Going Dairy-Free For Beginners - A Guide to Dairy Alternatives
By: Karmen Flores of Karmen Collective
Are you thinking about going dairy-free?
This comprehensive guide, Going Dairy-Free for Beginners, will talk about the health benefits and alternative options available!
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Why Go Dairy Free?
For The Environment
Animal agriculture is one of the harshest industries affecting our planet. Dairy cows produce greenhouse gas emission which are responsible for destruction of the ozone and contributing to climate change. Additionally, many dairy farms need to cut corners to maximize profit so they do not dispose of waste properly and pollutes nearby water sources. The cows also require a lot of grains and grass for food and to have room to grow their feed, forests are often destroyed. Its a trickle down effect, which impacts local and global communities.
Ethically, animal agriculture is very unsustainable, but especially dairy farming. It is not natural for cows to be constantly bred, which is done almost always artificially, and forced to lactate. When cows are no longer able to produce milk, they’re killed for beef. Most male cows are killed young and used for veal. Did you ever realize that humans are the only species that drink another animal’s milk? There are plenty of videos that show the process and many admit they can’t watch because it’s too graphic. I always say that if you can’t watch the full process of your food being made or do it yourself, it’s unethical to allow someone else to.
Nutritionally, we were taught that we need milk for vitamin D and strong bones. However, medical studies have since shown that there is little evidence to back these claims. In fact, there are many other options for getting your daily dose of calcium, beans and leafy greens being some of the most readily absorbed choices.
Dairy is also linked to increase in breast cancer, prostate cancer and heart disease. If that isn’t enough, due to the unsanitary conditions and forced breeding required for milk production, increased diseased somatic cells are very common among the dairy cows. Plainly, diseased somatic cells are composed of infection like pus. In the US, the FDA allows 750,000 somatic cells per mililiter. While milk is usually pasteurized and not all somatic cells are diseased, the same FDA guideline report also lists that some of these toxins cannot be removed from pasteurization.
Once you realize you no longer want to support the dairy industry, what’s next?
Don’t worry, I have a great list delicious and dairy-free options for you!
Soy milk is the most classic plant-based milk option. It has evolved over the years and is widely available but, it does vary from brand to brand.
I like how much protein soy milk offers and it is multi-purpose. Soy milk works well in baking and cooking for both sweet and savory dishes.
WestSoy Organic Unsweetened is my top soy milk recommendation.
Rice milk is almost tasteless, which makes it an ideal dairy-free for beginners option. I use this for cold and hot cereals and in my daily matcha. Keep in mind rice milk is thin, almost watery, so it does not hold up well when making sauces or soups.
Rice Dream Classic Original or
Trader Joes Rice Milk are my top favorite rice milk options!
Oat milk is becoming the leading choice for milk alternatives. It’s creamy with a subtle flavor and cheaper to produce. It is perfect for lattes and coffee because it is so creamy. While it can’t be beat in texture and flavor, it is important to note that oats are almost always sprayed with glyphosate and it is hard to find organic oat milk.
Planet Oat Extra Creamy Milk is my preferred brand.
Widely available and commonly made by multiple brands, almond milk is a very popular dairy-free choice. The creamy texture and subtle taste makes it good for cooking, baking and cereals.
I am personally very picky about almond milk because I don’t like a strong almond taste, but I love New Barn Almond Milk. Their Barista Blend is excellent for lattes.
Cashew milk has a very subtle flavor that blends well into recipes and is creamier than most plant-based options.
Cashew milk is common in cream style sauces, ice cream, and often used as the base for a ricotta cheese substitute. I rarely use cashew milking cooking since I like many others better but I think it’s best used as an ice cream base.
So Delicious Unsweetened is my first choice for cashew milk
Coconut milk was very popular as one of the first milk alternatives but with so many other more mild tasting options, it isn’t used as universally. It does add richness to dishes but the flavor overpowers everything if used on its own. I don’t use coconut milk aside from specific recipes, like curries or soups.
Native Forest is a sustainable coconut milk brand that I love!
Additional Milk Options
Flax Milk, Pea Milk, Macadamia Nut Milk, Hemp Milk
These are additional options you might see on the shelf that are options worth mentioning, but have more distinct flavors. For people trying out milk alternatives as beginners, I suggest more neutral choices like the ones listed.
Follow Your Heart American Slices
My very favorite vegan cheese! This cheese melts well for nachos, is excellent shredded on tacos and I love it on crackers. It’s my go-to cheese that I always make sure to have it on hand
Miyoko's Fresh Vegan Mozz
Myokos mozzarella is the only mozzarella cheese I’ve found I truly like. I use it on pizza, lasagna, and to top off pasta dishes.
Fieldroast Creamy Original Chao Slices
The Chao creamy slices have a provolone style texture and taste. This is good for a quesadilla, on a vegan panini or sub sandwich. It melts well but I enjoy the taste of it right out of the package, too!
Violife Cream Cheese Spread
There are a few attempts at a vegan cream cheese, this is the only one I use.
Treeline Herb and Garlic Spread
I love Treeline cheese spreads, the Herb and Garlic is my favorite.
This is great for a vegan charcuterie board!
More on Dairy Free Products
Ingredients To Know
Here are some ingredients that are commonly used in dairy-free products and their purpose. I don’t completely avoid these ingredients necessarily though I strive for minimal additives in anything I consume.
Carrageenan- A seaweed exact which is used for thickening and binding. Not all carrageenan is plant-based, except when used in vegan and vegetarian products of course.
Guar Gum- Derived from a guar bean and used as a thickener.
Gellan Gum- Fermented plant-based additive used instead of gelatin and for making foods shelf stable
How to Find Your Favorite Foods
There will be a little trial and error involved, so try out a few to find what you really like. One brand of almond milk or mozzarella cheese tastes completely different than another, so you might want to experiment a bit with different brands, too.
Keep in mind what you use the milk or cheese for.
Some milks are better for coffee while others are better for cereal. Some cheese is better for nachos while others are better for lasagna.
Everyone’s taste buds are different and your taste buds need to detox. Cow’s milk contains casein, which is a protein that targets the dopamine receptors in your brain, and causes an addictive response. This is why many people believe they cannot live without cheese.
Allowing your taste buds to reset will make a dairy-free transition even easier!
What is your favorite dairy free product? Let me know in the comments!
For more dairy-free alternative ideas:
Check out this blog post for my Top 5 Dairy-Free Junk Food Favorites
Check out this post for my favorite Vegan Alfredo Pasta recipe that uses a simple and easy homemade cashew cream.