not just at natural food stores but also at just about every supermarket. They’re sold both in aseptic juice boxes stored at room temperature, and in conventional milk cartons in the dairy case. Note that “coconut milk” may refer to a pour-it-on-your-cereal milk alternative that’s similar to soy milk, or it may refer to canned coconut milk which is a much thicker and fattier product perfect for Thai curries.
- Cheese: There are several non-dairy cheeses on the market, but always check the label for casein or sodium caseinate. Casein is a milk protein that is used in some soy cheeses. Happily, two of the best non-dairy cheeses—Daiya and Wayfare—are vegan. Daiya comes shredded in 8-ounce bags, available in mozzarella and cheddar flavors. The stuff melts beautifully and is amazing on pizza and in quesadillas. Wayfare’s “We Can’t Say it’s Cheese,” is a spreadable product, perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches and mac & cheese dishes. Both brands are widely available in the United States.
- Ice Cream: There are a number of excellent brands: Turtle Mountain’s “Purely Decadent” pints are outstanding, and conventional ice cream producer Double Rainbow makes several excellent varieties from soy milk. Also, both So Delicious and Tufutti make vegan versions of those junky but delicious ice cream sandwiches you ate as a kid—you won’t even be able to tell the difference! Plus don’t forget about sorbets, which tend to be vegan and are lighter and often more flavorful than ice cream. If you love the flavor of coconuts, you owe it to yourself to try Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss.
- Cream Cheese, Sour Cream, and Mayo: Once again, you’re in luck. Both Follow Your Heart and Tofutti make superb vegan versions of cream cheese and sour cream, which are available at Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, as well as many natural food stores. There are also several vegan brands of mayonnaise, including a sensational and widely-distributed product called “Vegenaise,” which is made by Follow Your Heart.
- Coffee Creamer: There’s no need to put cream in your coffee: both So Delicious and Silk make vegan creamers that blend perfectly into coffee.
- Pudding. Bestselling cookbook author Mark Bittman concocted perhaps the best chocolate pudding recipe you’ll ever try, and it doesn’t contain a drop of milk. ZenSoy makes refrigerated vegan pudding cups made from soy milk and almond milk.
Dairy-Free Cooking and Baking
Milk products show up in so many baked goods that it would be easy to believe that they’re indispensable ingredients. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a wide assortment of cookbooks available that contain delicious recipes for foods that typically contain milk-based ingredients. I never would have believed it when I cut animal products from my diet, but you can absolutely produce fantastic baked goods with neither milk nor eggs. In fact, the best cookie and the best brownie I’ve ever eaten in my life was vegan.
If you’re just now cutting dairy products from your diet, I recommend a simple everyday dairy-free cookbook like Robertson’s Quick-Fix Vegetarian or Sass’ Short-Cut Vegan. It’s certainly possible to make elaborate, mind-blowingly good vegan desserts and baked goods as well: Veganomicon is probably the most highly regarded collection of these sorts of recipes. The same authors also created, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and also, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I’ve included some helpful books and websites below. Cutting bovine mammary secretions out of your diet is surprisingly easy and satisfying. I hope you’ll make a commitment to try out a dairy-free lifestyle for a month. If you do, I’m confident you’ll never go back. If you found this guide of value and would access to a steady stream of related information, give my daily blog on Vegan.com a look. You can subscribe here. Finally, if this page has inspired you to cut dairy out of your diet, please shoot me an email to let me know—it’ll make my day!
More Books for Kicking the Dairy Habit:
- The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook: Delicious Dairy-Free Cheeses.
- Lick It! Creamy Dreamy Vegan Ice Creams Your Mouth Will Love.
- My own, The Ultimate Vegan Guide: Compassionate Living Without Sacrifice.