One of the biggest reasons I held off on changing my diet to improve my skin was because I never thought I could give up one particular animal product: DAIRY. I loved cheese – on pizza, in pasta, a slice on its own, with wine, etc. Also, there was ice cream and whipped cream and butter, oh my….how could I quit this decadence??
I reached a breaking point with my skin, and I just did it. I cut out dairy….and, you know what? It’s not that bad. In fact, I feel awesome without it in my life and have learned strategies to avoid it. Also, when I have gone on a dairy binge (it’s true, my friends, this happened), I felt GINORMOUS and ICKY afterwards and felt like wearing a moo-moo to cover up my belly. The heartburn and bloating and sluggishness are not worth it.
Also, at one point it hit me that we are drinking the milk from another animal’s mammary glands… that’s really weird. No other animal regularly consumes the milk from another species. Also, there’s a reason why a calf grows into a cow – cow’s milk is designed to fatten it up!
We’re past the TMI part of the post and onto the important things. Let’s dish about living dairy-free. Here are some tips for giving up the heroine of the animal proteins, dairy.
1. Know what products are dairy. It’s amazing how many people don’t actually know what it means to be dairy. Simply put, dairy is a product made of out the milk of mammals (again, ewww). Here’s a list of common dairy products:
- Milk – whole, skim, 2%, 1%, skim, goat, chocolate, strawberry and lactose-free (they take the milk sugars out but it’s still dairy)
- Cream / creamers / sour cream (weirdly mayo has no dairy but it does have eggs)
- Butter and most margarines
- All yogurt
- All cheese (goat, cheddar, cream, squirt can, nacho…it’s all dairy)
- Ice cream (unless it says “Dairy Free” or it’s a sorbet; note: sherbet is dairy!)
- Anything with the words “whey” or “casein”
2. Find dairy substitutes you like. Nut, soy, rice and coconut milks are NOT dairy, and they’re a wonderful substitution. I love almond and coconut milks for cereals and in coffee drinks. At Starbucks, they have soy milk as do many cafes and restaurants.
Whole Foods and other health stores often have various types of these plant-based milks and products, like ice creams and margarine, made out of them. I’m a big fan of the almond milk ice creams which curb my cravings for ice cream. At ice cream shops, ask for a sorbet or dairy-free ice cream.
One good brand for dairy-free foods is “So Delicious”. I like their ice creams a lot!
Tip for the traveling vegan: Ask your hotel to use soy milk in your coffee beverages or for your cereal. Most places have it for coffee drinks, and they should be able to provide it for you. If they don’t have it, ask them to order it for you!
3. When eating out, know common places where restaurants use dairy. I’ve had a few incidents where I ordered a sandwich or toast, and there was butter all over that bread and I was not a pleasant human. That’s why it’s key to know some places where dairy will sneak up on you. Here are a few:
- Toast / buttered bread – ask for it dry
- Salad dressing – ask if there’s dairy or cheese in dressings (for example, Olive Garden’s dressing has cheese in it)
- Soups – look for veggie broth-based soups
- Puddings / custards – yep, they’ve got milk
- Chocolate – unless it is made with cocoa powder
- Scrambled eggs (if you eat them) – ask for no dairy and they usually tell you if they add milk
- Ghee – butter product in Indian foods
For an even longer list, visit this page on godairyfree.org.
4. Read nutrition labels. As with eating out, there’s hidden dairy ingredients in many processed / packaged foods. Many of the aforementioned items will be clearly labeled on products. However, sometimes the dairy is less obvious. Here is a helpful cheat sheet that you can print as a small card to carry with you when you shop.
5. Eat a variety of plants to get your calcium. Don’t worry about calcium. As long as you’re eating a variety of whole foods, you’ll be fine. Kale, broccoli and spinach are great sources (and two of those things can easily be consumed in your morning smoothie!). There are also many cereals and plants milks fortified with calcium.
Here is a long, full list of calcium-rich foods (including meat and dairy) from the International Osteoporosis Foundation. You might be surprised how much calcium you can get from plants. Also, there’s research indicating that plant-based sources of calcium are more easily absorbed.
6. Learn more and become committed. It’s really hard to stay committed to not eating dairy if you don’t have motivation. I highly recommend you watch Forks Over Knives on Netflix. The research these physicians have done strongly links dairy consumption with a host of diseases, including cancer.
If you’re like me and doing it for skin, just google “acne and dairy” and look around. There’s a host of controversy on the topic, but there’s a strong link to the hormones in milk and skin problems.
Also, there is a major problem with animal cruelty and dairy. Some of the practices used on large-scale factory farms are just nauseating. PETA has a video about dairy farming but I couldn’t get through it due to the violent subject matter.
Best of luck as you begin your dairy-free life! Please share any of your tips or questions.