Replacing Milk, Cheese, and Yogurt for a Dairy-Free Diet

If you’re like most people, cow’s milk, various kinds of cheese, and yogurt are the major dairy products in your home. If you want to go totally dairy-free, you need to remove all these foods from your home. They come in many varieties. Look for the following:

  • Cow’s milk: Whole, low-fat (2 percent, 1 percent, 1/2 percent), skim, buttermilk, eggnog, and flavored milk (such as chocolate and strawberry)

  • Cheese: Cheddar, cottage, farmer, havarti, jack, mozzarella, Muenster, Parmesan, provolone, ricotta, Swiss, cream cheese, and others

  • Yogurt: Regular, low-fat, nonfat, flavored, plain, and kefir (a fermented drink made from cow’s milk)

As you remove the milk, cheese, and yogurt products from your kitchen, understand that the fat, protein, and carbohydrate (including lactose) contents may vary greatly, depending on specific factors such as the type of milk used. These content levels may be relevant to you, depending on your reasons for limiting dairy products or the extent to which you opt to avoid certain products.

However, in general, milk, cheese, and yogurt are substantial sources of lactose, milk protein, and, with the exception of fat-free varieties, saturated fat. All are fiberless.

Get ready to be pleasantly surprised if you’ve never tried replacement products for your milk, cheese, and yogurt. Most of them are delicious and, with a few exceptions, they work well as replacements for their dairy counterparts.

Nondairy varieties of milk are the stars of dairy-free eating. That’s because these products taste so good. You can use these nondairy milk products in the same ways you use cow’s milk in cooking and baking and on your breakfast cereal or with a plate of cookies. Even better: All these nondairy milks are lactose-free and don’t have the saturated fats that cow’s milk does.

The most common and popular varieties of non-dairy milks include

  • Soymilk: This nondairy milk is made from soaked, ground, and strained soybeans. Buy it plain, or try the vanilla-, chocolate-, or carob-flavored varieties. During the holidays, you also may find soy-based eggnog. Soymilk has a mild flavor.

  • Rice milk: This grain milk usually is made with brown rice. It’s thinner in consistency than soymilk and whiter in color. It resembles cow’s milk in appearance more than other forms of nondairy milk. Rice milk has a mild flavor. Buy it plain, or try the vanilla-, carob-, or chocolate-flavored varieties.

  • Almond milk: Blend finely ground nuts with water, and you have almond milk. It has a mild, nutty flavor with a rich consistency similar to that of soymilk. Like soymilk and rice milk, almond milk is sold in a few different flavors.

  • Other forms of nondairy milk: Natural foods stores also carry less familiar forms of milk, including nondairy milks made from oats and potatoes. These aren’t as popular, nor are they as widely available, as other nondairy milks. But they may be useful for people who, for whatever reason, don’t care for or can’t use soy, rice, or almond milks.

Most cheese substitutes are made from soy, though some also are made from rice milk, almond milk, and other nondairy ingredients. Experiment with different brands — and different varieties within brands — to find those you like the best. The flavors and textures of nondairy cheeses vary a lot.

Be aware that many cheese substitutes, including many made mostly from soy, rice, and other nondairy ingredients, contain small amounts of dairy byproducts such as casein. Read ingredient labels to be sure.

Soy-based, nondairy yogurt products are available in many mainstream supermarkets and most natural foods stores. The consistency of nondairy yogurts is often thinner or looser when compared to yogurt made from cow’s milk. The flavor is generally excellent. They’re available in many flavors as well as plain or fruited.

Nondairy milk, yogurt, ice cream, and other products made with coconut milk also are available in some stores. These products have many benefits, because they’re dairy-free and also work for people who may be allergic to soy or almonds. They taste great, are rich in calcium, and may be fortified with vitamin B12, an important addition for strict vegetarians or vegans who need a reliable source of this important nutrient. On the other hand, these products are high in saturated fat from the coconut milk, so they may increase the risk of coronary artery disease by stimulating your body to make more cholesterol.

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