NOTE: Health information contained in this post is provided for general education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for a diagnosis and should never be used for specific medical advice. Please consult a health care professional for questions, concerns, or treatment.
A complete guide to going dairy-free for beginners. All your questions and concerns are explained here.
Does the idea of a dairy-free diet seem impossible or completely overwhelming? Check out this going dairy-free for beginners guide where you'll learn how to plan and follow a dairy-free diet easily.
If you or a loved one have just been diagnosed with a milk allergy, I'm here to help. Switching to a dairy-free diet can seem impossible at first. I've been there. Trust me. You will still enjoy all your favorite foods and recipes. I promise.
What Does Dairy-Free Mean?
Let's start with the basics. Dairy is any food/food product that contains milk from cows, sheep, or goats (mammals). Dairy-free means the food/food product does NOT contain milk or milk products from cows, sheep, or goats (mammals). This includes milk and foods such as ice cream, butter, yogurt, cheese, and heavy cream.
Non-Dairy vs. Dairy-Free
These 2 terms may seem interchangeable, but they are not. Dairy-free as mentioned above is the absence of all milk and milk products in food. Non-dairy refers to products that may contain ingredients derived from milk. Examples of these milk-derived ingredients include casein, whey, lactose, and non-fat and dry milk powders. To determine if a product contains milk read the food label very carefully and look for the statement, "contains milk".
For more information on reading labels for food allergies check out my Allergy-Free Shopping post.
Is Dairy-Free the Same as Lactose-Free?
There is often confusion about lactose-free vs. dairy-free when it comes to following a dairy-free diet. The simple answer is these are not the same. Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar in milk and milk products. People who have lactose intolerance are unable to digest this sugar lactose. This does not mean they have a milk allergy. It simply means their bodies are not able to digest the lactose properly thus causing unpleasant symptoms.
Products labeled lactose-free still contain milk, just not lactose. If you have an allergy to milk and/or follow a dairy-free diet, do not consume products labeled "lactose-free".
Dairy-Free vs. Vegan
The terms dairy-free and vegan are also sometimes misunderstood and confusing. A person following a vegan diet will not eat any animal products or by-products. Vegan products are dairy-free, but dairy-free products are not all vegan. For example, a product labeled dairy-free may contain eggs so therefore it is not considered vegan.
- Focus on foods you CAN have - Here is a list of foods to help you get started.
- Meat (beef, chicken, fish, pork)
- Look for hidden sources of dairy - Read labels carefully, especially prepackaged and processed foods. Here is a list of common names for dairy hidden in food products.
- Animal-free dairy
- Dairy product solids
- Half & Half
- Ice cream, ice milk, sherbet
- Lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate
- Lactate solids
- Lactitol monohydrate
- Milk fat, anhydrous milk fat
- Rennet, rennet casein
- Sour cream, sour cream solids, imitation sour cream
- Yogurt, yogurt powder
- Self-advocate when eating out - Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions.
- Ask about how the meal is prepared.
- Ask to speak with the chef if you are unsure.
- Watch out for butter, or other hidden sources of dairy in sauces, vegetables, and meats.
These substitutes are available at most local grocery stores, Walmart, Target, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods.
- Rice milk - Rice Dream, Pacific Foods, Trader Joe's Rice Drink, Kirkland Rice Milk, Good Karma Rice Milk
- Soy milk - Silk, Edensoy, West Soy
- Hemp milk - Living Harvest, Pacific Foods, Nutiva
- Oat milk - Planet Oat, Chobani, Oatly, Pacific Foods, Silk
- Nut milk (almond, cashew, macadamia) - Silk, So Delicious, Pacific Foods, Califia Farms
Most dairy-free cheeses come from plants, fats, and/or proteins. Nuts such as cashews or almonds are commonly used. Some brands use seeds such as sesame or sunflower. Other dairy-free cheeses are made from oils like coconut or palm oil. Dairy-free cheeses are also made with soybeans and tofu, or tapioca, rice, and potatoes.
There are several brands of dairy-free cheese to consider if you have a milk allergy.
- Treeline - made from cashews.
- Follow Your Heart - made from palm oil.
- Kite Hill - uses almond milk.
- Daiya - makes dairy-free mozzarella slices and shredded cheese made from cassava and arrowroot plants.
- Trader Joe’s - has a dairy-free mozzarella cheese made with cashews.
- Violife’s - made with coconut oil.
Try these plant-based, dairy-free butter.
- Earth Balance
- Spectrum Vegetable Shortening
- Coconut Oil is also a good substitute for butter in some recipes.
Here are a few of the most popular dairy-free and vegan ice cream brands available at some local grocery stores, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, or online. Remember to check the ingredients carefully for other allergens.
- Ben & Jerry's
- So Delicious
- Haagen Dazs
- Halo Top
- Almond Dream
- Rice Dream
- Coconut Bliss
- Trader Joe's
Try these dairy-free yogurt substitutes made from alternative milk. A few brands to try are Silk, Kite Hill, Chobani, Forager, Nancy's, and Califia.
Blessings, Laura xo