Give Up Dairy for Good – A Beginner’s Guide to a Dairy-Free Lifestyle

If you are like me, you might remember watching Saturday morning cartoons with a bowl of cereal. Maybe that’s just me?

Anyway, you have your cereal bowl and pour in the milk. Then later on your stomach doesn’t feel quite right and starts to turn.

What were the other options there? As an adult, I now know better. It’s not just milk; it’s also cheese, yogurt, and butter.

Dairy products might not be the healthiest option, especially if you’re following a vegan diet. Allow me to explain.

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dairy free milk and yogurt in glass bottles with ingredients on spoon flat lay

Do You Really Need Dairy?

Dairy products are a result of milk from animals. You can make milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, butter, and even ice cream.

Sounds good, right? But there are strings attached to that ice cream sandwich you enjoy.

Dairy products have not only detrimental effects on humans but also on the animals themselves. The production of dairy is an exploitive process.

Also, when you think about it, dairy products are made from the milk a mother cow is producing for their young. No other animal in the world continues to drink milk after they’re weaned; especially not another species’ milk.

So the fact that humans are drinking a product that is made specifically for baby cows is sort of strange in itself.

Why Dairy Production is Bad

You may be a vegan for health reasons or ethical reasons, or both. Below are a few of the reasons why supporting dairy production isn’t the best.

Animals have feelings like you and me. With dairy production, most factories don’t care about these feelings.

Cows live in unpleasant conditions with cramped living spaces. They’re also given antibiotics to stave off infections.

Additionally, there are environmental problems with dairy products, such as deforestation and the waste of planetary resources.

Vegans take an ethical stance by saying no to dairy products. It’s not just for you and me; it’s also for the animals.

See how big of an environmental impact you’re having by eating plant-based with this calculator.

Detriment of Dairy Products

The biggest problem with dairy is that it really isn’t meant for human consumption – for the most part. A study shows at least 65% of the world may be lactose intolerant.

It’s like that cereal I had as a kid. All that digestional upset meant I had a reduced ability to digest the milk fully.

Did you ever have a friend or partner who couldn’t eat or drink too much milk or cheese? I do, and it is very common.

It seems like most people use dairy products out of habit. There are even studies done on the mildly addictive properties of casomorphin found in some dairy.

It’s no wonder it’s so hard to give up! Our minds get a mild dopamine hit after eating it which can trigger cravings.

Benefits of a Dairy-Free Diet

What happens if you go dairy-free? Your digestive system thanks you, for one thing!

It’ll become more consistent, so you don’t experience bloating. You can also reduce acne problems.

If you were to give up dairy now, how do you get your daily dose of calcium?

Calcium and other vitamins can be found in alternative food products, which are vegan and eco-friendly. All you need is a strategy.

How Do I Remove Dairy from my Diet?

I know it can be difficult if you are a beginner. It’s a process that takes time and effort.

Believe me, the results are worth it. First, you need alternatives.

If you regularly eat cheese, for example, you can’t just give it up instantly.

You need a substitute that provides you with all the benefits without the detriments. The market has changed so much in recent years that there are convincing dairy-free cheese options easily available.

Related: How to Give Up Diary When You Love Cheese

Once you have your alternatives in place, come up with a plan. Figure out where to buy your food. Look at the ingredients.

Try out different vegan products to see which ones are right for you. Don’t get frustrated with yourself if you have difficulties with a non-dairy lifestyle.

Like I said before, the transition takes time. You just need to take the first step, which is substitutes.

I’ll start with the most common dairy product – milk.

Try Milk Substitutes

There are several milk alternatives. It doesn’t have to come from cows to taste just as good.

You get all the vitamin goodness without any burps or belches. Below is a list of the most popular choices for a healthy vegan lifestyle:

  • Cashew milk
  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Soy milk
  • Oat milk
  • Rice milk

First, you and I have cashew and almond milk. Both look similar, but there are differences in taste. Cashew milk is slightly sweeter, while almond milk has a nuttier flavor and is thinner in consistency.

You may find that you enjoy one type in your coffee, one type for cooking, etc. If you had to choose any of the alternatives, I would suggest cashew milk for cooking since it has a slight creaminess.

Coconut milk comes from coconuts, obviously. It’s made with either thick or thin coconut flesh, which determines consistency.

Coconuts are a high-calorie food, but also contain several vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and potassium. The canned coconut milk versions are thick and more typically used for cooking. For a lighter drinkable flavor, stick with the coconut waters.

Soy milk is entirely plant-based and is similar to almond and cashew milk. Look for soy milk with a sweet aroma and smooth consistency. Soy milk can sometimes have a gritty taste which is why I recommend trying different brands until you find a version you like.

Of all the alternative milk, soy is the most environmentally friendly. Production of soybeans is much cheaper than dairy since cows need to be fed and factories need to be made.

The last two alternatives are oat and rice. In terms of water production, both these kinds of milk use the least amount compared to other options.

The difference between oat and rice milk is oat milk has fewer nutrients, while rice milk has fewer proteins. I personally prefer oat milk as my main dairy-alternative milk for drinking.

Cheese Alternatives

Cheese is practically a staple of any kitchen. It’s a delicious ingredient with a wide variety of flavors. If you can find a substitute for milk, then you can do the same for cheese.

Some cheese alternatives use almond or cashew milk instead of dairy. You can make these at home with simply easy-to-follow recipes.

A little bit of lemon juice here, a little bit of salt and pepper there. It doesn’t take that many ingredients to replicate cheese.

For example, if you like creamy ricotta cheese, try a vegan version with almonds. Take a cup of almonds and soak them in hot water for up to one hour.

With a little lemon juice, black pepper, and salt, you can blend it all together and have yourself a cheese substitute. You can even add extra seasonings like rosemary or smoked paprika for your own personal flavor experience.

You can also use nutritional yeast to add a cheesy flavor with the values of multiple vitamins.

Don’t have nutritional yeast? Try out some substitutes to use in a pinch.

Combine nutritional yeast, raw cashews, and sea salt in a food processor. Pulse until grated to make a substitute for parmesan cheese. It’s that simple!

There are several recipes online for your convenience. You only need to know most of them require almonds, cashews, or nutritional yeast as substitutes for dairy.

What turns off most people from non-dairy diets is a simple question – how should it taste? Trust me, you can still try out good food with great flavor, all without dairy.

Just like milk, cheese has plenty of alternatives to choose from. And if you’d rather not make your own, pre-packaged vegan cheese shreds can be found hanging right next to the dairy versions at the grocery store.

Other Dairy-Free Choices

Keep an eye out for plant-based yogurts when you got to the grocery store. Check the labels carefully for the ingredients. The same goes for creams and butter.

What To Do When You Shop Dairy-Free

Once you figure out what your alternatives are, look for trusted dairy-free brands when you go shopping. Make a list of what you want to eat.

If a particular brand is not your type, try another one. Texture and flavor can vary drastically between brands.

Learn to appreciate the taste of vegan products. Prepare your meals in advance when you choose your non-dairy options.

Know where you can shop for the right products. Always make sure there are plenty of vitamins and proteins such as calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin D.

Importance of the Ingredients

Not all dairy-free products are vegan. Avoid products with ingredients such as lactose, whey, and casein. Read the labels carefully.

Try to find products with dairy-free labels and then check the ingredients list over for any animal-based products. I recommend you keep a list of the ingredients to avoid on your phone so you always have it while shopping.

Be Accountable for Yourself

It takes some time for you to get used to a dairy-free diet. You’ll likely need to remind yourself to stay strong, so you don’t relapse and go back to dairy food out of convenience.

It’s easy to go back to bad habits. If that happens, reset and try again. Set yourself reasonable goals.

See how long you can manage within a few days, then a few weeks, then a few months. Eventually, you start to see results, and soon enough, you are dairy-free.

If you can, have a friend hold you accountable. Group efforts give you the motivation you need to keep trying. If you know someone who made the change, don’t be afraid to ask them questions.

Remember your goals and take small manageable steps towards them instead of huge leaps. It’s such a satisfying experience and so is a dairy-free lifestyle.

A Dairy-Free Diet Is Worth the Effort

Hard work goes a long way to ensure the good things in our lives. Dairy production is bad for the animals and the environment.

Why waste the earth’s resources when you and I can take a simpler route to a healthy lifestyle? When you go dairy-free, you don’t have to give up on all the good stuff.

A dairy-free diet is easier than you think. Thanks to almonds and cashews, plant-based products are great substitutes for milk and cheese.

You can find the same great taste in dairy-free food, so the transition is easy. Make sure to check the labels, read the ingredients, and choose the tastiest vegan options.

With dairy-free food, everyone can enjoy the benefits together. I know the cows would certainly appreciate our kindness!

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Stephanie Mantilla

Plant-Based Diet & Vegan Lifestyle Expert

Stephanie is the founder of Plant Prosperous, a plant-based vegan living, and parenting blog. She has been eating a plant-based diet for over 24 years along with a B.S. in Biology & Environmental Science. She also has over 14 years of experience working in the environmental and conservation sectors. Stephanie is currently raising her son on a plant-based diet and hopes to help others who are wanting to do the same. You can read more about her here.

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