So you’ve just decided that maybe those post-ice-cream-sundae stomach aches just aren’t worth it. You may be thinking: I’ve gone my entire life eating dairy, so why now? Trust us, it’s not just a you problem: an estimated 30-50 million American adults are lactose intolerant, many of whom develop the issue after age 20.
But cutting dairy out of your diet shouldn’t be scary. It’s 2020: there’s a vegan or dairy-free alternative to just about every traditional dairy product you can find on the grocery store shelves, and many are just as satisfying and nutrient-dense as their dairy counterpart.
Because a lot of speciality vegan products are sold at natural food stores and tend to be pricey, we’ve crafted a list of affordable dairy-free pantry staples that can easily be turned into the decadent dairy-free desserts and perfectly cheese-less cheese sauces of your dreams.
It may sound unfamiliar and intimidating, but nutritional yeast should be a staple in your dairy-free kitchen. Nutritional yeast is exactly what it sounds like: yeast. It’s the same type of yeast that’s used to bake bread and brew beer, but it is grown to be used only as a food product, so if you use it to DIY some spiked cider, you won’t be pleased with the results.
You can buy nutritional yeast in a bulk package like you would oats or flax seed. With a nutty and cheesy savory flavor profile, it’s the perfect dairy-free add-on to dishes normally topped with cheese, like salads and pasta dishes. Add it to your popcorn if you’re missing your favorite cheddar covered snack, or blend it up with cashews and coconut milk for an easy plant-based cheese sauce.
Vegans also swear by nutritional yeast for its, no surprise here, nutritional value. It's fortified with minerals, like vitamin B12 and Zinc, and is packed with protein — all of which vegans usually lack after cutting meat out of their diet. When you’re looking to buy nutritional yeast, which you will easily find at a grocery store or natural foods market, make sure you grab the “fortified” version. This means the product has a denser nutrient profile and includes all the vitamins and minerals advertised.
Canned full-fat coconut milk
Canned coconut milk is a must. It’s made from grating thick coconut flesh and simmering it in hot water, producing a thick and creamy byproduct.
As a rich and creamy plant-based milk, it’s featured in just about every dairy-free dessert recipe you can find. It substitutes 1:1 for traditional cow’s milk, and sometimes can even result in a creamier, more flavorsome product. Coconut milk goes beyond dessert, however. Use it as a substitute for heavy cream in hearty Italian and Indian dishes so you can still enjoy your favorite decadent meals.
The experts say coconut milk also provides a hefty dose of vitamins and minerals, namely iron and magnesium. For a lighter version to use in coffee or smoothies, try half-fat or light coconut milk. Canned coconut milk is usually creamier and denser than boxed, as boxed coconut milk tends to be diluted with water and isn’t used for baking or as a cream substitute. Canned coconut milk is definitely what you would rather use for baking and cooking.
There are a ton of plant-based milks on the market, so it won’t be hard to find one you like. Almond milk is generally the classic alternative to cow’s milk, and is great in coffee or smoothies and is generally low in calories and carbs and high in calcium. However, Dairy-free milk enthusiasts lament almond milk’s lack of protein. Soy milk is also a popular plant-based alternative and is high in protein and low in carbs and sugar. It is actually found to be the most comparable to cow’s milk on a nutrient scale. However, experts avoided consuming more than 1-2 cups of soy per day (that includes your edamame order and tofu scramble) so as not to adversely affect your hormone levels.
Cashew milk offers relatively the same nutritional profile as almond milk, and is a popular alternative in yogurt-form as well. Oat milk is celebrated for its creamy, thicker texture, but it comes with a steeper calorie and carb count per cup. Try using it in coffee drinks, lattes, and dessert recipes as an alternative to whole milk.
Flax milk gets an honorable mention in this category as well, as it’s full of protein, healthy fats, and omega 3s. It’s steadily gaining traction, but has yet to achieve the celebrity status of being available to swap in for cow’s milk at Starbucks.
And if you’re crafty with a cheesecloth and high-powered blender, you can find plenty of easy recipes online to make your own plant-based milk at home. It’s cheaper that way, too!
Coconut oil is a great alternative to butter if you’re looking to completely cut out dairy. Used to tossing vegetables or frying eggs with butter before cooking them? Try using coconut oil instead. It’s extremely versatile because, like butter, it exists as a solid but can also be melted down according to recipes and has a high heat point (350-400℉). You can generally substitute coconut milk for butter 1:1 in most recipes, but it is easier to search for recipes that use coconut oil instead of butter so you know exactly what you’re producing.
Coconut oil adds a delicious creamy taste, so you won’t miss out on the same rich taste butter offers. But, like butter, coconut oil is high in saturated fats, so it’s best used in moderation and larger batch recipes. You can buy coconut oil refined and virgin, the main difference being refined coconut oil has a more neutral flavor and has a heat point up to 400℉, whereas virgin coconut oil offers a more traditional coconut taste and has a heat point of 350℉. Like olive oil and avocado oil, coconut oil is also offered in a convenient spray for all your dairy-free non-stick needs.
This may sound strange, but stick with me. Avocados can totally elevate your dairy-free eating game way further than just your basic avocado toast. Like full-fat coconut milk, avocados can be used in place of the whole milk in your favorite dessert recipes, like brownies or ice cream, or in creamy salad dressings, smoothies, and so much more. Use it as a breakfast spread on bagels or bread as opposed to butter, and top it with salt and your favorite spices. A personal favorite? Everything bagel seasoning.
Avocados are also nutrient-dense whole foods that are held in high esteem by Instagram food bloggers and nutritionists alike. Avocados boast high levels of Fiber, Potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B5, B6, and Vitamin E. The healthy monounsaturated fats in avocados are proven to help you absorb other plant-based nutrients and even lower cholesterol. It’s no wonder everyone calls these bad boys a “superfood.”
As cheese is usually a good source of healthy fats, omega-3s, and Vitamin B, avocados are a great substitute that provide a relatively similar nutrient profile. Plus, unlike cheese, they can be added in a smoothie or baked in a brownie. Who doesn’t love that versatility?
Easy dairy-free snacks
Having easy grab-and-go dairy-free options in your pantry is a big part of maintaining your dairy-free lifestyle. To avoid grabbing a bite somewhere where you can’t find a dairy-free option, it’s key to have those options on you. There are so many snack foods that are naturally dairy-free— plain popcorn, pretzels, carrots, pita chips, hummus, fruit— but for easiest and most portable options, go for pre packaged bars and snacks.
Here’s where we insert our product. No Cow offers an extensive variety of protein and energy bars in all the delicious dairy-free flavors you dream about. We’re partial to our latest addition: the Pumpkin Pie bar, but we humbly encourage you to try them all.
Dairy-free eating may seem daunting, especially if you’ve been ending your nights with a heaping bowl of your favorite ice cream, or have a particular fondness for a well-made cheese board. But with the amount of vegan dairy products on the market, you’ll surely find easy swaps and add-ins. Or, hopefully you’ll use some of these pantry staples to easily — and cheaply — make your own.
Don’t be afraid to get creative. After all, if you totally botch that dairy-free protein ball recipe, we’ve got you covered!