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Dairy-Free Diet

A dairy-free diet or reduced-dairy diet may be on your radar for many reasons, including dairy allergies, symptoms of lactose intolerance, dairy sensitivity or choosing a plant-based/vegan lifestyle. A dairy-free diet in any capacity is likely to face a couple of challenges, which can be met by avoiding certain products, switching to new sources of nutrition and discovering how to supplement dairy so you can still enjoy eating.

This page covers such topics by breaking the info down into easy-to-swallow, bite-sized portions that you can implement straight away.

Dairy-Free Milk Substitutes

Plant-based milk options

With dairy-free diets being so common nowadays, the market has broadened to meet our demand with a wide range of plant-based milk options. You’ll find these in both the refrigerated section and the long-life milk aisle of any supermarket. It’s important to consider that some of these contain additives or are highly sweetened, however, sweetened milk can serve to ease the taste buds into the flavour of plant-based milk. It can take time to get used to the flavour so patience is key, as well as keeping an open mind and not limiting yourself.

Manufacturers often fortify plant-based milk with vitamins, but if you’re confident in your ability to access them elsewhere, you can find recipes online to make your own dairy-free milk for a cheaper, additive-free option.


The following nutrition values are approximations.
Check nutrition labels for specific amounts.

Based on a 1 cup serving. DV = Percentage Daily Value.

Oat Milk

Iron: 2-4% DV
Protein: 5g
Calcium: 20-30% DV

hazelnut Milk

Iron: 5-10% DV
Protein: 2g
Calcium: 10-20% DV

coconut Milk

Iron: 20% DV
Protein: 1-5g
Calcium: 4% DV

rice Milk

Iron: 1% DV
Protein: 0.5g
Calcium: 2% DV

soy Milk

Iron: 10% DV
Protein: 10g
Calcium: 5% DV

cashew Milk

Iron: 5% DV
Protein: 1g
Calcium: 1% DV

almond Milk

Iron: 20% DV
Protein: 1-5g
Calcium: 3% DV

hemp Milk

Iron: 5-10% DV
Protein: 5g
Calcium: 1% DV

Oat Milk

Iron: 2-4% DV
Protein: 5g
Calcium: 20-30% DV

coconut Milk

Iron: 20% DV
Protein: 1-5g
Calcium: 4% DV

hazelnut Milk

Iron: 5-10% DV
Protein: 2g
Calcium: 10-20% DV

rice Milk

Iron: 1% DV
Protein: 0.5g
Calcium: 2% DV

soy Milk

Iron: 10% DV
Protein: 10g
Calcium: 5% DV

almond Milk

Iron: 20% DV
Protein: 1-5g
Calcium: 3% DV

cashew Milk

Iron: 5% DV
Protein: 1g
Calcium: 1% DV

hemp Milk

Iron: 5-10% DV
Protein: 5g
Calcium: 1% DV

By-Product Substitutes

delicious food without dairy

  • Cheese

Dairy-free cheese is usually made with nuts, soy or vegetable oils and available in supermarkets or specialty/health food shops, in the cheese fridge or refrigerated vegetarian section. You’ll find all different types and flavour profiles available. There are many ways to create a cheese-like flavour in meals without using plant-based cheeses such as potato and leek sauce, cashew “Parmesan” and nutritional yeast, which is a seasoning popular among plant-based eaters as it has a cheesy flavour and is fortified with vitamin B12.

  • Butter

Vegetable spreads, dairy-free butter blocks and margarine (always double-check labels) are great substitutes for butter with the same taste. If you want to go for a healthier option, spread avocado on toast and sandwiches in place of butter. Alongside vegetable spreads, margarine and dairy-free butter in baking recipes, you can also use coconut oil as it behaves in a similar way when being cooked and then cooled.

  • Cream

Whipped coconut cream and rice cream are often available at specialty health food shops and some supermarkets. Alternatively, you can make your own whipped coconut cream by whisking chilled coconut cream with some sweetener and vanilla for a cheaper option.

  • Yogurt

Yogurt can easily be substituted with store-bought coconut or soy yogurt, both are great alternatives at a similar price to dairy yogurt and still contain probiotics. You’ll find them in the regular place with other yogurts and there are many sweetened and flavoured varieties. Coconut yogurt can easily be made at home by combining coconut milk or coconut cream with a probiotic powder. Here is an example of a dairy-free coconut yogurt recipe.

  • Ice-cream

Many companies now offer dairy-free ice cream in supermarkets that are made with soy, almond, or coconut milk. Soy ice-cream tends to be creamier whereas coconut and almond ice-cream (my personal favourite) have a slightly icier texture. Sorbet is another excellent dairy-free alternative. For home-made options, there are many coconut ice-cream recipes or for a healthier option search “banana ice-cream.”

  • Condiments

There are increasing amounts of dairy-free condiments besides hommus in supermarkets today including other types of dips, salad dressings, sauces and sandwich spreads. Search online for cheaper home-made versions and you’ll find endless results. Never forget avocado is great on everything.

Maintaining Nutrition

On a dairy-free diet

If you regularly eat a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, you’re likely getting plenty of nutrients. However, when starting a dairy-free diet it’s a good idea to keep an eye on a few key nutrients until you’re more familiar with your new way of eating.

CALCIUM

We all know it’s important for bone health but almost every cell in your body requires calcium to do its job and thrive. So it’s a good idea to monitor your calcium intake when starting a dairy-free diet.


Calcium-Rich Foods

Poppy, Sesame & Chia Seeds
Fortified Cereals & Flours
Kale & Collard Greens
Tofu & Edamame
Almonds
Okra

PROTEIN

Proteins are important for our bodies to maintain healthy and balanced hormones, digestion, energy production, immune health and cell performance. Ensure you’re getting enough by eating:


Protein-Rich Foods

Peanuts & Peanut Butter
Lentils & Chickpeas
Tofu & Edamame
Pumpkin Seeds
Quinoa & Oats
Broccoli

VITAMIN D

Vitamin D helps regulate our moods to ward off depression, is vital for bone health and calcium absorption. Cows milk is fortified with it and one of the only plant sources is UV-grown mushrooms. So take a supplement or eat other fortified foods.


Vitamin D-Rich Foods

Fortified Orange Juice
Fortified Plant Milk
Fortified Cereals
Mushrooms

How To Check Labels

avoid dairy-derivatives

Dairy hides in many products and often in items that you wouldn’t expect, sometimes even soy-based cheeses have dairy in them if they’re not marketed as being dairy-free. This is why it’s important to learn how to read food labels. Checking every product can seem like a hassle but don’t let it deter you. Once you get used to reading labels and recognising the words that indicate dairy, it becomes second nature. Dairy is an allergen, so most ingredient lists will indicate a dairy-derived ingredient by putting it in parentheses, like “Whey (Milk),” or putting it in bold or italics, but not always. At the end of the ingredients list, there is an allergen advice section which should list milk if it’s present. Milk is sometimes listed in the ‘May Contain:’ section, this list exists in case of cross-contamination that may occur in a factory or kitchen but does not necessarily mean it contains milk. However, if you’re highly sensitive or allergic you may want to avoid items that list milk here, consult your doctor.

Most items in the following list are derived from dairy, some of them may contain dairy but may not stipulate.

• Acidophilus milk

• Ammonium caseinate

• Butter

• Butter fat, oil, solids

• Butter flavour

• Buttermilk

• Calcium caseinate

• Caramel colour

• Caramel flavouring

• Casein

• Caseinate

• Cheese

• Condensed milk

• Cottage cheese

• Cream

• Curds

• Custard

• Delactosed whey

• Demineralised whey

• Dry milk powder, solids

• Evaporated milk

• Ghee

• Goats milk

• Half-and-half

• Hydrolysate

• Hydrolyzed casein

• Hydrolyzed milk protein

• Iron caseinate

• Lactate• Lactalbumin

• Lactic acid

• Lactoferrin

• Lactose

• Lactoglobulin

• Low-fat milk

• Magnesium caseinate

• Malted milk

• Milk fat, powder, solids

• Nougat

• Opta

• Paneer

• Potassium caseinate

• Quark

• Rennet Casein

• Simplesse

• Skimmed milk

• Sodium caseinate

• Sour cream

• Sour milk solids

• Whey

• Whey powder

• Whey protein

• Whipped cream

• Whipped topping

• Whole milk

• Yogurt

• Zinc caseinate

Here is a list of common additives.
Most are derived from dairy and some may contain dairy but may not stipulate.

• Acidophilus milk

• Ammonium caseinate

• Butter

• Butter fat, oil, solids

• Butter flavour

• Buttermilk

• Calcium caseinate

• Caramel colour

• Caramel flavouring

• Casein

• Caseinate

• Cheese

• Condensed milk

• Cottage cheese

• Cream

• Curds

• Custard

• Delactosed whey

• Demineralised whey

• Dry milk powder, solids

• Evaporated milk

• Ghee

• Goats milk

• Half-and-half

• Hydrolysate

• Hydrolyzed casein

• Hydrolyzed milk protein

• Iron caseinate

• Lactate

• Lactalbumin

• Lactic acid

• Lactoferrin

• Lactose

• Lactoglobulin

• Low-fat milk

• Magnesium caseinate

• Malted milk

• Milk fat, powder, solids

• Nougat

• Opta

• Paneer

• Potassium caseinate

• Quark

• Rennet Casein

• Simplesse

• Skimmed milk

• Sodium caseinate

• Sour cream

• Sour milk solids

• Whey

• Whey powder

• Whey protein

• Whipped cream

• Whipped topping

• Whole milk

• Yogurt

• Zinc caseinate

Download & Printout


If a printout with some of this information would be helpful to you, feel free to download this small package. It includes a Dairy-Substitute Reference Sheet and a Checking Labels Card for your wallet.


A PDF version of this entire dairy-free guide will be available shortly. If you’d like to be notified via email, please subscribe, you’re free to unsubscribe at any time.

A Couple Extra Tips

From my dairy-free experience

  • Getting enough Iodine

Iodine is a mineral found in dairy that our bodies need for thyroid health, bone and brain development, pregnancy and infancy. Dairy-free sources of iodine include iodized salt and ocean vegetables such as seaweed, though levels can fluctuate. See that you include these natural sources in your diet and speak to a doctor about supplementing, as too much iodine can cause as much trouble as a deficiency.

  • Lactose-Free is not Dairy-Free

Lactose is a sugar naturally occurring in milk that is digested by a gut enzyme called lactase, that is found in the small intestine. Over 65% of humans don’t have enough lactase to properly digest milk, causing lactose intolerance. If your goal is to go dairy-free, don’t confuse it with ‘lactose-free.’ Lactose-free products are still dairy products, the only difference is that they’re supplemented with the enzyme lactase.

  • Non-Dairy is not Dairy-Free

The language used on the FRONT of food packages can sometimes be misleading, they are nearly always there for marketing purposes. The use of the phrase ‘non-dairy’ is one of those potentially misleading marketing phrases. Companies are sometimes allowed to use it if the product contains less than 0.5% dairy. Always check the nutrition label on the back, the ingredient and allergen advice lists, and look for a ‘Dairy-Free’ label instead.

  • Start small with Healthy Fats

If you’re going dairy-free one step at a time or reducing the amount you consume, replacing your fats is an excellent and easy place to start. Unsaturated fats from plants are better for heart health. Substitute your butter and other animal fats/oils with olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, seeds, nuts and nut butter to reduce dairy intake.

  • Dairy-Free Dining Out

Always be clear with your server that you’re dairy-free, you don’t need to disclose why if you don’t want to. Some sauces are thickened with cream or cheese added as a garnish without always being listed on the menu. Double-check, particularly with curries and pasta dishes. Whether you’re vegan or not, choosing a vegan menu option will often be your safest bet for dairy-free.

  • If in doubt, choose Vegan

Another way to make dairy-free eating easier is to make use of the hundreds of vegan options available. From vegan cheese, frozen foods, treats and chocolate, to vegan meals and beverages on cafe menus. Even if you’re not interested in veganism, you can use vegan foods to help you transition to dairy-free.

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