A dairy-free diet without milk, cheese and ice cream might seem crazy — or downright impossible — to many. But did you know it’s estimated that 30-50 million American adults are lactose intolerant? Those who are lactose intolerant are unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products, leading to nausea, cramps and bloating. Ouch.
While many follow a dairy-free diet out of medical necessity, more and more people are ditching dairy for alternative reasons. Be it skin flare-ups, ethical dilemmas or simply because you feel healthier without it, maybe you’re considering a dairy-free diet too.
If your current meals are pretty heavy-on-the-diary, going dairy-free will require a total diet revamp. With that said, this guide covers everything you need to go dairy-free, stress-free... and make the transition a whole lot easier!
What is a dairy-free diet?
A dairy-free diet includes avoiding all or most dairy products including milk, butter, yogurt, cheese, cream and ice cream.
Those on a very strict dairy-free diet, or who are intolerant to lactose, avoid all products containing milk, even if it’s in small or negligible amounts.
Unlike a vegan or plant-based diet, those on a dairy-free diet still eat other animal products such as meat and fish.
Is dairy-free healthy?
As long as essential nutrients are replaced by consuming other food sources, a dairy-free diet can be very healthy.
However, while many people see positive effects after eliminating dairy from their diet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that eating dairy is unhealthy.
Dairy affects each person individually. Those who can tolerate dairy don’t need to cut it out. In moderation, it’s very nutritious — high in protein, an excellent source of Vitamin D and packed with calcium.
So while dairy can definitely be healthy, it’s not essential. The nutrients in dairy can be found in numerous other foods. It’s simply about knowing where to find them, which we’ll cover later.
For a deeper insight into dairy vs dairy-free, we’d recommend reading ‘Dairy: Is it good or bad for you?’ by Precision Nutrition.
Dairy-free diet benefits
Ditching dairy can have several benefits, especially if you are intolerant to it:
→ Gastrointestinal relief: Lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy? Eliminating lactose from your diet will help to eliminate your gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and nausea.
→ Clearer and calmer skin: If you’re struggling with acne or another inflammatory skin condition, you may find that your symptoms decrease after cutting out dairy. This is because dairy cows are typically treated with artificial hormones, which can throw your own hormones off balance and cause breakouts (Source: Diet and Dermatology, 2014).
→ Lower risk of some cancers: Observational studies indicate that a dairy-free diet can reduce the risk of prostate and ovarian cancer. However, it’s also important to consider that eating dairy is believed to have protective effects against colorectal and breast cancer.
→ Reduced environmental impact (Source: WWF): Eliminating or reducing the amount of dairy in your diet can significantly reduce your impact on the environment. This is because dairy cows and their manure produce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.
Dairy-free diet risks
The main health risk associated with dairy-free diets is nutritional deficiency.
Cows milk, which was probably a huge part of your pre-dairy-free-diet, is a fantastic source of protein. A single glass contains all of the amino acids your body for cell repair and renewal. As you’ll be cutting out milk entirely, you need to make sure you’re filling this sudden protein gap.
The good news is, that there are plenty of nutritious dairy-free protein sources to enjoy; namely eggs, fish, meat, nuts, seeds, soy, beans and lentils. Aim to include a dairy-free protein source with every meal and you’ll have no problems filling in that pint-sized protein gap!
Dairy products also contain high amounts of calcium, which:
- Forms teeth and bone
- Regulates nerve impulse transmissions
- Regulates muscle contractions
- Regulates hormone secretions
Source: The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition by Precision Nutrition
A calcium deficiency can lead to low bone mineral density and a significantly increased risk of osteoporosis.
Therefore, if you switch to a dairy-free diet, it’s important to find a way to replace the lost calcium from the dairy products you were consuming. The good news is, that while dairy is an excellent source of calcium, it’s not the only source of calcium.
The recommended daily calcium intake for healthy adults in the US is 1000mg. Take a look at the following non-dairy calcium-rich foods list, to see how you can reach this level without consuming dairy.
Non-dairy calcium-rich foods list…
|FOOD||PORTION SIZE||CALCIUM (mg)|
|Calcium-fortified soy milk||⅓ pint – 200ml||178|
|Calcium-fortified soy yogurt||Small post – 125g||150|
|Calcium-fortified oat milk||⅓ pint – 200ml||240|
|Calcium-enriched rice milk||⅓ pint – 200ml||130|
|Tofu||Average portion – 100g||100–500*|
|Whitebait||Average portion – 80g||688|
|Canned pilchards||Average portion – 110g||75|
|Canned sardines||½ tin – 60g||300|
|Salmon||Medium portion – 100g||91|
|Tahini||1 teaspoon – 19g||130|
|Sesame Seeds||1 tablespoon – 12g||80|
|Almonds||Whole – 13g||31|
|Chickpeas||1 tablespoon – 35g||56|
|Okra||Medium portion – 60g||132|
|Kale||Medium portion – 60g||90|
|Spinach (boiled)||1 tablespoon – 40g||64|
|Broccoli||Medium portion – 85g||34|
*The calcium level in tofu varies significantly between products, so remember to check levels and opt for calcium-set products with high calcium content.
Source: NHS: Calcium for dairy-free
Dairy-free diet: What you can and can’t eat
The thought of cutting out your most-loved dairy products might seem difficult, but a dairy-free diet is much easier than you think. There are so many naturally dairy-free foods, as well as a rapidly growing range of dairy-free alternatives. You’ll never feel deprived!
While it’d be impossible to list every single dairy and non-dairy food on the planet, here’s a list of the basic food items you can eat — and what you’ll need to avoid — on a dairy-free diet…
Foods that are dairy-free
Fruits and vegetables → Meat & poultry → Fish & seafood → Eggs → Nuts & seeds → Soy products such as tofu and tempeh → Legumes → Beans → Whole grains such as quinoa and couscous → Healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil → Herbs & spices → Dairy-free alternatives such as nut milk, cream, cheese and yogurt
Keep in mind that processed foods, such as breaded meat or seafood, could contain dairy. Focus on unprocessed foods where possible and if you do opt for something processed, make sure to double-check labels.
Looking for an easy, healthy, dairy-free breakfast, lunch or snack? Purition dairy-free is made with real, whole food ingredients from nature’s larder. High in protein, fiber and natural healthy fats, Purition can help take the stress out of transitioning to a dairy-free diet.
Foods to avoid on a dairy-free diet
Milk → Condensed milk → Cheese → Mozzarella → Butter → Margarine → Buttermilk → Yogurt → Ice cream → Buttermilk → Sour cream → Whipped cream → White chocolate → Milk chocolate → Creamers → Instant coffee and hot chocolate mixes → Whey-based products → Custard
Foods to check the label on
When it comes to dairy-free foods, some products aren’t so black-and-white. Many unexpected processed foods contain small amounts of milk. It’s important to check labels when you begin your dairy-free diet, especially if you’re intolerant or have an allergy.
As milk is a key allergen, it must be emphasized within the ingredients list of prepacked food or drink. In the US, you’ll find that most products emphasize any milk ingredients using a bold font.
The following products are hit and miss when it comes to dairy-free foods, so remember to check the label before you purchase them:
Bread → Pasta → Margarine → Dark chocolate → Salad dressings → Soup mixes → Instant latte and hot chocolate mixes → Cakes and biscuits → Crackers → Cake mixes → Sweets → Cereals → Processed meat → Cold cuts → Frozen puddings → Pastries → Crisps → Rice pudding
Know your dairy-free labels
Not all lactose and dairy ingredients will fall under the simple name of ‘milk’ or ‘cheese’. If you’re strictly dairy free or have a serious intolerance, it’s importantly to get clued up on labels.
You should keep a close eye out for the following ingredients, as they are all made from milk:
- Casein (curds), caseinates
- Calcium or sodium caseinate
- Hydrolyzed casein
- Hydrolyzed whey protein
- Whey, whey solids, hydrolyzed whey
Is chocolate dairy-free?
Pure chocolate is dairy-free. It’s typically made with cocoa powder, sugar and cocoa butter (the fatty portion of the cacao bean), which are all naturally free from dairy.
However, the majority of manufacturers add milk, milk powder or butter oil to their chocolate bars. This is especially the case with milk and white chocolate, which generally isn’t dairy-free.
But you won’t have to have to go without chocolate on a dairy-free diet. Dark and plain chocolates are often free from dairy — just make sure to check the label, as some products do contain small amounts of milk.
There are also a growing number of vegan and free-from chocolate bars available, which are completely free from milk and dairy! These are the best options for anyone with a strict dairy allergy or intolerance, as there is no risk of cross-contamination.
Try them now as part of your Discovery Box.
Are eggs dairy-free?
Eggs are not a dairy product. By definition, dairy products are made from or contain the milk of mammals. In contrast, eggs are laid by birds. Birds are not mammals and they do not produce milk.
Eggs are often mistakenly lumped into the dairy category because they’re stored beside each other in shops and supermarkets. However, you can still eat eggs on a dairy-free diet, as they’re simply not dairy.
The only exception to this would be if you wanted to go vegan as you’d then avoid all animal and animal by-products, including eggs.
Dairy-free protein powder
Wondering what the deal is with protein powders on a dairy-free diet? Protein powders are traditionally made with whey, which is a by-product of the cheese-making process. This means whey (for the most part) contains lactose, making whey-based products, such as protein powders, unsuitable for anyone following a dairy-free diet.
But whether you’re a fitness fanatic or simply enjoy the convenience of protein powders, avoiding dairy doesn’t mean missing out. Purition dairy-free vegan is 100% plant-based and free from lactose. Made from 70% ground seeds, nuts and a complete plant-based protein blend, one glass provides around 15g of protein and up to 38% of your calcium RDA, depending on the flavor.
If you have a serious lactose intolerance or milk allergy, you can feel safe in the knowledge that our dairy-free products are made and assembled down a meticulously managed production line within our purpose-built facility to ensure there is no cross-contamination with milk-products.