Two years ago, when I received the results of my food intolerance test, cow’s milk was listed as a huge red flag. I was instantly daunted by the journey I knew I had ahead of me.
I'd always been aware that my stomach hadn't reacted too kindly when I’d had cheese, butter, cream, or milk… but I'd ignored it. Habitually, dairy was a part of my life and I didn't really know where to start without it.
But when my blood sample was tested against cow’s milk and it produced a number of antibodies in response (an indicator that it's causing you issues associated with allergies or intolerances), I couldn't put it off any longer.
Starting a new life without dairy in it wasn't going to be easy for a self-confessed cheese addict, but it was necessary for me to feel well again. And so, overnight, I went cold turkey.
Out went the heavy yogurts, cheese sandwiches, creamy pastas, and heavy chocolate desserts. I won't deny — it was difficult, but I'm proud that I've never had even a momentary lapse. Because feeling healthy and well is far more important to me. Still, I knew I'd have to find new things to love — new things to introduce into my daily routine. In short, I'd have to learn how to enjoy food again.
And so I got experimental, especially when it came to flavor. I spent days researching online what the best alternatives would be, and I completely overhauled my kitchen cupboards so that we could start fresh.
I often hear people say, “I don't eat much dairy.” But when you look at their breakfast choices, dairy products are aplenty — even if initially they don’t think they are. Coffee or tea with milk, toast with butter, cereal with milk, croissants, pancakes, pastries, smoothies — they all have one thing in common: they're a nightmare for someone with dairy intolerance.
But with a few simple switches, you can tweak your old breakfast choices to be dairy-free, and quite often, a lot healthier in the process.
For those who enjoy a hot drink in the morning, make the switch to a nut milk. I often serve this to guests and they hardly notice a difference. In fact, some have even been converted themselves!
Alternately, you could always go totally milk-free. I enjoy a peppermint tea when I wake up, as it gently soothes any digestive discomfort, but going dairy-free means you can experiment with several herbal teas and find your favorite!
One thing I really missed was pancakes, because as much as they’re an indulgent treat, they’re also so filling. I missed how they’d fueled me for the day ahead, so I decided to make my own — much healthier — version, using recipes I found online, with a few tweaks to cater to my personal likes and dislikes.
Using only a few simple ingredients, you can whip up a delicious batch of pancakes in 10 minutes!
- Heat up a frying pan with a few sprays of cooking oil.
- Mash up a banana and mix it with cacao powder, oats, cinnamon, vanilla powder, and almond milk. It takes a few attempts to get the consistency just right, but once you've made the recipe a few times you'll get to know how you prefer it best!
- Fry on each side for 5 minutes, or until they’ve solidified a little more, and then serve with a dollop of your favorite nut butter.
Healthy, delicious, and filling!
- almond milk oatmeal
- avocado on toast with olive oil
- acai bowl
- coconut yogurt and fruit
- homemade granola
- overnight chia pudding
My old lunch routine would usually consist of a cheese sandwich or a big hearty bowl of creamy pasta, so making the switch to being completely dairy-free was quite a change!
Nowadays, I like to fill up on good proteins and healthy fats to keep me going until late, and I try to keep things exciting by looking out for new recipes and flavors.
I've never been a salad lover, as I prefer heartier dishes, so a favorite go-to lunch of mine is to make a healthy pizza using a wholegrain wrap as the base. Keep a jar of tomato puree handy, chop a few red peppers, top with sweet corn, and sprinkle on some oregano.
If you do have a craving for something cheesy to finish it off, I turn to something called nutritional yeast, also known as deactivated yeast, which you can sprinkle on top. It looks a little like fish food, but it's a healthy natural alternative which has a nutty and cheesy taste, and gets B-12 into your diet! Nutritional yeast is also great for making creamy pasta dishes, as it thickens up sauces and gives them a velvety taste.
- courgetti (zucchini) pasta with avocado and basil sauce
- lentil flour pasta with tomato salsa sauce and peppers
- quinoa and chicken risotto
Like lunchtime, dinner also used to be a carb-filled creamy affair for me, with pasta carbonara, breaded chicken in creamy sauce, or cheese fries taking priority over anything healthy.
In fact, before changing up my diet to exclude dairy, I actually hated tomatoes and red peppers. I was very opposed to lentils, and I wouldn't go near olives. But because I had to be more adventurous and experiment with flavor, I kept trying to reintroduce them until I found a dish I liked.
Now, I can't get enough vegetables and olives! And I practically eat a bowl of tomatoes every day.
I think the key is not to be put off by anything, because your tastes change all throughout your life. What you may not have liked a few years ago may have grown on you now.
My staple dinner is a Thai vegetable curry, though if my boyfriend is home for dinner, I'll add chicken for him. Thai dishes tend to be great for dairy-free eaters because the base is made from coconut milk rather than cow’s milk. The rich, flavorsome concoctions aren’t only filling but often very soothing on the digestive system, with lemongrass and ginger woven into the dishes!
For a super quick, easy, and healthy curry:
- Mix a can of coconut milk with garlic, shallots, ginger, lemongrass, chili, cumin, coriander, and fish sauce. On the stovetop, cook on low and wait until it's simmering slightly before adding in your vegetables.
- Making sure you have a plethora of colors in your curry is a great way to get your five-a-day and also fill you up with lots of good stuff. I tend to choose mange tout (snow peas), baby corn, peppers, broccoli, carrots, and a dash of lime — however you can add chicken or fish depending on what you fancy!
- tuna quinoa and kale bake
- chicken and vegetable fajitas, with guacamole but no sour cream
- mushroom and beetroot burgers
Snacking used to be more difficult when I first gave up dairy, but the vegan market has since exploded, meaning that dairy-free snacks and treats are more accessible than ever before.
Nut and seed bars tend to be a great on-the-go choice that you can pick up anywhere. However, it’s worth keeping an eye on how much sugar these bars contain, as often they can be packed with stuff you don't realize, even if they're marketed as healthy!
If you'd prefer to make your own snacks to take into the office, I'd recommend prepping some crudités and hummus that are ready to grab and go!
To satiate a sweet tooth, you can make a batch of raw energy balls. All you need is coconut oil, dates, ground almonds, almond butter, cacao powder, and cacao nibs:
- Soak the dates overnight to soften them, before whizzing up in a blender along with the other ingredients, minus the nibs.
- Roll the mixture into individual balls and then sprinkle the nibs on top.
- Pop in the freezer for 10 minutes to set, and then keep in the fridge for 5 to 7 days. Just beware, you may end up eating the entire batch!
I thought desserts would be the hardest thing to give up, but I actually found that I felt far more free knowing I could happily turn away the offer of cake — not because I was dieting but because I wanted my body to be happy.
In fact, after the first two weeks of no sugar, an unintentional side effect of having no desserts I could eat, I started to not crave it at all. The mid-afternoon headaches and slump lifted and I actually felt I was able to see far more clearly and work more efficiently — crazy!
However, the sweet tooth was persistent and, after a few months, it crept back into focus.
For a real treat, I love making Oreo brownies. Believe it or not, original Oreo's are actually dairy-free, though they do contain traces of milk, so it all depends just how sensitive you are. I find that I can eat them in small doses — so as long as I don't go overboard, I’m usually fine.
- Crush up a pack of Oreos in a mix of almond milk, cacao powder, vanilla powder, a pinch or two of baking powder, dairy-free margarine, maple syrup, and self-rising flour.
- Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes on mid-heat. You'll know when they're ready as you'll be able to dip a knife through and get a bit of sticky residue, but a crisp outer layer!
- Enjoy with a scoop of dairy-free vanilla ice cream for the ultimate indulgence!
- baked apple and cinnamon oat crumble
- avocado and cacao mousse
- raw cacao and raspberry “cheese” cake
Making it work
So there we have it, going dairy-free may be daunting but it's certainly not impossible. Weirdly, just by cutting out dairy alone and making these simple switches, I lost 23 pounds within a year. I wasn't restricting myself other than the no-dairy rule, and I discovered a whole host of new recipes that I loved in the process.
If you suspect dairy might be causing issues for you, I'd definitely recommend keeping a food diary for a month and noting down what you eat, as well as how you feel after each meal, and at the end of the day. You'll soon start to notice patterns and trigger foods. Otherwise you could simply go dairy-free for a month and see what benefits you get from it!
There’s a whole other life outside of cheese. Who knew?
Scarlett Dixon is a U.K.-based journalist, lifestyle blogger, and YouTuber who runs networking events in London for bloggers and social media experts. She has a keen interest in speaking out about anything that might be deemed taboo, and has a lengthy bucket list. She’s also a keen traveler and is passionate about sharing the message that IBS doesn’t have to hold you back in life! Visit her on her website and Twitter.