There are many reasons why a person would want to eliminate dairy from their diet including food allergies and intolerances, irritable bowl syndrome or other similar conditions, or while breastfeeding to determine if a baby has an intolerance to the dairy they receive through breastmilk to name a few. (The Go Dairy Free website has a list of 10 reasons to go dairy-free that you may want to check out.)
Last week I was contacted by a mom who was told by her baby’s pediatrician to try eliminating dairy from her diet to see if it would help her son. She called me because she knew one of my sons and I are dairy-free.
I shared some ideas with her, but I thought there might be others out there who could use some help going dairy-free as well. So, today I am sharing my story, alternative sources of calcium, some products I use, and a simple recipe for making your own almond milk.
My Story of Living Dairy-Free
I had my first experience with dairy-free living in early 2009 when my middle child, Joshua, was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, including dairy. Learning how to cook without diary, gluten, and eggs was overwhelming at first. Everything I knew about cooking seemed like it had to be tossed out the window in order to feed my son.
Even so, the benefits my little boy received from going dairy-free far outweighed any negatives. After a couple of months his behavior improved, his eyes weren’t red underneath and he looked healthier, and he even realized that his stomach didn’t hurt anymore, even though he never said it hurt before. Eventually, his asthma improved as well.
Over the years, cooking without the foods my son is allergic to became much easier. Most of the meals I cook are naturally safe for my son. Meats, vegetables, and fruits are safe for him if they are cooked without a lot of extra ingredients added.
However, there have been times when I have made separate foods for Joshua and made them the regular way for the rest of the family. For example, I have made two kinds of cake for a birthday, fed him a baked potato if I was serving macaroni and cheese, or made my son his own special pizza on pizza night.
When I decided to go dairy-free in 2014 I figured it wouldn’t be too hard since I had been feeding Joshua this way for five years. Even so, having consumed dairy products for 40 years, it wasn’t quite as easy to do as it was to tell a 4 year old he had stop eating some of the foods he loved.
I gave it a try for a few weeks and noticed that I was starting to feel better, even though I didn’t realize just how bad I had felt before. The digestive issues (to be polite) I had been dealing with started to disappear.
After a few weeks of pretty much no dairy I thought I would test myself to see if I really did have issues with dairy. I consumed quite a bit of dairy one day, not really thinking about what the repercussions would be. Let’s just put it this way, I spent a lot of time in the bathroom sitting on the toilet while holding a bucket.
After that incident, I was determined not to consume any more dairy. From that moment on I had an even greater sympathy for my son and a respect for how well he has always handled having to be different from other kids. He loved that we were “allergy buddies”, as he called us. 🙂
Sources of Dairy
Now that I have told you why my son and I are dairy-free, you may be wondering how we do it when we live in a society in which dairy is in so many products.
When I found out about Joshua’s food allergies I decided that the cold turkey method was the best way to go. My theory was that it would kind of be like taking off a bandaid. I thought taking away all of the foods he was allergic to all at once would hurt less than taking away foods here and there. It was a method that proved successful for both of us.
The obvious sources of dairy are milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream, and butter.
While the foods I listed above are pretty easy to recognize as containing dairy, sometimes there is dairy in products that you might not even realize. Being diligent about reading labels can help you avoid allergic reactions or an upset stomach.
While most processed foods are labeled as containing dairy, here is a list of words to be on the lookout for.
- Caseinates (in the form of calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium and ammonium)
- Rennet casein
The safest way to ensure you are avoiding dairy is to choose simple, whole foods and ditch the processed foods.
Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
When you go dairy-free you may be wondering how to get calcium into your diet. You might be surprised to learn that cow’s milk based products aren’t the only way to get calcium into your diet.
There are quite a few foods that contain calcium you might be surprised about. Even real maple syrup has some calcium in it. However, I don’t think that maple syrup is the best idea for replacing all of the calcium you won’t be getting by going dairy-free, but it sure does taste good. 🙂
Here are some healthy, non-dairy sources of calcium.
- Kale (101 mg per cup)
- Collard Greens (84 mg per cup)
- Bok Choy (74 mg per cup)
- Turnip Greens (197 mg per cup)
- Spinach (30 mg per cup)
- Chia Seeds (179 mg per ounce)
- Dried Figs (241 mg per cup)
- Navy Beans (306 mg per cup, raw)
- Black-Eyed Peas (183 mg per cup)
- Almonds (378 mg per cup, whole)
- Sesame Seeds (88 mg per tablespoon)
- Canned Salmon (232 mg in half a can, with bones)
- Sardines (351 mg per can)
- Blackstrap Molasses (41 mg per tablespoon)
- Oranges (74 mg per orange)
- Blackberries (42 mg per cup)
- Fennel (43 mg per cup, sliced)
- Broccoli (286 mg per bunch)
- Artichokes (71 mg each)
By incorporating more of these foods into your diet you will be able to supplement the calcium you will be missing by not consuming dairy.
While avoiding all processed foods and making everything from scratch is a great way to avoid accidentally consuming dairy, sometimes it is nice to be able to purchase items that are similar to those containing dairy.
We have found some good substitutes for ice cream, butter, and milk. Foods like yogurt and sour cream have been harder to replace because we don’t live near a big city where stores might carry more options. However, my son and I are thankful for the alternatives we have found.
Some of the dairy-free products I currently have in my house are pictured above. Coconut milk, almond milk, Earth Balance “butter”, So Delicious coconut milk ice cream, and Enjoy Life chocolate chips (affiliate links). I also have some Daiya “cheese” on hand as well. Our favorite product, and one that I use on a daily basis, is the Earth Balance “butter”.
In addition to the products I mentioned above, I also make some of my own dairy substitutes. If I want sour cream for a taco I make guacamole. In place of canned cream soups I make my own for recipes (which is better for you regardless of if you are dairy-free or not). I use palm shortening (affiliate link) in place of butter in icing recipes. I have also made my own versions of coconut milk and almond milk (see recipe below).
For foods like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, biscuits and gravy, etc. I simply use unsweetened almond milk and Earth Balance “butter” in place of their dairy counterparts.
While I have to be careful about what I eat at church carry-ins or restaurants, cooking dairy-free is really as simple as finding a great substitute for the dairy product your recipe calls for.
Homemade Dairy-Free Milk
Speaking of almond milk, I thought I would share with you how I make my own almond milk. While it is super easy to just pick up a carton of almond milk at the store, there are a few ingredients in many brands that I am not sure I want to consume regularly.
Any time I can make a food myself I know it is going to be healthier for my family than purchasing a similar processed item.
I have made this recipe many times over the years with great success. Adding some honey and vanilla makes a sweeter milk for drinking while leaving it plain is great for baking and cooking. You can even save the almond pulp for use in gluten-free cooking or to add protein to smoothies.
- 1 Cup Raw Almonds
- Water for Soaking Almonds
- 4 Cups Water
- ¼ tsp. Sea Salt
- Place almonds in a bowl and cover with water.
- Allow almonds to soak for 12-24 hours.
- Drain and rinse almonds.
- Place soaked almonds in a blender.
- Add 4 cups fresh water and ¼ tsp. sea salt.
- Cover and blend on high for 2-3 minutes.
- Strain the almond milk through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
- Refrigerate in a covered jar or pitcher. The almond milk will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
- Shake before serving.
To make sweetened almond milk add ½ teaspoon of vanilla and 1-2 tablespoons of honey before blending the milk. You can use stevia or a couple of pitted dates in place of the honey.
Looking for some dairy-free recipes? I have many recipes on this site that are dairy-free. I have included a few of them below.
- No-Bake Coconut Brownie Bites
- Homemade Cashew Cookie “Lärabars”
- 2-Ingredient Strawberry Sorbet
- Dairy-Free Icing
- Dairy-Free Banana “Ice Cream”
- Dairy-Free Chocolate Mousse (with a secret ingredient)
- Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Chocolate No-Bake Cookies
If you still have questions about how to eliminate dairy from your diet please let me know. I don’t consider myself an authority on the subject, but I do have quite a bit of experience. 🙂
Are you, or someone you cook for, dairy-free? I would love to hear your story.
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