Have you been told you or your child has an allergy to dairy? Have you simply long suspected that dairy is causing your chronic heartburn, nasal congestion, IBS symptoms, etc? Last week, I explained why I went dairy-free. Now, let’s talk about how do to such a thing.
First of all, what is dairy?
Dairy is any food derived from the milk of a mammal – most often cow’s milk. This means butter, milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, sour cream, buttermilk, and the like. Eggs are not dairy, even though they are frequently found in the dairy case. These are the obvious sources, but foods with dairy-derived ingredients also need to be avoided. Ingredients that can mean dairy is an ingredient include:
– butterfat, butter oil, butter solids
– casein, ammonium caseinate, calcium caseinate, casein hydrolysate, iron caseinate, magnesium caseinate, paracasein, potassium caseinate, rennet casein, sodium caseinate, and zinc caseinate
– whey, whey protein, whey protein isolate
I don’t know about you, but that’s enough too-hard-to-pronounce words for me! Makes my head spin. The good thing is that in the United States, manufacturers are required to list allergens in their products. If you read the label, you can see whether something says “Contains Milk” or “May Contain Milk”. In addition, some manufacturers have even gone so far as to label if a product has been processed in the same facility or on the same lines as milk-containing products, allowing you to make an informed decision about whether you want to risk consuming those products.
However, many foods are naturally dairy-free. All fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, seafood, plain rice, beans, and many other staples are dairy-free. Think of a dinner of baked salmon with dill and lemon, a wild rice pilaf, with a side of broccoli – this can be made healthy and completely dairy-free. What about a fajita dinner? Without the cheese or sour cream, you can still enjoy corn tortillas, fajita meat (watch for marinades), peppers and onions, salsa, and guacamole as part of a dairy-free meal. Many salads are dairy-free – just steer clear of cheese and opt for homemade dressings or oil and vinegar. A great many Asian meals are dairy-free as well – think fried rice, stir-fries, miso soup, sushi, and more! Stuffed mushrooms, peppers, and other veggies are easily still an option when dairy-free. So breathe in, breathe out, and realize that you.will.not.starve. Your food will not be boring. Dairy-free living is still full of amazing flavor and variety!
Now depending on your level of sensitivity, you may need to go through your home and assess where dairy cross-contamination can occur. For example, make sure that if smoothies are made with dairy, that the blender and everything is very well-cleaned before any dairy-free smoothies are created. Personally, I find dishes with baked-on cheese to be the hardest to clean – I only use glass bakeware for items that require cheese to be baked (for the rest of the family) so I can remove it completely. I also have a separate sponge/scrubbie for this (my “gluten/dairy” sponge), as cheese tends to “stick” on things and I worry that it would remain on a dish scrubber for my gluten and dairy-free dishes.
Still unsure on what you will eat when you can no longer grab a gluten-free, cheese-full pizza for dinner, or a yogurt for breakfast? Make a meal plan for a week. Eggs are great for breakfast – hard-boil some for when you’re on the go. Fresh fruit is also wonderful for breakfast, as are smoothies. LARA Bars and KIND Bars are often dairy-free and also great for on-the-go breakfasts. Salads, simple stir-fries, gluten-free pasta dishes sans cheese or cream sauces, and easy meals consisting of a protein+2 sides are a good way to start. Once you have a plan, write down the groceries you’ll need and go shopping. This way, you can relax, since you’ll know what you’ll be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week.
You’ll get through this transition, I promise! Allow yourself time to adjust, and realize there might be a bit of time for “mourning”. I know I had to overcome the loss of cheese, as I was a lover of all kinds of cheeses. However, the improvement in my health and quality of life was worth more than cheese. Over time, I learned to substitute with non-dairy cheeses, and even have made my own. There are quite a few ways you can substitute for dairy in cooking and baking, and it can be delicious! For example, I actually prefer ice cream made with coconut milk – it’s easier and it’s deliciously creamy. More next week on those substitution ideas for your favorite dairy foods.
Of course, there is so much more we can learn from one another. For those of you that are a bit more experienced in the dairy-free lifestyle, what tips can you offer? If you could go back and tell your newly dairy-free self something that would make his/her life easier during this transition time, what would it be?