You know what I hear whenever I talk with someone considering a dairy-free or plant-based diet?
“I could never give up cheese!”
A client once told me they NEVER thought they would stop eating dairy.
Jade, my client, grew up in the midwest of the United States, known for its love of cheese, milk, butter, and other rich foods.
Jade had milk with breakfast, cheese with lunch, butter and more cheese for dinner, and ice cream for dessert.
Her favorite meals included grilled cheese sandwiches fried in butter, mac and cheese, cheese potatoes, cheesy pizza, and fried mozzarella sticks.
No wonder she couldn’t imagine life without dairy!
DAIRY-FREE?! WORTH GIVING UP!
Leaving familiar foods from our childhood is never easy.
When I first got sick, it broke my heart to say goodbye to freshly baked naan – one of my favorite childhood foods. Naan is often made with gluten, which I could no longer tolerate.
I also had to cut back on dishes heavy on oil and fats like babaganoush, traditional hummus, and animal products like beef and lamb.
I may not have grown up with as many dairy-based dishes, but I definitely know what it feels like to leave behind staple comfort foods to benefit my health.
It’s not easy.
But let me tell you something: It’s worth it.Sacrificing unhealthy comfort foods to prioritize our health might feel hard, but the benefits are so worth it. Click To Tweet
When I took away the foods that kept me from being my best, it changed my life.
Yes, it’s emotional to say no to familiar foods that are often connected with family memories.
But I wouldn’t trade the experience of eating traditional chocolate cake for my ability to have more energy to be the best mom I can be well into my later years. I think of it as a long-term game.
THE DAIRY HAMSTER WHEEL
Why are so many people going dairy-free these days? What’s the problem with dairy?In addition to gluten, eggs, and soy, dairy is one of the top troublesome foods contributing to countless health conditions. Click To Tweet
Dairy is at the top of the list when it comes to allergy-causing foods.
In this article, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States lists milk as the most serious allergy-causing food in schools, followed by eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts.
Dairy is also very high in fat, which causes a host of additional health problems.
Dairy products are common, but they’re not “normal” for our bodies.
In a 2020 article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), researchers pointed out that the health benefits of consuming cow milk and other dairy products are far from proven.
In fact, these researchers found that dairy increases the risk of certain cancers, including prostate and breast cancers, and also contributes to adult asthma, eczema, and other food allergies for people who show sensitivity to consuming dairy early in life.
The NEJM article also calls into question many of the accepted myths about consuming dairy – that it benefits bone health, for example.
Recently, a lot of attention has been given to the sugar content in dairy, which many experts are saying is as addictive as heroin due to an associated dopamine release in our brains.
What experts don’t talk about is the sky high fat content of dairy and how massively addictive high-fat foods are.
High-fat foods cause our bodies to release adrenaline which acts as a natural blood thinner. When too much fat is in the bloodstream, blood oxygen – critical for our brain – plummets.
Adrenaline protects our brains and other organs from becoming oxygen-starved.
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Too much fat in the bloodstream also blocks sugar from entering our cells.
This is the actual cause of sugar cravings and insatiable hunger. Our bodies run on sugar, and foods like cheese and ice cream block that sugar from being used so we crave more and then eat more.
When our meals include high-fat foods, those cravings persist as the sugar continues to be blocked from entering cells.
This is also the root cause of insulin resistance: fats in the bloodstream blocking the ability of insulin to carry life-giving glucose into the cells of our bodies, which is insulin’s job.
This is your WHY for moving away from dairy. Let’s get to the how.
EASIER THAN EVER
Thankfully, giving up dairy has NEVER been easier!
Not only are there plenty of healthier alternatives to cheese and ice cream available on the market, there are also hundreds of satisfying dairy-free recipes you can easily make at home to replace familiar flavors and textures.
Find some of my favorite dairy-free recipes below – all tested and approved by kids, non-vegan family members, and friends with a wide range of diets!
If they weren’t delicious, I wouldn’t be sharing them – believe me.
- Spicy Macadamia Cheese – Nut-based cheeses are a wonderful alternative to dairy cheeses, and there is no richer option than macadamia nuts. Macadamias have a decadent creamy texture when prepared as a cheese and will be a hit with the dairy lovers and vegans in your life!
- Herbed Macadamia Cheese Spread
- Muneeza’s Cashew Cheese Recipe – This cheese recipe can be spread on homemade pizzas for a delicious dairy replacement, used in lasagna recipes, combined with more herbs for a cracker dip, or even baked with pasta for a homemade mac and cheese!
- Butternut Mac and Cheese
- Creamy Fat-Free “Cheese Dip”
- Homemade Dill “Cream Cheese”
- Cheesy Cranberry Pinwheels
- Vegan Tzatziki Sauce
Below are a few recipes to inspire you to eat delicious meals without other forms of dairy, like butter or heavy amounts of plant-based oil, which can challenge the liver, pancreas, and heart.
- Creamy Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Kabocha Squash Pizza – This sweet and savory pizza recipe is a hit in my family and doesn’t have any dairy replacement at all! Add my cashew cheese if you can’t imagine pizza without the cheese!
- Classic Summer Potato Salad – All of the comfort food feeling with none of the heavy ingredients, this summer potato salad will keep your picnic potluck guests coming back for more!
And don’t think I would leave you without delicious dairy-free desserts! We all have to have our sweets!
- Muneeza’s Hamantashen with Rose Jam – Delicious cookies without butter? Yes! It’s possible, and honestly, after trying it both ways, I prefer it! I never feel heavy or slowed by dairy-free gluten-free cookie recipes, and love the texture of this crumbly classic with a sweet jam filling.
- Muneeza’s Date and Walnut Cake – My mother’s recipe adapted for a healing lifestyle. You will not regret bringing this into your staple baked good recipes.
- Banana Nice Cream – What’s life without ice cream? You’ll be shocked at how creamy and satisfying banana-based ice cream can be. Top with stewed fruits and maple syrup, healthy sprinkles, dried fruits, date syrup, or any other yummy ingredient!
- Sweet Potato Ice Cream – You read that correctly. This late summer into fall treat will make your mouth water just thinking about it once you’ve tried it. The sticky sweetness of sweet potato combines perfectly with coconut cream, maple syrup, and and pumpkin spice for a decadent dairy-free option.
- Summer Sorbet Trio
- Maple Drenched Apricots – For all the cobbler lovers out there, you won’t even miss the butter! Top with homemade sweet potato or banana ice cream and toasted gluten-free granola for an extra special traditional crumble treat.
Still doubting whether or not living dairy-free can also be full of joy around delicious food? Check out my Top 16 Healing Recipes blog for even more dairy-free inspiration!
ONE STEP AT A TIME
The key to any dietary change is to take things at a pace that makes sense for you.
Maybe you’re feeling ready to leave dairy behind for good and are excited to dive into new recipes and flavors to enjoy.
Or maybe you’re a cheese-aholic, and the thought of skipping your nachos, baked potato with shredded cheese, or buttery cream-filled croissant terrifies you.
Either way, the most important thing is to make changes that are sustainable for you.
There is nothing more frustrating than making a commitment that you can’t keep and then punishing yourself for falling short.
YOUR 5 STEPS TO A DAIRY-FREE LIFE
Here’s a 5-step plan to get you to a joyfully dairy-free lifestyle.
This is a guideline I’ve always found to be successful when making changes to habits around food. Feel free to tweak it to match your lifestyle!
Find new recipes that feel familiar
Just because you’re going dairy-free doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to all of your favorite flavors and textures.
You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to replicate the mouthfeel of cheese without all the bloating that comes after for so many of us.
There’s no shame in a big bowl of freshly-baked dairy-free mac and cheese as you move from what you know to this next chapter.
This is not a marathon, and you have nothing to prove. Some people find it’s best to go “cold turkey” and change habits overnight, but most people need to make incremental changes.
Lowering dense fats like dairy will change how your body and taste buds feel. Keep some healthier fats in your diet to help ease the switch.
Mash avocado into your baked potato instead of sour cream, butter, or oil. Find some dairy-free cookie recipes like my Hamantashan so you don’t have to go without.
Create a transition calendar
Set a date – either a specific one or a general one – to act as a mark in the sand for when you’ll make meaningful changes. Clarity is helpful here.
For example, you could give yourself one month to generally cut back on dairy, one month to have dairy only two days per week, one month to have dairy only twice per week, and another month to have dairy only on special occasions (i.e., a wedding, or potluck).
From there, decide if you’re ready to go fully without moving forward.
Feel good about saying “no”
Anyone who’s changed their diet is familiar with the deluge of questions and comments from friends and family. Giving up dairy inevitably comes with raised eyebrows from everyone around you who believes it’s normal and enjoyable.
Start feeling good about saying no to foods that you know don’t serve you. Build your WHY so that you aren’t swayed. This is a great self-confidence booster.
It’s not easy to say no under various forms of peer pressure, but it’s a great way to live your truth authentically instead of matching up with others’ expectations or opinions.
Stand up for your choice
Once you’ve made your long-term commitment, whether you’ll be an occasional dairy-eater or you’re ready to go fully dairy-free, stick to it.
This means staying strong during moments of temptation, as well as not apologizing to others. Stand up for the choice you’ve made, know that you are strong enough to make it, and give yourself the chance to experience a new way of eating.
What I’ve heard without fail any time I speak to friends, family, or clients who gave up dairy is: “I don’t even want it anymore.”
This might sound crazy to some of you if you’re still early in making dietary changes, but that powerful dairy craving goes away with time.
As you nourish your body with healthier alternatives, you’ll find that it doesn’t want the foods that held it back any longer. Unhealthy foods lose their luster, freeing us from the cycle of craving and guilt that traps so many of us.
YOU’RE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK
There is a feeling of empowerment that comes from choosing healthy foods over junk foods. This might illicit a lot of eye rolls, but it’s true.
It’s not about feeling “better” than anyone else because you choose to be healthy. So often, those who change their diets do so out of necessity to address a health condition they’re suffering from.
Going without when it comes to foods like dairy means you’re prioritizing your long-term vibrancy over your short-term experiences. Your body will thank you and help you by eradicating those cravings once it has what it needs from healthy foods.
Jade – our dairy-lover from the beginning of this blog – is amazed at how rarely she wants cheese these days. She can’t believe how much she used to eat!
Jade also told me a story once of how about six months after going dairy-free she had a rough week at work and bought a pint of full-fat dairy ice cream on her way home to help ease her stress.
She ate the whole pint in one sitting and spent the next two hours feeling sick. She actually was hoping she would throw up just so she could get relief. Needless to say, that was Jade’s final experiment with dairy.
What Jade realized was that her body had changed. It could no longer handle the foods it was used to before, which motivated her to stay on her path.
She also was surprised at how unsatisfying it was to finish that pint of ice cream – instead of soothing her stress, it made her feel worse.
This was when she realized that she was stronger than her cravings, stronger than her bad week, and stronger even than the guilt she felt at eating something she knew wasn’t good for her.
She got up the next morning, recommitted to her choice, and has felt great ever since.
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