A few years ago you’d be lucky to find a soy milk option anywhere other than in the supermarket. But nowadays the landscape has changed dramatically and there is a vast array of alternative options out there: from oat and almond to rice and hazelnut. More and more people are starting to make the switch to a dairy-free diet, whether for health, allergies or ethical reasons. But why is it that certain foods, especially cheese, seem so hard to give up? And what is best for us, as well as for the environment? Is dairy essential to our health, or not? Here’s everything you need to know about how to go dairy-free:
The most common reasons for going dairy-free
The dairy industry has convinced us that it is vital from an early age on to consume cow’s milk, even though we humans are the only species to drink milk from another mammal. But perhaps consuming dairy is not nearly as healthy as the dairy industry makes it out to be.
It is estimated that roughly 65% of people worldwide are lactose intolerant. The older we get, the harder it becomes for us to break down lactose, milk’s main ingredient. Dairy intolerance is also known to cause a range of issues such as bloating, respiratory problems, acne and rashes.
Another ingredient that our bodies have great difficulty breaking down is casein. Casein is a type of protein found in dairy products, but it can also be added to things like bread, baby food, paint and plastic. Whilst it is slowly broken down in our bodies, substances called ‘casomorphins’ are released into our bloodstream. These morphine-like substances can cause addiction to dairy products, hence many people struggle to give up cheese as it contains a more concentrated version of casein than milk does.
In fact, they can cause such heavy addictions and mood swings that they’ve been compared to the impacts of drugs such as LSD or heroin. Not only that, but Dr T. Colin Campbell (author of the famous book The China Study) has said that he has found casein to be the greatest cancer promoter ever discovered.
There is often the concern that people who don’t consume dairy will lack calcium. We all remember the adverts on TV, encouraging us to ’drink milk for strong bones’. Interestingly, however, some studies have shown that the countries with the highest dairy consumption also seem to have the highest rates of osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle, often resulting in easy fractures.
2. Animal cruelty:
There are many people who are willing to give up eating meat but who continue consuming dairy products because it doesn’t require killing the animal. But it could be argued that the life of a dairy cow is much worse.
A dairy cow is consistently impregnated in order to produce milk. This often happens through a process called ‘artificial insemination’, resulting in unnaturally big udders which can cause back and leg problems.
Many videos have popped up on the internet and in documentaries in recent years to raise awareness about the atrocious conditions these animals have to endure on dairy farms. They’re often crammed into small spaces with concrete floors, very poor hygienic conditions and in some cases, no time outdoors at all. When they’re no longer able to supply sufficient quantities of milk, their fate often ends up being the same as that of beef cattle.
Other factors to take into consideration are the CO2 emissions, as well as land and water usage, needed to produce milk. A study by Poore & Nemecek, published in 2018, showed that the carbon footprint of global dairy milk production was three times higher than its plant alternatives. Dairy also uses approximately 9 times more land and a lot more water.
As we can see in this image, oat and soy milk are the most sustainable choices. There are of course many more plant-based options to choose from such as pea, hazelnut, hemp and coconut to name a few. You can also buy many of these kinds of milk fortified with vitamins and minerals such as B12 and calcium.
What about other products?
The same goes for yoghurts, cheese, butter and ice cream. You’ve probably noticed more and more alternative options popping up in your local supermarket or café.
Some products taste just as good or better, whilst others might have a little way to go still. But with choices so vast, you’ll be sure to find one you like.
The best dairy-free alternatives
To make things easy and provide you with a practical checklist, we’ve created a FREE ‘Going Dairy-Free’ Cheat Sheet listing the very best dairy-free substitutes and easy recipes to create your own alternatives. You can download it for free here.
How to replace milk
It’s easier than ever to find your favourite plant-based milk alternatives these days. Below is a quick list, outlining which type is most suitable for what.
- Cooking & baking
- Coffee (foams well)
- Overnight oats
- Chia pudding
- Ice cream
- Smoothie bowls
How to replace cheese
Cheese seems to be one of the hardest things to give up when going dairy-free. If you think that non-dairy cheese is dull and tasteless, then you are definitely in the wrong. There are plenty of tasty alternatives available in supermarkets these days. Plus, you can easily make your own cheese alternative at home, which helps you to avoid highly processed products at the same time. Here are a few of our favourite cheese substitutes:
- Coconut-based cheese
- Almond parmesan
- Cashew cheese
- Almond ricotta
- Cashew parmesan
- Soy-based cheese
- Hemp seed crumble cheese
- Vegan kimchi queso
- Almond cream cheese
- Nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavour addition
How to replace yoghurts and cream
Even when looking to substitute animal-based cream, you will likely find a vegan cream alternative in your local supermarket these days. If not, here’s one of our favourite, homemade alternatives:
Almond milk & cashews:
- Simply soak 150g of cashews in water for at least 4 hours.
- Once soft, drain and add to a food processor or blender, together with twice the amount of almond milk.
- Blend until smooth.
Ice cream substitutes:
Can’t imagine life without ice cream? Fortunately, you don’t have to! There are plenty of dairy-free ice cream alternatives that will prove that vegan ice cream is delicious:
- Banana puree ice cream
- Coconut milk ice cream
- Almond milk ice cream
- Cashew milk ice cream
- Oat milk ice cream
To make banana ice cream, break 3 ripe bananas into bite-size chunks and freeze for at least 4 hours. Add to a food processor with 1 tsp vanilla extract and 50ml plant milk. Blend on high for 2-3 minutes and serve.
How to replace butter
When replacing butter, it’s a good rule of thumb to replace it with something of a similar substance: solid for solid and liquid for liquid.
Replacing solid butter:
You can easily replace solid butter with plant-based butter such as Flora plant butter (it’s our favourite) or Violife’s ‘Vioblock’. If you can’t find plant-based butter, try solid coconut oil or coconut butter.
Replacing liquid butter:
The same goes for liquid butter. The best alternative would be melted plant butter, like the ones mentioned above. Alternatively, try melted coconut oil, apple sauce, yoghurt or a neutral oil like canola oil, which is stable at high temperatures, cost-effective and has a natural flavour.
We hope this article provides some useful tips on how to go dairy-free and was able to demonstrate that reducing your dairy intake is not only good for your health but also our environment and its animals. Play around with different products and see which one is your favourite. Try replacing your yoghurt in the morning with a coconut version or add a splash of oat milk to your coffee. Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to swap all of them at once. Just pick one thing to change and see how you get on.
Some more tasty recommendations for dairy-free alternatives:
Cheese: ‘Epic Mature Cheddar’ or ‘Original Flavour Grated’ (Mozzarella type grated cheese) by Violife or ‘Sheese: Smoked German Style’ by Bute Island Foods Ltd
Butter: Naturli ‘vegan spreadable’ or ‘Vioblock’ by Violife
Ice cream: ‘Non-Dairy Peanut Butter Fudge’ by Häagen Dazs, ‘Non-Dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough’ by Ben & Jerry’s or vegan Magnums
Milk: Good Hemp seed milk, Mighty Pea milk or Koko Dairy Free milk
Cream: Oatly creamy oat single cream or Emlea 100% plant double cream
Yoghurt: ‘Natural yoghurt alternative’ by the Coconut Collaborative Ltd or Alpro’s ‘Vanilla yoghurt alternative’
Have you downloaded our FREE ‘Going Dairy-Free’ Cheat Sheet? It provides you with a practical checklist, the very best dairy-free substitutes and easy recipes to create your own alternatives. You can download it for free here.
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Co-Founder of Veano