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Lighten Up With Dairy Alternatives

Any chance you've noticed the number of non-dairy milk, cheese and ice cream replacements available these days? The choices are soaring - even in conventional grocery stores! Plenty of people stay away from dairy products for a number of reasons, including allergies, lactose intolerance and concern over the environment or the way animals are raised and treated. While organic dairy products can be a healthy option, some people feel better, lighter or less congested with fewer dairy products or none at all. If you are one of these people, take heart! It's never been easier to lighten up or go dairy-free than it is right now, and it keeps getting easier. Want a simple replacement for milk? Here's a list to get you started, but bear in mind that both soy and tree nuts can be potential allergens or problematic in some cases, so be sure to check with your doctor or qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions.
  • Almond milk - the unsweetened version is great for baking, quiches, cereals and puddings.
  • Hazelnut milk - try this for hot chocolate! Also good for cereal and baking.
  • Rice milk - this can be on the sweet side; it's easy to digest for many people and a good replacement for hot or cold cereal and in smoothies and other beverages.
  • Soy milk - hands down, the most common replacement of all! It's sold in milk cartons on the dairy isle and in aseptic packages on the grocery isle. Unsweetened versions can be a little "beany" flavored, but many people find they get used to the flavor quickly and enjoy it for many different uses.
  • Oat Milk - great for hot cereals and custards but remember this is NOT okay if you are avoiding gluten!
  • Hemp Milk - good for baking and using in smoothies.
  • Coconut Milk - great substitute for milk or cream, try it for quiche, desserts, in pies, puddings, custards and cold on cereal. It can be a bit thick so you may want to try it thinned out with a bit of other non-dairy "milk.
Many milk replacements are available unsweetened, sweetened and flavored. Start with the unsweetened first as some have a lot of added sugar. When it comes to cheese replacements, there are versions made with rice milk, almond milk or soy milk. Many have natural yellow coloring added to simulate real cheese. Because they can be mild in flavor, adding some spices or other ingredients can help pick up the flavor. Here are some uses for non-dairy cheese:
  • Make a grilled "cheese" sandwich. Add tomatoes and some spicy mustard or a sprinkling of nutritional yeast for a "cheesy" flavor.
  • Sprinkle over salads - great with dried fruit and nuts.
  • Try a pita pizza with non-dairy "cheese," tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and peppers.
  • Make an omelet with eggs that have been whisked with a bit of lite coconut milk. Top with shredded non-dairy cheese, olives and a dollop of guacamole.
  • Add to tacos or burritos. Spice it up with salsa or your favorite hot sauce.
You know you need those probiotics! Here's the dairy-free way:
  • Coconut milk kefir and yogurt - pretty new to the market; available in lots of flavors and naturally fermented for good probiotics. Use just as you would yogurt or kefir in smoothies, desserts or enjoyed plain. Try the plain version as a buttermilk replacement.
  • Soy yogurt and probiotic drinks - a little "beany" flavored if you're not used to it - so try the fruit flavored first. Use just as you would yogurt or kefir.
There's more:
  • "Cream cheese" made from tofu - spread on toast or bagels; use in dips and sauces.
  • "Sour cream" made from tofu - try on potatoes or in dips and sauces.
  • "Whipped cream" made from cashew nuts - great on pies or cakes or for a real treat, dollop a bit over hot coffee or non-dairy cocoa.
  • Coconut or soy milk creamers - for coffee, tea, chai, and other beverages, iced or hot. I like the coconut creamer (just a bit) over hot oatmeal in the morning.
  • "Parmesan cheese" made from rice - when tossed with a little nutritional yeast, you get a stronger cheese flavor. Try this with extra virgin olive oil over pasta or in salad. Also good sprinkled over soup and steamed or sautéed veggies.
  • "Ice cream" made from soy milk, rice milk or my favorite: coconut milk - these all vary a bit in flavor. Enjoy as they are or make ice cream-like desserts: parfaits, ice cream cakes, smoothies, etc.
Experiment to find what you like best - you'll be surprised at how easy it is go dairy free without sacrificing good taste. You'll find tons of dairy-free recipes on the recipe pages of our website. I like using the advanced recipe search so you can select "dairy-free" and then search by meal course, cuisine, main ingredient, etc. Please note that I've seen all of the products I mention here in at least one Whole Foods Market store, but our product mix does vary. If your local store doesn't carry a dairy-free item mentioned, simply ask if they can order it for you. Got a dairy-free dish you love or a favorite way to use a dairy replacement? I'd love to hear.