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People decide to say goodbye to dairy for a lot of different reasons. Maybe you're allergic or intolerant, perhaps you've heard some negative health claims about the effects on dairy in the body, or perhaps you're concerned with ethical and environmental issues surrounding the dairy industry. Whatever your stance is, you don't have to miss out on your favourite foods!
Dairy can be behind a lot of common ailments, such as eczema, allergies, asthma, bloating, arthritis, and has even been linked to certain cancers. Conventional dairy is often laden with growth hormones and antibiotics, and come from cows fed GMO feeds. Even the "purest" organic grass-fed milk still has an inflammatory effect on the body. Let's think about what dairy is for a second: it's the breast milk of a large mammal, and its purpose is to turn a small calf into a large cow as quickly as possible. That's not something I'd want in my body, and definitely not something I'd be comfortable feeding to my children. This doctor explains things a bit more eloquently than I:
Dairy replacement products offer just as many if not more nutrients than cow's milk. There are a bunch of different blends out there with varying macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, fat) and micronutrient (vitamins, minerals) levels. The beauty of dairy replacement products is that there are so many options for different tastes!
One of the things I hear from my friends that are thinking about quitting dairy is "but I would miss cheese!" and "is a life without cheese even worth living?" and "dairy is necessary for your health, you can't cut it out". I could offer you a plethora of sources as to how humans can and should live without dairy, but let's just talk about taste buds here.
I was a cheese-lover. I like a good mac and cheese, nachos, grilled cheese, cheese spread, you name it. The only difference is, now I can eat all of these things without any animal products in them whatsoever. People are shocked to see when I post pictures of things on my instagram like my morning bagel and cream cheeze, with my creamy-looking latte. It's almost like people are trying to catch me in my vegan facade like "HEY you said you were vegan, but you're eating cream cheese! FRAUD!". Sorry guys, you've been fooled, thanks to the sorcery that is vegan imitation products.
Almond, cashew, coconut, almond coffee creamers, hazelnut coffee creamers, soy creamers, oat milk, rice milk, veggie milk... There are so many varieties available! Most of these milks are available in your local grocery store, and some grocery chains carry many varieties. There are unsweetened, sweetened, vanilla -lavoured, chocolate, eggnog, and more varieties of each of these types of milk. It is also very possible to make your own by soaking nuts for a new hours, then blending them with water and straining out the pulp.
A lot of brands are shelf-stable, and only need to be refrigerated once opened, but others you'll find alongside the animal milk in the grocery store. My favourite products include:
Silk Vanilla Almond Milk
Silk Almond Creamer
Silk Dark Chocolate Almond Milk
Silk Unsweetened Cashew Milk
Silk also has yogurts and eggnog available which I am dying to try!
So Good Vanilla Soymilk
Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla
SoDelicious Almond milk creamer
SoDelicious Holiday Nog (AMAZING. Like, so so tasty. Family prefers over traditional eggnog)
I usually buy what's on sale at my local grocery store, which has allowed me to try out lots of different products. I would say that the Silk Cashew Milk and Almond Breeze brands make the most frequent appearances in my house. Ordering on Amazon is a great way to save money on these products as well, as they are available in bulk for much lower than retail pricing.
Cheese is the product that I think the most people have trouble with. Studies have shown that cheese can actually be addictive, and triggers the release of opioids in the brain that acts on our dopamine reward systems, similar to some drugs. It took my wife a while to get over the loss, and there was definitely a grieving process, but we have successfully found alternatives for all cheese-containing situations. I've been able to find these brands at any grocery chain, as well as some independent stores.
My top three favourite brands are Daiya, CHAO, and Follow your Heart. For me, Daiya took some getting used to. There is a distinctive taste to it that stands out in all of their cheeze varieties, but it's a good taste. Their shreds melt really well and are great on tacos, pizzas, or mac'n'cheeze; they've got flavours like mozzarella, cheddar, and pepperjack blends.
Daiya also has a huge variety of slices (think grilled cheese), blocks, cream cheeses, yogurts, boxed mac'n'cheese, salad dressings and....drum roll please... CHEESECAKE. Oh my goodness, it is to die for. Daiya products are also the most affordable I've found, with their prices being nearly on par with cow cheese at the store. All hail Daiya; I don't think I'll ever stop singing their praises.
Chao slices are from the Field Roast company, and I consider them to be more of a luxury product. They are quite a bit pricier than Daiya, but their flavoured slices which include tomato cayenne, coconut herb, and creamy original are pretty awesome, especially on burgers (yes, you can still have burgers as a vegan).
3. Follow Your Heart
Follow Your Heart is one of life's great gifts, as it has been helping vegans everywhere achieve a cruelty-free and more sustainable life, and tasting damn good while doing it. I'll revisit this brand in my post on eggs; prepare to have your minds blown.
Follow your Heart have got countless flavours of blocks and sliced cheezes, including provolone and gouda. They've also got shreds, and many of their options also come in organic and certified kosher varieties.
Follow your heart has PARMESAN! There are both sprinkle and shredded varieties. Eat your heart out.
Yogurt and Ice Cream
Yup, these are possible too. These are some of the easiest products to replace, in fact, because they are typically eaten just as they come, and don't need to be added to recipes. Though you can certainly add these products to any recipe to up the creamy factor.
Daiya makes individual yogurt cups, and they are pretty great. There are also a bunch of varieties of coconut and soy yogurts available at most grocery stores.
Ice cream can be found alongside the dairy products in the freezer section, and include fruity flavours as well as your favourite decadent varieties.
Fun fact: Ben&Jerry's have many vegan flavours, and Breyer's has just released an Oreo flavour.
Yup, you read that right: Oreos are vegan. That's not to say that these products are great for your health, or should be consumed to excess...but we all need a treat once in a while, right?
At this point, I hope that I've comforted you enough to try some of these products, and to start moving towards a dairy-free life. You don't have to give it up all at once; you could start by picking one thing to change, like your morning coffee.
And yes, you can still order that pizza; Panago offers Daiya cheese and meat-free pepperoni, and you can customize your order or simply ask for the "vegan deluxe". There are many other pizza joints that can accommodate dairy-free requests as well; just ask, you may be surprised!
I do recommend trying a variety of different products, because everybody likes different things. This kinda seems like a no-brainer to me, but I get lots of people telling me they don't like soy milk, so they can't be vegan. As mentioned above, there are a plethora of options. Find your groove; your body will thank you.
What are your biggest hurdles with ditching dairy? What products are you having a hard time replacing? As always, I'm happy to answer any questions, and offer recipe tweaks and replacements to move towards a dairy-free life!