There is nothing like the creamy delicious taste of dairy. That first bite of cold, sweet, and smooth ice cream on a hot summer day or even that creamy comfort of a cheesy pasta. Unfortunately, for many of us, these foods will bring painful consequences that make them hard to enjoy. Nearly half the world’s population is lactose intolerant (the inability to digest milk’s sugar, lactose) which can cause uncomfortable gas, bloating, abdominal pain and even diarrhea. Some people are allergic to the proteins found in milk which can manifest as abdominal discomfort, skin rashes, eczema or even chronic ear infections and many other problems, never mind those who can have an anaphylactic reaction to dairy. Some have even noticed improvement in respiratory ailments such as asthma or chronic sinusitis when they cut out dairy products as excessive dairy consumption has been associated with increased mucus production.
With more food sensitivities on the rise the food industry has had to cater to specific dietary restrictions such as dairy-free products. When one would go to a grocery store only a mere 15 years ago to shop for themselves or their children who had dietary restrictions, it was hard to find options to replace the dairy rich foods we all know and love. Temptations would arise and those who should not consume dairy consumed it and to their own detriment. The use of supplemental lactase enzymes can help those with lactose intolerance, but for those who could not have dairy for other reasons still suffered. And for parents with children who have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy, it can be very hard for them to help their children understand why they cannot eat the same things their friends do. Luckily, there are a lot of creative people in this world to come up with options that satisfy the desire for the creamy comfort food we so enjoy.
The days we are living in now are the best for finding tasty dairy free options. More and more products are becoming available on the market to go dairy free and there are lots of recipes available at our fingertips on the internet. Even more ice cream parlors and restaurants are catering to the dairy-free population. Coconut milk and coconut cream have become more popular and are great replacements for cream or milk in soups and sauces to add a creamy taste and texture and they even work well as a coffee creamer. They are also used in many ice cream alternatives that will leave you feeling satisfied, not missing regular ice cream at all! But what about cheese? Many nuts and seeds are now being used to make cheese replacements in flavours such as brie, cheddar, and blue cheese. Some are even made to be like a cream cheese spread. If lactose intolerance is your issue, there are many hard-dairy cheeses to look out for that are lactose free. Nutritional yeast is a wonderful product rich in B vitamins especially B12 and lends a sharp cheesy taste to food making a delicious popcorn topping or can be used to make cheesy tasting dips that can even fool your cheese-loving friends. Let’s not forget the old stand-by, soy, that can take on flavours while being used to replace everything from milk and cheese to yogurt and ice cream.
When most people discover they have to go dairy free for various reasons, their first concern is often “where will I get my calcium?”. Dark leafy greens, cauliflower, broccoli, nuts (especially almonds) and seeds, and many peas and beans are very good sources of calcium. Supplementation is also always an option when the diet is low in calcium. Consuming a whole food diet and reducing or eliminating all processed foods will also help the bones retain more of their calcium. A diet rich in processed foods and soda will contain high amounts of phosphorus which can pull calcium from the bones and have it excreted through urine. Retaining the calcium in our bones that we already have is just as important as making sure we get enough from our diets.
If going dairy free is right for you and your personal needs, the transition is so much easier now than it has ever been. The world is your oyster and opportunities to try new things are much more abundant than ever before. No more missing out on taste and flavour for you or your kids. No more worrying if you are meeting nutritional needs without dairy. Take care of your body’s specific needs whether that means avoiding dairy or something else entirely because it will only lead to a better and healthier life for many years to come.