Lately I have had so many people requesting info on the gluten-free and/or dairy-free diet. I am telling you, the increase in autism, food allergies, and digestive disorders is EPIDEMIC. I don't know when doctors are going to figure out that food sensitivities play a HUGE role. To start things off I will do a dairy-free guide. Soon to be followed by a gluten-free guide.
Going dairy-free is easy. There are so many excellent dairy substitutes. But before exploring the world of dairy substitutes, it is important to know about any other food sensitivities. You can test for food allergies by using an IgE (allergies) or an IgG (sensitivities) blood test. Another option is keeping a food journal. Most people that are allergic/sensitive to dairy are also sensitive to soy. Plus soy messes up your hormones, is usually genetically modified, is very difficult to digest, and blocks the absorption of other nutrients. But that is a post for another day.
My favorite cow's milk substitutes:
Rice milk, Almond milk, Coconut milk, and Hemp milk. Rice milk is most affordable at Costco, Trader Joe's, and Walmart. Almond milk and Coconut milk are becoming very ubiquitous. I usually buy mine at Walmart, Trader Joe's, and Sprouts (health food store). Dark chocolate almond milk is lovely and can be found in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores, heat it for quick hot chocolate. I also buy canned coconut milk to use for ice cream, smoothies, and curries. Trader Joe's has very affordable canned coconut milk, but it is not full-fat so it doesn't work that well for ice cream. I buy full-fat organic coconut milk in cans at our health food store. I stock up when it goes on sale. Do NOT buy canned coconut milk at the grocery store/asian markets. It is full of preservatives and tastes awful. Really.
I use rice milk as a direct substitute for cow's milk in cereal, baking, mashed potatoes, recipes, you name it. I wish I could use almond milk more, as I believe it is healthier, but my four-year old is allergic. It also has a stronger flavor. I use almond milk and rice milk to make hot chocolate, smoothies, etc. I use coconut milk to make ice cream, smoothies, and curries. I want to make coconut kefir/yogurt, but haven't gotten around to it. I use hemp milk only in smoothies.
My favorite butter substitutes:
Earth Balance (we buy the soy-free one) is the best one. Spectrum (non-hydrogenated) shortening, and raw coconut oil can be substituted in baking recipes. If you don't care about eating genetically modified soy, then Smart Balance Light and Best Life Buttery spread are the only non-hydrogenated, dairy-free butter spreads that I know of. And if you didn't get the memo about hydrogenated oil/trans fats, they are BAD. Avoid crisco/margarine period. Unless you want to increase your chance of infertility, cancer, and heart disease, among other things. Earth Balance, Smart Balance Light, and Best Life Buttery spread are all available at Walmart. When baking, I often substitute oil (grape seed) for the butter and that works well too. Butter substitutes work better for cookies though. Earth Balance acts the most like butter in baking.
I like to buy SoDelicious brand coconut yogurt when it goes on sale. I have heard that people use plain coconut yogurt to make ranch dressing. I hear the SoDelicious coconut ice cream is very good too. Real Mayonnaise is dairy-free, but check the label on your bottle to be sure. There is no need to buy vegannaise (usually full of soy) unless you have an egg allergy. I sometimes make my own mayo out of organic egg yolk and oil, the old fashioned way. The egg whites are the allergenic part.
The best kitchen appliances to invest in (if this is a life-long commitment) are an ice cream maker and a vitamix blender. The vitamix is very expensive, but it has magic powers (what Starbucks and Jamba Juice use). It can make dairy-free ice cream in about 30 seconds. Just pour in frozen fruit, a milk substitute, and sweetener. A vitamix can also be used to make rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, pumpkin seed milk, etc. from scratch. It also makes nut butters. Great for those on a budget. I think that a vitamix is a need, not a want if you are on a restricted diet. The blendtec is supposedly comparable, from what I hear. I also make ice cream/sorbets in a conventional ice cream maker. Hagen Daz makes some fantastic dairy-free sorbets as well. Mango is my favorite.
What else? Dairy-free chocolate chips can be found at Trader Joe's, health food stores, and sometimes at grocery stores. I found them in the bulk bins at Winco when I was in WA state this summer. Use them to make trail mix with dried fruit, sunflower seeds, almonds, etc. It takes lots and lots of label reading to determine which packaged goods have dairy in them. Eventually you will find brands that don't contain milk. Some brands of potato chips have dairy, some don't. Same with other snacks and packaged foods. Label reading is key.
Oh, and you will probably notice some withdrawal symptoms. Especially if you or your child is addicted to dairy products. Things usually get worse before they get better. You might notice some positive side effects of going dairy-free. Fewer runny noses, colds, ear infections, less digestive problems, etc. My dairy-allergic four year old has never had an ear infection, and I can only remember him having one cold at 18 months. If you do your research, you will find that dairy has been connected to a whole slew of problems...from diabetes, to ADHD, to cancer, to autism. And don't believe all of the nonsense the dairy council feeds us about how milk builds strong bones.
--"There is really no requirement for dairy products in the diet", says Amy Lanou Ph.D., nutrition director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington D.C. "The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk and have the most calcium in their diets." And like my wise pediatrician said, "Most of the population of the world doesn't drink milk (think Asia, India, Africa), and they are a lot healthier than we are".