Do you want to or have to go dairy-free? It can be a scary task, filled with challenges and relapses. But it’s in no way an insurmountable challenge. It can be done, especially if you have some strategies and tips for the beginning of your dairy-free journey.
It can seem complicated at first, but once you know where to look and how to go about this problem, it gets easier. As with any journey, the first steps are always the most difficult. It involves paying a bit more attention to get the lay of the “go dairy-free” land. It also involves a fair share of experimenting on your part.
If you’re lactose intolerant, then maybe there are some items that you’re more tolerant to than others. Like some types of cheeses, let’s say. You are about to find out, though, so strap your seatbelt on, get to the starting line and let’s get started.
5 strategies to go dairy-free easier
1. Pay attention to labels
We are not even aware of how many items we consume daily without knowing that they contain some form of dairy or another. There are snacks with some dairy-related powder in the mix. A lot of sauces, breads, dressings, even soups, and stews have some form of dairy additives. The general idea here is to always look at labels before you buy something from the supermarket. Some products don’t have the word “dairy” on their labels, but they do have things like whey, lactose, and casein derivatives. Those are no-nos that the manufacturers try to hide in the products.
Meat notwithstanding, you can pick items which are labeled as vegan, because they surely won’t have any dairy in them. But double check those too!
It seems like it could take more time to actually pick every item carefully and browsing the label. But if you think about it, one visit to the supermarket is enough to pick up a few items and brands you’ll know to trust in the future. And you can write them down for future reference. Or if your memory sometimes resembles swiss cheese, like mine does every once in a while.
2. Make a journal
Speaking of writing things down, you can start creating a “go dairy-free” journal in which you detail your adventures. Not only what items are safe to eat from the supermarket, but your dairy experiments as well. Maybe you are tolerant to some items, while intolerant of others. And you can try some of them that you can’t imagine leaving behind and checking out how you feel that day and the following day. Write down every sensation you have out of place and see statistically where you can draw the line.
And if something doesn’t do too much harm, you can have it once a week to treat yourself and congratulate yourself on your resolve.
3. Don’t give in to processed foods
When people go dairy-free, they tend to choose tofu, fake cheeses, and maybe even dairy-free ice cream. But it’s a fool’s errand to do that. You let go of dairy and lactose and you try your hand at processed items, which are probably loaded with sugars and other unhealthy and quite damaging compounds.
Go for whole foods with as few ingredients on the label as possible. This makes the occurrence of hidden dairy more unlikely.
4. Research the restaurants
Once you've started to go dairy-free, you can find a few dinner or lunch places which actually make dairy-free dishes. Research a little. Find out if the restaurant makes the food every step of the way or if there’s some kind of pre-cooking going on. Ask the servers if they make dairy-free food or if they have any mysterious additives. Make sure you always ask before eating. Some places sprinkle grated cheese over their fries and don’t mention it on the menu.
As soon as you find a bunch of places, it will be easier for you to navigate the dairy-free lifestyle and diet. It’s just that the first steps in that direction will be more difficult.
5. Know how to choose non-dairy milk
Nut and seed milk types are a good substitute for dairy in your life if you want to go dairy-free. Almond milk, coconut milk, hemp seed or pumpkin seed milk all deserve a try. They work with coffee, in your morning cereal bowl, or as a warm glass in the evening, before you go to sleep.
Just like step 1, try to look at the labels and see how many additives are listed there. If you’re buying coconut milk, try the ones in cans, not cartons, because they are purer.
6. Get your calcium elsewhere
We consume dairy because we’re taught from an early age that it’s a really good source of calcium. It plays an essential role in bone density, muscle contraction, nerve function, blood pressure stability and healing the body when needed. But there are plenty of other good, healthy foods rich in the mineral, you just have to know where to look.
You can find calcium in tofu, tapioca, chia seeds, collard greens, kale, bok choy, figs, white beans, turnip greens, spinach, almonds, and sesame seeds. Some of them even help you absorb calcium better. Like, say if you drink one cup of milk, your body will absorb about 32 percent of the calcium. But if you have half a cup of bok choy, your absorption rate will be somewhere between 40 and 70 percent!