A few years ago I gave up dairy cold-turkey. It didn’t agree with my skin or my gut and I’d had enough. I was pretty discipline and then something happened. That something was a 5-lb box of Sees chocolates from my husband’s grandma for Christmas. I tried to exercise my super self-discipline and indulge in my personal chocolates during that time, but the creamy, nutty, toffee chocolate called my name until I gave in. I dove into that box of chocolates like a dog dives into a bag of Snausages. It wasn’t pretty.
If that was the only splurge, that would have been okay. I convinced myself, since it was Christmas, I should eat all the things. I had sugar cookies frosted with buttercream, eclairs filled with custard, hot chocolate made with whole milk and ALL the Christmas candies. Oh Cadbury, you used to be a once a year indulgence. Now we have mini and full-size Cadbury eggs for all the holidays.
The point is, my poor body couldn’t take it. I broke out in eczema in spots that shall remained unnamed. My skin burned and my gut churned. I knew I had to quit dairy…again.
Because of that, I’ve had A LOT of practice finding good diary-free substitutions. And by good, I do mean good. There are so many options out there and some are totally nasty. And then there are some that just don’t work right in recipes. So below are my favorite substitutes for dairy that may keep you from diving head-first into that box of chocolates too.
There are so many diary-free milks out there. Some are good, some are bad, and some are loaded with junk. First off whatever you buy, stick with “unsweetened.” A lot of milk alternatives add quite a bit of sugar.
Going purely on taste, my favorite dairy-free milk is the Califia Farms Coconut Almond Milk Blend. It’s pricier than the others but tastes the best. Plus, it doesn’t have carrageenan like so many other “milks.” Carrageenan can be really hard on digestion, so I recommend avoiding it.
Sadly, I’ve recently developed a sensitivity to almonds. I can consume almonds or almond products once or twice a week, but not daily. That is actually common with nuts and compromised digestion, so I often advise clients to rotate the nuts they eat. My current favorite milk is Good Karma Flax Milk. It’s less likely to cause a sensitivity and is still creamy and tasty. I don’t enjoy just drinking a cup, but I often use it over granola, in smoothies, in soups, or in hot chocolate.
Sometimes you need something thicker than milk. For this, I love to use full-fat Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk. This works great to thicken soups, make salad dressings, or make cakes creamy. If you refrigerate the can for a few hours, you can open it up scrape the solid white part of the coconut milk off the top and whip it like you would whipped cream. This is what we do to top cobblers, puddings, or to just spoon into my mouth because it’s delicious…
If you don’t like coconut but still want to thicken a soup, you can add steamed, pureed cauliflower or potatoes. When we thicken our potato soups, we combine cauliflower with flax milk. This gives it both the thickness and the creaminess we’re after.
Here I’m going to list several different uses, because butter is like the leggings of the food world. It’s versatile. If you don’t think leggings are versatile, you may not be my kind of people…
If I’m roasting potatoes or another veggie and the recipe calls for butter, I usually swap it out for ghee, avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil (safe up to 425 degrees). These are also great choices when making someting in a skillet. I also use ghee to prep a pan for scrambled eggs. About ghee. Ghee comes from butter, but it is heated and all the milk solids are removed. If you are extremely sensitive to dairy, ghee may bug you. It’s generally okay for most people though. Make sure you get one that is casein and lactose free. My favorite ghee is 4th and Heart and my favorite avocado oil is from Chosen Foods. If you have a Costco membership, check them for the the Chosen Foods Avocado Oil. They usually have a great price and a gigantic bottle.
To make frostings, I prefer palm shortening. Make sure this comes from a sustainable source. I find I have to add more vanilla and salt to the frosting, but I still get rave reviews on my frosting, even using palm shortening instead.
I also use palm shortening when I have to cut a cold fat into a pie crust or scones. Lard is a great option here as well.
I also use coconut oil in place of butter, but generally only in baked goods like brownies, cupcakes and cakes. For cookies, I sometimes use a combination of ghee and coconut oil.
Hands down, the best diary-free ice cream I’ve tasted is Nada Moo Ice Cream. It is so good and is actually lower in sugar than most ice creams. It’s still a treat, but I appreciate when companies don’t fill things with sugar. Our favorite flavor is the salted caramel, but all the flavors are totally legit!
Again, my favorite here depends on why I’m using yogurt. To add to granola or top with berries, I love COYO yogurt. And guys, they have chocolate yogurt… It’s delicous.
When I’m using yogurt in a more savory dish, I love Forager cashew yogurt. It’s a bit more tangy and perfect if you’re sensitive to coconut.
This one isn’t necessary for everyone. Some people who are sensitive to dairy are okay with whey protein (which comes from milk). I am not. I have two protein powders I love. The first is the one I always use for my post-workout shake and that’s Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Protein. Don’t be fooled, it tastes nothing like the animal from whence it came. It tastes like a delicious vanilla shake that also has amazing gut-healing properties.
The second is a vegan protein powder. I actually don’t use vegan protein for post-workout very often. Our bodies don’t assimilate plant protein as well as animal-based protein, so you generally have to consume twice as much. But the Garden of Life Raw Protein Powder has a great combination of proteins, plus some added nutrition, and I don’t mind the taste. I actually HATE the taste of almost all plant-based protein powders, so that’s saying a lot. And rice protein… worst taste ever. I love to use this protein powder on days I’m not lifting to make a breakfast smoothie.
I’ve tried many vegan cream cheeses, and there’s really only one I like. That is the Kite Hill Almond Cream Cheese. It works well in frostings, dips and cheesecakes. None of the others I’ve tried have been worth eating, in my oh so humble food opinion…
Sadly… you’ll noticed I haven’t mentioned cheese. I have yet to find a cheese substitute I really like, and I only wanted to mention products I truly love. I’ve added nutritional yeast to soups and sauces to give a cheesy flavor, but more often than not, I just leave it out. If anyone has a cheese substitute they absolutely love, let me know.
There are several dairy-free brands I love as well including:
- Enjoy Life
- Free 2B
- Home Free
- Made Good
- Hail Merry
- Siete Foods
- So Delicous
- Primal Kitchen
Just remember, just because it’s dairy-free, doesn’t mean healthy. It’s still important to read the labels whenever you buy a product. If you ever question this, just remember, Oreos are dairy free…
If you’re sensitive to gluten, check out the post I wrote about my favorite gluten-free substitutions here!