I know. Replace dairy? Are you crazy? Well, worry not. Minimizing or even eliminating dairy in your diet is actually pretty simple. Once you learn the ins and outs of plant-based eating, going without dairy is no big deal.
The only tricky part for me is avoiding it while eating out as you’ll find dairy-based sauces, cheese and milk products in almost everything. But typically if you just ask your server, it’s pretty easy to eat vegan at most restaurants these days. Eating vegan at home is every easier and there are a ton of healthy, nutritious foods that offer some of the same properties as dairy that you can use in your cooking and baking.
Most people have a pretty easy time eating vegetarian but dairy is just so ingrained in our daily lives that it can be harder to stop drinking milk and eating cheese. While there are some processed vegan cheese substitutes you can buy in stores, I think the best choice is replacing dairy with whole foods first before reaching for the processed soy cheese. Certainly, there’s a time and a place for those options and you may find they help you out as you’re transitioning from dairy to plant-based. Once you get used to not eating cheese, milk and butter, using the whole food options listed below becomes natural and even welcomed.
If you need to reduce your dairy consumption for health reasons or are making an ethical decision to eliminate dairy, I hope these suggestions help point you the right direction.
The thick, creamy texture of avocado makes it perfect for replacing things like mayonnaise and sour cream. You can use it to make everything from chocolate pudding, to delicious dips and my favourite, spreading it on sandwiches.
• Egg-Free Mayonnaise
• Simple Raw Vegan Avocado Mayonnaise
• Chocolate Avocado Pudding
• Flourless Black Bean Avocado Brownies
• Cumin Lime Avocado Chickpea Sandwiches
• Creamy Avocado Dressing
Cashews are a must-have for replacing dairy in your diet. When soaked, you can use them as a base for everything from incredible cheesecakes to spectacular vegan cheeses and sweet or savoury cashew cream. I love making a sweet cashew cream as a dip for sliced fruit and for special occasions my favourite is a cashew-based raw, vegan cheesecake.
3. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast, or sometimes referred to as “nooch”, is a flaky, slightly nutty, slightly salty condiment you can use for a variety of uses in the kitchen. I often use it to make a vegan parmesan cheese by blending it with almonds and a little olive oil. It can add a cheesy flavour to almost any dish. Nutritional yeast is also a good source of vitamin B12 which can be harder to get on a plant-based diet.
4. Coconut Oil
You can use coconut oil to replace butter in most recipes at a 1:1 ratio. Simply swap the butter for coconut oil and you’re all set. Bonus: coconut oil is also a great beauty product! Also, because it hardens when chilled it’s handy for all sorts of homemade desserts and raw chocolates.
5. Nut, Seed and Rice Milks
Nut and seeds milks are one of the easiest ways to replace cow’s milk in your diet. They will most likely be your go-to if you like milk in your coffee. They taste great, they’re good for you and you can either make them yourself or readily buy them at the store. The most common store-bought varieties are almond, coconut, rice and more recently cashew. At home you can make milk from any nut and even rice or oats. I like to make milk from hemp seeds since it doesn’t require any soaking or straining, you simply add raw hemp seeds to water and blend until smooth. Making nut milks typically requires you to soak the nuts first and then strain the milk when you’re done, but it’s a very simple process and if you plan ahead, it’s easy to incorporate into your weekly plan.
I prefer to make my milk at home just so I know exactly what’s in it, it’s also a fraction of the cost of store-bought nut milk. I do sometimes buy Silk Almond Milk as it doesn’t contain carageenan.
6. Coconut Butter
You can very easily make your own coconut butter at home by simply blending unsweetened coconut until it forms a paste. This is one of my favourite things to keep on hand for snack attacks. It melts in your mouth and has the most wonderful flavour. You can use it in all kinds of yummy recipes, spread it on toast or muffins as an alternative to butter or just eat a spoonful when you need a boost of energy. Store-bought coconut butter can be quite expensive, making your own is really easy and is only a fraction of the cost.
Tahini is another must-have in my kitchen. I use it almost daily in sauces, dressings and even in desserts. It’s most commonly used to make hummus but I love it for salad dressings and it can help to replace the creamy texture of mayonnaise or sour cream in recipes. It’s also a great alternative to nut butters if you have allergies or nut sensitivities.
I’m sure by now you know all about “nice cream”, or ice cream made with one simple ingredient, bananas! The beautiful ice cream you can make with bananas is unreal. All you need is a good blender and you’re all ready to make the creamiest, smoothest and probably the healthiest ice cream around. My favourite is blending frozen bananas with just a bit of peanut butter or almond butter and some maple syrup for an amazing bowl of nice cream.
9. Canned Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is another item that finds its way to my grocery list from week-to-week. I use it in curries, soups and stews, as well as a lot of desserts. When you place a can for coconut milk in the fridge, the wonderful, fatty cream separates from the watery portion and use can use the cream to make ice cream, mousse and frozen desserts, as well as in all sorts of other applications.
10. Coconut Yogurt
I haven’t actually tried making coconut yogurt yet but it looks delicious and I think it would make a great choice for a healthy breakfast. You can follow the how-to below or buy it in stores. You can also find a variety of other dairy-free yogurts in stores now, it’s not something I purchase myself but if you’re a yogurt lover there are definitely options out there for you.
You might not have thought of tofu as a dairy substitute before but it’s actually quite the handy ingredient! One of my favouite things to do with tofu is make a vegan ricotta, it’s creamy and satisfying and you can create plenty of different flavour combinations. Tofu ricotta works great in pasta dishes like lasagna or jumbo stuffed shells and I’ve even spread it on sandwiches and rolled it up in lettuce wraps! Silken and soft tofu make great additions to smoothies and desserts, lending both a creamy texture as well as some plant-based protein. Soft tofu can also be used in baking to help reduce the amount of oil or butter required.
I hope that helps you out on your plant-based journey. Some people need to reduce or eliminate dairy for health issues such as digestion and other concerns but it can also be a decision that comes from a place of compassion.
If you can tolerate dairy and it’s something you plan to continue including in your diet, do your research as to the best options both for yourself and for the animals producing it. I don’t know much about eating raw dairy but I’ve seen some articles discussing it’s benefits, I would also suggest looking for local farmers as a place to start.
As always, do some research to see what’s right for you and if needed, work with a nutritionist or registered dietician if you have any concerns about either eating dairy, or eliminating it all together.