We can already hear some of you getting angry with this post, so we want to stress that we’re advising you to cut back on dairy, not necessarily to cut it out completely. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…like many other food groups, dairy is an important part of a balanced diet. It is good for you in moderation, not to mention tasty, and the body gets important nutrients from dairy. However, as with other food groups, you want to make sure you’re not over indulging in this food group. Remember, proper nutrition is all about balance. We recently told you about how to cut down on and replace added sugars in your diet. Today we want to do the same thing with dairy products.
Benefits of Cutting Down on Dairy
We know not all dairy is bad. Low-fat yogurt and milk are good sources of calcium and probiotics. But overindulgence in dairy can cause stomach bloat, digestive issues, skin problems and more. Cutting down on dairy helps eliminate these issues, gives you more energy and could help you figure out if you’re actually lactose intolerant—something many people don’t realize until they try removing dairy from their diet. Also, like with your exercise routine, it’s good to vary your diet from time to time. Adding variety into your meal plans keeps them interesting and makes you less likely to binge.
How to Cut Down on Dairy
Start by looking at your diet and examining how much dairy you eat on a daily and weekly basis, what kind of dairy you eat (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.) and how often you eat it. Also look at the situations where you find yourself eating dairy. Is it a common snack or stress food for you? Do you always have cheese and ice cream on cheat days? Knowing all these things will be helpful as you develop a plan to remove dairy from your diet.
If you find you’re eating it in almost every meal, you’re going to have to spend more time looking at alternatives and vegan recipes than if you only consume dairy a few times a week. And if you notice cheese seems to be your comfort food of choice, make sure you have something else readily available to snack on when you get upset or stressed out to keep you from automatically reaching for the cheddar.
How to Substitute and Supplement
There will be some trial and error as you figure out what you like and don’t like. Maybe you can live with almond milk for drinking and protein shakes, but you can’t stand vegan chocolate. Everybody has their limits. Try new recipes, get recommendations from friends, forums and nutritionists you trust and other reliable sources. Some things are easier to substitute than others. Butter and milk have tons of available substitutes that you can find at almost any supermarket. Yogurt and cheese substitutes are less plentiful and usually require a trip to the specially store. Here are some substitution suggestions:
Butter: use oils for cooking—sunflower oil and olive oil taste great and work just like butter. You can also try coconut butter or dairy-free margarine for things that require a butter-like consistency, like baking. You can also use chia seeds and applesauce as replacements when baking.
Milk: soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk…there really is no end to the milk alternatives. Read labels carefully to find ones with the least additives and then sample a few to find the one that has the flavor you like most.
Yogurts: you can buy soy, rice, and coconut based yogurts at many specialty and health food stores. You can also try making your own from coconut cream.
Cheese: there are some tofus made to imitate cheese, particularly mozzarella, but there aren’t as many options here as for other dairy products.
As you begin to cut down on dairy products, you’ll need to add in supplements to replace the vitamins and minerals found in dairy that aren’t always found in dairy substitutions. The main one here is calcium. Maintaining proper calcium intake is crucial for maintaining and repairing teeth and bone strength. You want at least one gram of calcium a day. If you can’t find calcium fortified dairy substitutes, try a calcium supplement or eat other foods that are naturally high in calcium such as broccoli, chick peas and green beans.
Remember to check in with your body as you cut down on dairy. You’re doing this for health after all. If you start to feel worse, it could be because you’re not replacing some of the essential vitamins and minerals usually found in dairy products.