5 steps to get started with a dairy free diet

By Dr. Sharon Stills, NMD

People have many reasons for going dairy-free. I’m sensitive and allergic to milk products, so I follow a Paleo diet. Other women choose to eliminate dairy because they’re lactose intolerant or vegan.

Going dairy free is easy with substitutions like nut-free milks.

No matter why you cut out dairy, research shows there are huge health benefits for everyone. Eliminating or limiting consumption of dairy can help with digestive health, acne, cholesterol and sinus issues. There’s also clear evidence that dairy consumption is linked to some cancers.

So you should be interested in reducing dairy in your diet. But if that seems difficult, I’ve got some ideas that will help.

Go dairy free for just 30 days

Try going dairy free just for a month. If it really helps, you’ll feel the difference. You may be shocked at how much better you feel – which will make it a lot easier to roll one successful month into many more.

1. Don’t eliminate, find dairy substitutes

You have more options than ever before, and it pays to play around with the alternatives until you find what works best for you. You might like almond milk on your cereal but rice milk in your coffee. The most likely place to find many of these products is in the natural foods aisle or a health food store.

That said, just because something is “dairy free” doesn’t mean it is good for you. Too many of them are manufactured foods, rather than quality substitutes. For example, if a milkshake is made from chemicals, it’s very different than a milkshake made of almond milk.

2. Check your labels

Milk has a sneaky tendency to find its way into most prepared food products, so check the ingredients label to see if dairy is listed. Be on the lookout for wording that includes variations of the words milk, casein, lacto and whey. Often just checking the allergen list helps. If any dairy is there, you should see a warning that the product contains milk or milk products. Tip: Rice cheese and dairy substitutes often contains casein, which should be avoided when avoiding dairy as that is the part that many people are allergic to.

3. Get adventurous with cooking

Instead of zeroing in on what you “can’t” eat, focus on what is available to you — which is more than you might think! This is the perfect opportunity to get creative and explore new foods, new recipes and new flavors. Sometimes the best alternatives aren’t even dairy substitutes. Avocados can add a creamy texture. A little bit of nutritional yeast sprinkled on foods or in recipes can add a cheese flavor.

My typical day eating dairy free will consist of berries, some nut butter and coconut milk pre-yoga, a bowl of steamed veggies and chicken or fish for lunch, and a super easy dinner dish like a crockpot chili or spaghetti squash dinner.

4. Don’t be shy

Really the best advice I give to my patients is: No one is going to look out for you like you will. A big part of this is effectively communicating to others what your needs are when it comes to your food choices.

5. Share!

I try to make sure to bring something dairy free to every gathering I attend. This is a win for everyone. I have a food I feel good about eating and it also creates an opportunity for others to have a taste of foods that might be new to them.

If you think dairy is to blame for your digestive problems, but aren’t sure, I recommend giving an elimination diet a try. Dairy is definitely a top symptom-causing food group, but you may also have issues with gluten, peanuts or even soy. To learn more, read our article “The elimination diet: Create a path to better digestive health.”

  • http://www.nutritionmd.org/nutrition_tips/nutrition_tips_understand_foods/dairy.html
  • http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/81/5/1147.abstract
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15069693?dopt=Abstract

Be sure to check out Dr. Stills's Facebook Live: Ditching Dairy 101.

Published: April 3, 2018 - Last Updated: March 28, 2021

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