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Shopping for a Dairy-Free Diet

How many times have you heard Mom say “Drink your milk–it’s good for you!” Not to say Mom isn’t right, but a growing number of people are choosing a diet with less or sometimes no dairy products. According to the FDA, as many as 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. This inability to digest lactose, the natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products, can be inherited from your parents (it’s much more common among Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans). And because our bodies naturally produce fewer lactase enzymes as we age, it’s not uncommon for symptoms of lactose intolerance to first surface in adulthood. Other reasons for choosing to avoid dairy products include adopting a vegan diet, which excludes animal products, or an allergy to milk.

As more people begin to choose non-dairy substitutes for milk, cheese, and butter, the number of products available have grown as well! Here’s a quick guided tour of the kinds of non-dairy alternatives available at your local co-op.

  • Milk and Cream. Soy milk, rice milk, and nut milks can be found in the refrigerated dairy case or on the grocery shelf in convenient aseptic packs. These non-milks are available plain (best substitute for milk in savory recipes), vanilla, chocolate and even nog-flavored for the holidays. Soy creamers for coffee are also available.
  • Butter or Margarine. Soy or rice margarines can replace butter and standard margarines. You can also switch to olive oil on your crusty French bread, or nut butters with your morning toast.
  • Yogurt. Soy, rice, or coconut milk yogurts come in both plain and flavored varieties.
  • Frozen Treats. There are ample choices in frozen treats, including 100% fruit sorbets, soy, rice, hemp, and coconut milk varieties.
  • Cheese. Soy, rice, and hemp cheeses come in many different flavors and forms, although you may need to experiment to find which ones work best in your favorite dishes. Crumbled firm tofu can be used instead of cottage cheese or ricotta; nutritional yeast works well in place of Parmesan; and you can make your own “cheese” from raw cashews that mimics goat cheese very well.
  • And more. Besides nondairy sour cream substitutes, soft (or silken) tofu works well in dips and spreads–even pudding!

What about calcium?

Because dairy products are a good source of calcium, if you’re limiting or eliminating them from your diet, you may want to look for other sources of calcium, including dark green veggies like kale, broccoli and bok choy; salmons and sardines; and almonds. Since calcium supplements may interact with some prescription medications, check with your primary care physician or nutritionist to ensure that your dietary needs are being met.

What’s your favorite non-dairy substitute?

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