A dairy-free diet without milk, cheese and ice cream might seem crazy (or downright impossible) to many. But did you know that one to two of every 10 people in the UK is lactose intolerant? Those who are lactose intolerant are unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products, leading to nausea, cramps and bloating. Ouch.
And while many follow a dairy-free diet out of medical necessity, more and more people are ditching dairy for alternative reasons. Be it skin flare-ups, ethical quandaries or simply because you personally feel healthier without it, maybe you’re considering a dairy-free diet too.
If your current meals are pretty heavy-on-the-diary, you’re probably wondering how to go dairy-free — after all your diet will require a total diet revamp. What’s safe to eat? What’s not? Don’t worry. This dairy-free diet guide will teach you exactly how to go dairy-free, stress-free. We hope it will make the transition o a dairy-free diet a whole lot easier!
What is a dairy-free diet?
A dairy-free diet includes avoiding all or most dairy products including milk, butter, yoghurt, cheese, cream and ice cream.
Unlike a vegan or plant-based diet, those on a dairy-free diet still eat other animal products such as meat and fish.
If you’re on a very strict dairy-free diet, have a dairy allergy or intolerance to lactose, you’ll want to avoid all products containing milk, even in small or trace amounts. An example of this is products that do not contain milk as an intentional ingredient but have been made within a production facility that also handles dairy, leaving a small risk of cross-contamination.
Is a dairy-free diet healthy?
A dairy-free diet can be very healthy. While dairy foods can definitely be healthy, they’re not essential. The nutrients in dairy, namely protein and calcium, can be found in numerous other foods. It’s simply about knowing where to find them, which we’ll cover later.
While many people do see positive effects after eliminating dairy from their diet, that doesn’t make dairy products unhealthy. Dairy affects each person individually. Those who can tolerate dairy well don’t necessarily need to cut it out. In moderation, it can be very nutritious. Dairy foods are high in protein, an excellent source of Vitamin D and packed with calcium.
Ultimately, deciding to eat dairy or ditch dairy is a personal choice; and thankfully, a healthy and balanced diet is possible either way!
For a deeper insight into dairy vs dairy-free, we’d recommend reading ‘Dairy: Is it good or bad for you?’ by Precision Nutrition.
Dairy-free diet benefits
Dairy-free diets can bring both health and environmental benefits:
- Gastrointestinal relief: Lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy? Eliminating lactose from your diet will immediately help to eliminate your gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhoea and nausea.
- Clearer and calmer skin: If you’re struggling with acne or another inflammatory skin condition, you may find that your symptoms slowly decrease after cutting out dairy. Dairy cows are typically treated with artificial hormones, which can throw your own hormones off balance and cause breakouts (Source: Diet and Dermatology, 2014).
- Lower risk of some cancers: Observational studies indicate that a dairy-free diet can reduce the risk of prostate and ovarian cancer. However, it’s also important to consider that eating dairy is believed to have protective effects against colorectal and breast cancer.
- Decreased inflammation: Dairy products have been shown to cause inflammation, which in turn, can help to decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as IBD, heart disease and cancer.
- Reduced environmental impact (Source: WWF): Eliminating or reducing the amount of dairy in your diet can significantly reduce your impact on the environment. This is because dairy cows and their manure produce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.
Dairy-free diet risks
A well-planned dairy-free diet can be healthy. However, if you do not seek out appropriate food sources to replace the nutrients lost from dairy, there could be a risk of nutritional deficiency. Below, we cover 4 key nutrients found in dairy products and how you can make sure you’re still getting enough once you’ve made the switch.
Protein on a dairy-free diet
Cows milk, which was likely a huge part of your pre-dairy-free-diet, is a fantastic source of protein. A single glass contains all of the amino acids your body for cell repair and renewal. As you’ll be cutting out milk entirely, you need to make sure you’re filling this sudden protein gap.
The good news is, that there are plenty of nutritious dairy-free protein sources to enjoy, including:
Dairy-free protein sources
Vegan dairy-free protein sources
- Beans & legumes
- Nuts & seeds
Aim to include a generous dairy-free protein source with every meal and you should have no problems filling in that pint-sized protein gap!
If you lead a particularly busy lifestyle and feel concerned about missing out on protein whilst switching to a dairy-free diet, it’s worth considering a dairy-free protein powder like Purition. Every serving contains 20g of the finest plant-based protein from seeds, nuts, pea protein, brown rice and hemp protein to give you a helpful protein boost whilst adapting to a dairy-free diet.
Calcium on a dairy-free diet
Dairy products also contain high amounts of calcium, which:
- Forms teeth and bone
- Regulates nerve impulse transmissions
- Regulates muscle contractions
- Regulates hormone secretions
Source: The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition by Precision Nutrition
A calcium deficiency can lead to low bone mineral density and a significantly increased risk of osteoporosis.
Therefore, if you switch to a dairy-free diet, it’s important to find a way to replace the lost calcium from the dairy products you were consuming. The good news is, that while dairy is an excellent source of calcium, it’s not the only source of calcium.
The recommended daily calcium intake for healthy adults in the UK is 700mg. Take a look at the following non-dairy calcium-rich foods list, to see how you can reach this level without consuming dairy.
How to get calcium on a dairy-free diet
|FOOD||PORTION SIZE||CALCIUM (mg)|
|Calcium-fortified soy milk||⅓ pint – 200ml||178|
|Calcium-fortified soy yoghurt||Small post – 125g||150|
|Calcium-fortified oat milk||⅓ pint – 200ml||240|
|Calcium-enriched rice milk||⅓ pint – 200ml||130|
|Tofu||Average portion – 100g||100–500*|
|Whitebait||Average portion – 80g||688|
|Tinned pilchards||Average portion – 110g||75|
|Tinned sardines||½ tin – 60g||300|
|Salmon||Medium portion – 100g||91|
|Tahini||1 teaspoon – 19g||130|
|Sesame seeds||1 tablespoon – 12g||80|
|Almonds||Whole – 13g||31|
|Chickpeas||1 tablespoon – 35g||56|
|Okra||Medium portion – 60g||132|
|Kale||Medium portion – 60g||90|
|Spinach (boiled)||1 tablespoon – 40g||64|
|Broccoli||Medium portion – 85g||34|
*The calcium level in tofu varies significantly between products, so remember to check levels and opt for calcium-set products with high calcium content.
Source: NHS: Calcium for dairy-free
Iodine on a dairy-free diet
Cow’s milk is a key source of iodine, with a single glass providing almost half of the recommended daily intake. However, it’s not a naturally occurring vitamin in dairy. It actually arises from the iodine supplements used in cattle feed, as well as iodine-containing disinfectants used to sterilise milking tools.
Iodine is used by the body make thyroid hormones, which help to keep your metabolism in check and your brain and bones healthy, amongst many other important functions.
The best dairy-free sources of iodine include:
Vitamin B12 on a dairy-free diet
Cows milk is also chockablock with vitamin B12, which:
- Protects the nervous system
- Makes DNA
- Makes red blood cells
If you’re aiming to cut out dairy but will still consume meat, fish and eggs, you’re unlikely to run into any problems in getting enough B12. However, if you choose to go vegan, gaining B12 can be tricky, as it’s mainly found in animal-derived foods.
The best vegan sources of vitamin B12 include nutritional yeast, marmite, spirulina, fortified dairy-free milk and yoghurt. You’ll need to make a point of including a selection of these foods in your daily diet and/or purchasing a good-quality B12 supplement.
What can you eat on a dairy-free diet?
The thought of cutting out your most-loved dairy products might seem difficult, but a dairy-free diet is much easier than you think. There are so many naturally dairy-free foods, as well as a fast-growing range of dairy-free alternatives. While it might take some getting used to, you’ll never feel deprived!
While it’d be impossible to list every single dairy and non-dairy food on the planet, here’s a list of the basic food items you can eat, and what you’ll need to avoid, on a dairy-free diet.
Dairy-free foods to eat
- Fruits and vegetables
- Meat & poultry
- Fish & seafood
- Nuts & seeds
- Soy products such as tofu and tempeh
- Whole grains such as quinoa and couscous
- Healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil
- Herbs & spices
- Dairy-free alternatives such as nut milk, cream, cheese and yoghurt
- Dairy-free protein powder
Keep in mind that processed foods, such as breaded meat and seafood, often contain dairy. Focus on unprocessed foods where possible and if you do opt for something processed, make sure to double-check labels.
Foods to avoid
- Condensed milk
- Ice cream
- Sour cream
- Whipped cream
- White chocolate
- Milk chocolate
- Whey-based products
Looking for an easy, healthy, dairy-free breakfast, lunch or snack? Purition dairy-free is made with real, whole-food ingredients from nature’s larder. High in protein, fibre and natural healthy fats, Purition can help take the stress out of transitioning to a dairy-free diet.
Foods to check the label on
When it comes to dairy-free foods, some products aren’t so black-and-white. Many unexpected processed foods contain small amounts of milk. It’s important to check labels when you begin your dairy-free diet, especially if you’re intolerant or have an allergy.
As milk is a key allergen, it must be emphasised within the ingredients list of prepacked food or drink. In the UK, you’ll find that most products emphasise any milk ingredients using a bold font.
The following products are hit and miss when it comes to dairy-free foods, so remember to check the label before you purchase them:
- Dark chocolate
- Salad dressings
- Soup mixes
- Instant coffee and hot chocolate mixes
- Cakes and biscuits
- Processed meat
- Cold cuts
- Frozen puddings
- Rice pudding
- Cake mixes
Know your dairy-free labels
Not all lactose and dairy ingredients will fall under the simple name of ‘milk’ or ‘cheese’. If you’re strictly dairy free or have a serious intolerance, getting clued up on labels is an essential part of learning how to go dairy-free.
You should keep a close eye out for the following ingredients, as they are all made from milk:
- Casein (curds), caseinates
- Calcium or sodium caseinate
- Hydrolysed casein
- Hydrolysed whey protein
- Whey, whey solids, hydrolysed whey
Is chocolate dairy-free?
Pure chocolate is dairy-free. It’s typically made with cocoa powder, sugar and cocoa butter (the fatty portion of the cacao bean), which are all naturally free from dairy.
However, the majority of manufacturers add milk, milk powder or butter oil to their chocolate bars. This is especially the case with milk and white chocolate, which generally isn’t dairy-free.
But you won’t have to have to go without chocolate on a dairy-free diet. Dark and plain chocolates are often free from dairy — just make sure to check the label, as some products do contain small amounts of milk.
There are also a growing number of vegan and free-from chocolate bars available, which are completely free from milk and dairy! These are the best options for anyone with a strict dairy allergy or intolerance, as there is no risk of cross-contamination.
Try them now as part of your Discovery Box.
Are eggs dairy-free?
Eggs are not a dairy product. By definition, dairy products are made from or contain the milk of mammals. In contrast, eggs are laid by birds. Birds are not mammals and they do not produce milk.
Eggs are often mistakenly lumped into the dairy category because they’re stored beside each other in shops and supermarkets. However, you can still eat eggs on a dairy-free diet, as they’re simply not dairy.
The only exception to this would be if you wanted to go vegan as you’d then avoid all animal and animal by-products, including eggs.
Dairy-free protein powder
Wondering what the deal is with protein powders on a dairy-free diet? Protein powders are traditionally made with whey, which is a by-product of the cheese-making process. This means whey (for the most part) contains lactose, making whey-based products, such as protein powders, unsuitable for anyone following a dairy-free diet.
But whether you’re a gym-goer or simply enjoy the convenience of protein powders, avoiding dairy doesn’t mean missing out. Purition dairy-free vegan is 100% plant-based and free from lactose. Made from 70% ground seeds, nuts and a complete plant-based protein blend, one glass provides around 15g of protein and up to 38% of your calcium RDA, depending on the flavour.
If you have a serious lactose intolerance or milk allergy, you can feel safe in the knowledge that our dairy-free products are made and assembled down a meticulously managed production line within our purpose-built facility to ensure there is no cross-contamination with milk-products.
Quick tips for going dairy-free
Transitioning to a dairy-free diet needn’t be daunting, complicated or intimidating. Here are some extra quick tips to help you make the move smoothly and seamlessly:
Plan your meals
If there’s one thing that’ll make you slip up from your decision to go dairy-free, it’s a lack of preparation. If dinner time rolls around and all you’ve got in the fridge is some veg and a block of cheese, you’ll probably end up having cheese. Likewise, if you’re craving a snack and only have dairy-packed biscuits in the cupboard, you’ll probably end up eating biscuits!
The solution? In the first few weeks or your dairy-free diet, make a point of planning your meals ahead of time. Pick your day, grab some cookbooks or have your laptop on hand and pick out what you’ll be eating for the week ahead. Make a shopping list of each and every ingredient you’ll need to see your meal plan through. This way, you can be sure that you’re fully stocked with everything you need for a healthy, nutritious and delicious week of dairy-free eating!
In your transition to dairy-free, you’ll be surprised at how many unsuspecting food products actually contain milk. From crisps and crackers to breaded meats and cold cuts, dairy is hidden in most processed and fast food products.
The good news? Wholefoods are much less likely to contain hidden dairy derivatives—and they just so happen to be much better for you, too! Cooking with majority whole foods—such as lean meats, legumes, fruits and vegetables—eliminates the worry of accidentally consuming dairy (especially if you’re intolerant) and are highly nutritious to boot.
Opt for vegan meals
Nervous about going out to restaurants once you’ve made the dairy-free switch? Don’t want to make a fuss? Unsure of which meals are dairy-free? Just choose a vegan option, even if you’re not a full-time vegan! Pretty much every restaurant has a vegan option these days—and you’ll know for certain that vegan dishes won’t contain dairy.
And when you’re cooking at home, why not use the vegan trick (hear us out here!)?. First, search for vegan recipes online or purchase some vegan cookbooks. See which ones take your fancy, cook them up, but then add your choice of lean protein, such as chicken or fish. Sure, they won’t be vegan anymore—but you’ll discover some fantastic dairy-free meal ideas by using this method!
How to go dairy-free
You’re now armed with all the information you’ll need to eat a healthy and balanced dairy-free diet. The key is to ensure you’re filling the nutrient gaps that dairy previously filled, which is easily achievable by consuming a wide range of wholefoods. And don’t forget to learn your dairy-free label lingo and give those labels a thorough read, especially if you’re avoiding dairy for medical reasons.
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