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How to Identify the Dairy in Your Diet

For most people, drinking milk and eating dairy products have been ways of life since they were young. So making the switch to a diet without dairy may pose some challenges. First you have to be aware of the major dairy products you eat every day, and then you have to figure out how to avoid them. The next level of awareness includes understanding which foods contain less-obvious sources of dairy ingredients and starting to avoid those, too.

Going dairy-free means you have to omit milk, cheese, ice cream, sour cream, yogurt, and other dairy products from your diet. Easy enough, right? Not necessarily. Before you can omit the dairy and replace it with nondairy products, you first have to spot the dairy products.

After you detect the dairy, you have to determine how you want to replace the obvious sources. When you think about it, you probably put milk, cheese, and other dairy ingredients in a large number of the foods you eat every day. For example, there’s the milk on your cereal, the shredded cheese on your nachos, and the melted mozzarella and ricotta layered in your lasagna.

Other sources of dairy are more difficult to see, however. Some are components of dairy products added as minor ingredients in many processed foods. Casein in margarine or soy cheese is one example. Skim milk solids added to a loaf of bread or ready-made piecrust is another.

You’re probably familiar with the main dairy culprits. Just walk through any grocery store refrigerator dairy section, and you can see most of them. To get a clearer idea of what these products are, take a mental inventory of all the ways you use dairy products in your diet. Better yet, write them down on paper. A good way to start is to run through the list of most common dairy foods one at a time, thinking about all the dishes each ingredient is used to make.

For example, think about the many ways you use the following products:

  • Cheese: You may use it to make grilled cheese sandwiches or cheeseburgers, to melt over your broccoli or nachos, to eat with crackers, and to sprinkle over your pasta or salads.

  • Cow’s milk: You may use it to make pancakes and cookies (and to dunk your cookies into!), cream soups, macaroni and cheese, homemade ice cream, yeast rolls, and pudding. You also may pour it over your cereal or in your coffee.

  • Ice cream: You likely enjoy cake and ice cream, ice cream floats, ice cream cones and sundaes, milk shakes, and scoops straight from the carton.

  • Sour cream: You probably top baked potatoes, pierogies (which themselves aren’t always dairy-free), burritos, and nachos with this popular dairy product. You also may use it to make dips, cheesecake, or baked goods.

  • Yogurt: It’s a popular snack, and you may use it to bake, to top a burrito, or to make a granola parfait or smoothie.

  • Spreads: These products, like butter, margarine and blended spreads, cover something else, like a piece of bread.

  • Cream: It’s the butterfat layer skimmed from cow’s milk. It’s rich in saturated fat and also contains small amounts of lactose and milk proteins.

  • Half-n-half: It’s the half-cream-and-half-milk product for coffee drinkers. Some people like it on their oatmeal or strawberries, too.

  • Whipped cream: It’s made by whisking or whipping air into cream that has a high butterfat content. If you don’t whip your own cream by hand or with an electric mixer, you probably buy it ready-to-use in a can.

After you take stock of what you’re eating, you can begin to devise a plan for finding alternatives and working them into your routine.

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