Going dairy-free can change not only your diet, but also your life. People who stop eating products made from cow's milk report having more energy and better digestion. That's not surprising: an estimated 65 percent of all people struggle to digest lactose. For vegans (and people who are concerned about the environmental impact of the massive dairy industry), eliminating dairy is a moral necessity.
Most dairy products now have dairy-free alternatives that you can make or buy. Sour cream, cream cheese and yogurt can all be made with soy or nut milks. In most cases, you can use a one-to-one ratio when making these substitutions; for instance, use one cup of almond milk in place of one cup of cow's milk. Check out our list of plant-based dairy substitutes for 7 common dairy products:
Dietitians tend to favor soy milk as an alternative to cow's milk because its protein content is close to that of cow's milk, and most brands are fortified with calcium and vitamins. Use unsweetened, organic soy milk in both savory and sweet recipes.
You can also find a number of milks made from nuts and seeds, including almond, cashew, hemp and flax. Read labels carefully - some varieties are packed with sugar and have very little protein. You can easily make your own dairy-free milk to avoid sugar and additives. Rice milk is best for people who have allergies to soy and nuts, but it doesn't have much nutritional value.
These milk substitutes have varying effects on recipes. For instance, rice milk may be too thin for creamy dishes, and hemp milk has a strong flavor that overpowers delicate dishes. It may take some experimentation to find the right milk for your favorite recipes.
In baked recipes, use coconut oil in place of butter. It's slightly higher in calories and saturated fats than butter, but won't negatively affect the texture of your baked goods. You can also substitute mashed avocado for butter, but you need to increase the wet ingredients to compensate for the fact that avocado doesn't melt. In cooking, substitute coconut or olive oil for butter.
Nuts have a rich, creamy texture, so it makes sense to use them as the base for dairy-free cheese. Make your own vegan cheese out of cashews, nutritional yeast and seasonings, or buy dairy-free cheese made from a base of nuts, coconut or flour. If you're looking for a cheese with chewier consistency, like cottage or ricotta, use crumbled tofu instead.
These cheeses don't have the same flavor or meltability as dairy varieties. The calorie and fat content of vegan cheese varies widely, but they're not dramatically healthier than dairy cheese, and they tend to have much less protein.
4. Ice Cream
If you're fond of making your own ice cream, you can churn out a batch made with coconut milk that has a creamy texture similar to ice cream made with cow's milk. You can also find a variety of dairy-free ice creams for sale that are made with a variety of milk substitutes. Soy and coconut versions tend to most closely mimic the flavor and texture of traditional ice cream.
If you're not a big fan of coconut, but want something creamy, you can easily make your own banana nice cream. Just blend some frozen bananas and you're done!
5. Whipped Cream
Whipped coconut cream has a similar texture to whipped cream. Refrigerate a can of coconut milk and carefully scoop out just the solids. Whip the solids with sugar and vanilla, just like you make whipped cream, until the mixture is fluffy.
6. Condensed Milk
Condensed milk is an indulgent sweet treat on desserts or in an icy drink. Luckily, you can make a dairy-free version with two ingredients: full fat coconut milk and maple syrup. Tasty and vegan!
Lots of dairy-free yogurts are now made with soy or nuts. Silken tofu is a great alternative too, especially for soup recipes that call for a scoop of sour cream or plain yogurt for thickness and creaminess. Just puree some tofu and stir it in.
You can also make your own yogurt with coconut milk and probiotics!
Check out our list of natural sugar substitutes.