What Can You Eat on a Dairy-Free Foods Diet?
The average American eats just under two cups of dairy products every day. But you're not the average American.
Instead, you've decided to forego dairy products. It could be that you're one of the 50 million people in the United States who is lactose intolerant. Or, you might just want to skip dairy for ethical or personal reasons.
No matter what, embarking on a dairy-free diet requires a bit of prep work on your part. It's not always easy to tell what products contain lactose. Hint: they're not all in the refrigerator aisle at the grocery store.
So, to make your next shopping trip a bit easier, we've compiled this list of dairy-free foods to help you stick to your new meal plan.
What's a Lactose-Free Diet?
Before we get started on the list, let's cover the basics of lactose-free diet.
Lactose is a natural sugar found in most milk-based products. If a person has trouble digesting lactose, it's typically for one of two reasons.
Firstly, their body might not produce enough lactase, an enzyme in the body assigned to breaking down lactose. Other people struggle because their supply of lactase doesn't function properly.
Either way, misfiring lactase causes the symptoms of lactose intolerance. These can range from an upset stomach, bloating and flatulence to vomiting and diarrhea.
Lactose intolerance isn't harmful - that means, even if you have it, you can still eat dairy products containing the sugar. However, doing so will probably be uncomfortable, which is why most people with the condition will avoid dairy altogether.
It's important to keep in mind, too, that lactose intolerance differs from a milk allergy. If you suffer from the latter, it won't just be your digestive tract enflamed by ingesting dairy products.
Instead, it will trigger an immune response, which deploys histamines to attack the unwelcome dairy products. Having such a reaction could cause side effects ranging from wheezing to vomiting.
Why Else Do People Skip Dairy?
It's not just lactose-intolerant people who skip out on dairy these days.
Vegans make up one to two percent of the U.S. population, and they don't eat any animal-based products. Dairy is one of the more obvious ones to go - some people avoid honey, for example.
Others have decided to skip dairy because of anecdotal evidence that it improves their health. For example, some have given up on dairy because they've heard it can help them get rid of acne. Others skip it to assuage digestive issues unrelated to lactose intolerance.
Then, there's the promise that avoiding dairy can help a person lose weight. Of course, it all depends on what you use to supplement your diet without dairy.
You might wonder, for instance, how a person would get calcium without dairy products. But there are plenty of foods, such as kale, salmon and almond milk, which contain an all-natural supply of the bone-strengthening mineral.
What Dairy-Free Foods Can I Eat?
On that note, let's get to the list of foods you can - and can't - eat while following a dairy-free diet. Bookmark this page so you have your reference guide at the ready to prep for your next shopping trip.
Let's start here. Surprisingly, there are a few things you can still buy from the dairy section, even if you've gone on a no-dairy diet. They include:
- Rice milk
- Non-dairy creamers
- Pre-made nutrition drinks, such as Ensure, which aren't mixed with milk
- Lactose-free milk, if you're skipping dairy due to a lactose allergy
The rest of what you see in the dairy aisle is probably a no-no. So, skip out on the following:
- Cheese, especially processed and natural selections
- Cheese-based spreads
- Cottage cheese
- Cream and sour cream
- Ice cream and sherbet
- Milk, both in the dairy aisle and canned versions, such as condensed and evaporated
- Sour cream
his part should be a task rooted in common sense. You have a good idea of which dairy-aisle products contain lactose. So, skip what doesn't seem to be milk-free.
A Quick Note on Cheese
If you're skipping dairy for lactose intolerance-related issues, you may be able to eat some cheeses.
Aged cheeses have sat for a long time to mature. And, as they do, their natural bacteria have more time to break down lactose contained in the cheese.
So, more mature selections tend to have very low lactose levels. So, you may be able to stomach a bit of Parmesan, cheddar and Swiss.
Let's move onto the bread section next. Luckily, some bakers don't use any milk to produce their breads. Check the label, of course, but know that these options tend to be safe for lactose-free dieters:
- Italian and French breads, which aren't made with milk
- Pasta, macaroni and other noodles
- Whole grains, including rice and barley
- Whole-grain crackers and Saltines, among other cracker options
- Cereals made without milk
- Potatoes and many potato-based products
If you're going dairy-free as part of a vegan diet, you'll have to check that these products don't contain other animal products. Egg will be prominent in carb-based products, for instance.
On that note, skip these foods to avoid lactose:
- Instant mashed potatoes
- Pancake or waffle mixes that include milk
- Cereal, bread or pastries made with milk
Now, onto your cooking fats.
You can eat these fats, as they don't contain dairy:
- Salad dressing, so long as you check the label
- Margarine, if it doesn't contain milk or butter
With that list in mind, you can guess which fats you should skip, if you're going dairy-free:
- Dairy-inclusive margarine
- Pre-made dips and dressings with dairy
Now, onto one of your safer areas of the grocery store: the produce aisle.
As you can imagine, you can eat just about everything in this area. Don't skip on fresh fruits and veggies - they provide you with ample nutrients, they taste delicious, and, as we already mentioned, some contain the calcium you'll miss from milk-based products.
Still, there are a few fruits and vegetables that you should avoid. You won't find them in the fresh produce aisle, though. Skip the following:
- Cans of creamed vegetables
- Pre-made fruit smoothies with milk or yogurt
- Vegetables cooked in batter
Otherwise, reaching for fresh fruit and veggies is a safe and easy option for dairy-free dieters.
Meat and Substitutes
Again, this aisle will be a pretty common-sense venture. Here's what you can put into your cart:
- Fresh poultry, meat and fish (except if you've gone vegan)
- Eggs prepared without milk (except if you've gone vegan)
- Cooked or dried beans and peas
- Peanut butter, as well as other nuts and seeds
- Soy- and tofu-based products
- Soy-based cheeses
Meanwhile, these foods might contain lactose, so skip:
- Battered or breaded meats
- Processed meats, such as hot dogs
- Meats served in a cream sauce
Now, onto the soup aisle.
Sauces and Soups
A pre-made soup or sauce can save you lots of time in the kitchen. These options are safe for you as a non-dairy dieter:
- Water-based gravy
- Broths, bouillon, consommé
- Vegetable soups or meat-inclusive soups without cream
- Simple spices and herbs
On the other hand, you'll want to avoid items with dairy, which may include:
- Cream-based soups
- Milk-based gravy
- White sauces, such as alfredo sauce
Finally, let's cover the sweets section.
This section is everyone's favorite. However, it can be a tough one for dairy-free eaters to traverse.
Luckily, you can eat the following desserts:
- Angel food cake
- Fruit-based popsicles and sorbets
- Soy- and rice milk-based desserts
- Sweeteners, including sugar, honey, molasses and powdered sugar (skip honey if you're vegan)
- Jellies, preserves and jams
Lots of desserts contain dairy, unfortunately. So, skip these sweets:
- Whipped cream
- Baked goods with milk on the ingredients list
- Fudge, chocolate or coated candies
- Custard and pudding
- Ice cream
- Caramels, butterscotch and toffee
If you're ever in doubt, here's our last tip: read the labels.
What Else Should I Avoid?
If a product doesn't obviously contain or withhold dairy, you'll want to check the label to be sure it's safe for you to eat.
Avoid these ingredients, as they're not lactose-free:
- Whey protein
- Milk powder
- Milk protein
- Milk solids
- Non-fat dry milk
If you don't see these, then you should be in the clear.
Now that you have this list of dairy-free foods - and a reason for skipping them - it's time to embark on your new journey. Don't forget to check back in with us for more wellness tips along the way. And, contact us at Supplement Relief for help in choosing products to bolster your new, lactose-free meal lifestyle.
Jay Todtenbier is an original founder of SupplementRelief.com in 2010 and has operated the business ever since. He is also a tennis instructor and gospel musician. Formerly he spent 25 years in business development, technology and marketing with startups and major corporations having gone through the tech boom in Silicon Valley in the 90s. He became passionate about, and began studying and practicing Wellness as a Lifestyle, after experiencing chronic, personal health challenges, including auto-immune diseases, and being overweight, that impacted his ability to live a healthy, vibrant life. Since then, he has been an advocate for healthier living encouraging others to live better through making small, gradual changes to lifestyle behaviors relating to whole-foods nutrition, stress management, reasonable exercise, proper sleep, and the use of targeted, high-quality supplements.
Learn more about Jay Todtenbier.
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