Friday, 1 May 2015

A Beginner's Guide to Ditching Dairy

"I could never give up cheese!" That's probably the number one thing people tell me when they learn about our diet (way more, thankfully, than the slightly dunder-headed "where do you get your protein??" Short answer? Plants!). In fact, I thought that myself at one time. As a longtime vegetarian, I got very used to my 'option' usually including a massive wodge of dairy product. I actually gave it up quite casually, never thinking it would be permanent, but I was amazed at how easy it really was. Since then, I've had friends and family ask for advice on cutting out dairy for various reasons. A lot of nursing mothers whose babies have reflux seem to be given the advice to cut cow's milk out of their own diets, sometimes people want to reduce their sodium intake, or cholesterol, and of course a lot of people (most people) can't digest it anyway. I'm not remotely qualified to give nutrition advice, but it's really hard to talk about alternatives without mentioning a few basics, as I understand them. I'm still a layperson, and my favourite nutrition resource is still Vegan For Life, if you're looking for more in-depth information. I am qualified, as an enthusiastic lover of life and food, to give advice on making the transition as easy as possible. This will be my 'most vegan' post to date, but don't worry, I'll get back to baby pictures soon! If you're already vegan, this entire post is teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, as it were, but these are my humble suggestions!

First, fact is, adult humans don't actually NEED milk. Most (as in, ALL other) mammals only have the milk of their mother as a baby, then are unable to digest it following weaning. In fact, as I alluded to above, most humans on earth are lactose intolerant because this is actually the normal state of affairs. However, a few populations of humans developed a genetic mutation that allowed them to digest milk, of any species, beyond infancy. Which was handy, back in the day, for survival and that. So lactose intolerance is not a disease exactly; it's simply the absence of that genetic mutation. Interesting, no? That said, a lot of us grew up drinking milk and milky drinks, and we like them! If you're not bothered about your latte and are just worried about calcium, I'd urge you to do some nutrition research - milk isn't the only dietary source of calcium. Greens are a good idea - in an ideal world, I like them not just every day, but with every meal. If you ARE worried about your latte, or cereal, or hot chocolate, luckily it's easier than ever to find a milk alternative. A round up of the usual suspects:
Soy Milk: Widely available, and can vary a lot in terms of taste and nutrition. I usually opt for an unsweetened fortified (so, with added Vitamin D, B12 and calcium), but the varieties seem to be endless; one that tastes mild rather than beany, one that tastes beany rather than mild, organic, with vitamins, without vitamins, etc, etc... There's a soy option for pretty much any palate. I like that it's mainstream, I like the nutritional profile, and I happen to like the taste! Should say, I don't really buy into the soy-scare, but a lot of people avoid soy these days or feel that they are sensitive to it. Good thing there are other options, like...
Almond Milk: Super popular, very tasty. My family in California have concerns about the environmental impact of the almond boom, and although it's not nearly as bad as the dairy industry, it's something to think about. Naturally high in calcium though, and it can be made at home.
Hemp Milk: One of my favs, as I happen to like the taste, and it has some of those lovely omegas. My husband can't stand it though, especially in coffee.
Oat Milk: Widely available in the UK, I think it tastes lovely but again, my husband isn't a fan.
Rice Milk: Some people like it; I think it tastes like paint water.
Homemade Nut Milks: If you're a DIY type, or prefer a less processed alternative, you can absolutely make your own nut milk from almonds, as I mentioned above, or macadamia nuts, or brazil nuts, or cashews, by blending with water and straining with cheese cloth. Not an appropriate replacement for human milk for babies, by the way, but I'm sure you already knew that!

Oh, who needs it? And why are people putting it in their coffee now?? I have accidentally eaten bread with butter a couple of times since becoming vegan, and I think it tastes rancid now. Some ideas:
Avocado: Nature's butter! On toast and sandwiches especially, but also in chocolate mousse (added bonus, raw!) and smoothies.
Coconut Oil: Nature's other butter! For frying especially, it gives everything a richness that is better than butter. There's a product in the US called Magic Vegan Bacon Grease, and it's basically just coconut oil and liquid smoke - that combo makes plain old greens taste like flippin' HEAVEN.
Vegan Margarine: Ain't what it used to be. Widely available, non-hydrogenated, palm-oil free, fortified with D and B12 - it's really not too bad. I like it, and in the US you can even get it in sticks for your vintage butter dish.

Let's be real, there is no equivalent to real cheese. I used to LOVE cheese. When I gave up dairy, I said to myself that I was allowed to cheat with Gorgonzola. But I haven't wanted to, at all. I don't miss it, at all. Why is that? Well, apparently cheese is legitimately addictive. So once you kick the habit, it ain't no thing. We're also living in a golden age of vegan cheese - it's easy to find, and does the job!
Commercial Vegan Cheese: I like Violife, and Vegusto No-Muh (they always have punny names), other people really like Cheezly, and Stateside you have the new Chao by Field Roast, Teese, Daiya, Follow Your Heart. It's just a question of trying a few and seeing what you like!
Cashew Cream: We can thank Isa for this one - I like to use it to top lasagna or casseroles. It's a whole food option, obviously, with the requisite fat boost.
Nutritional Yeast Based Cheese Sauces: I love these, my husbands loves these, the baby loves these - recipes like this have been circulating for ages and ages, apparently, 'cause it works. Fondue, mac and cheese, nachos - all within our grasp. I usually just use the recipe from the Veganomicon.
Crumbled Tofu: Crumbled tofu has a similar texture to ricotta, I often use it in Italian dishes like pizza and lasagna. You'll want to make sure that you use a bit of salt, because obviously it's blander than cheese (which is INSANELY salty, btw - if you want to reduce your sodium, cutting out just cheese and processed meat will do it).
Homemade Vegan Cheese: I haven't actually gotten into these yet, but the Internet RAVES about Artisan Vegan Cheese. I gather that they are mostly made from nuts, and cultured like the real thing for complex flavours. I think I just talked myself into trying it out soon.
A Note on Cream Cheese: My go-to bagel toppings are actually hummus or avocado, but if you really want cream cheese, well, commercial vegan cream cheese is the way to go. That said, I think it needs to be doctored up a little! I usually start with Tofutti brand, and add dried minced onion, walnuts, a little veg-friendly worchestershire sauce, and, crucially, a little extra salt. Works as a cheese ball too for the holidays if you roll it in more chopped nuts! I fooled some very skeptical omnivores with this cheese ball.

We just keep hearing about those probiotics, don't we? Luckily we have...
Kombucha: Who needs a dairy analogue? This fermented tea is loaded with probiotics, and easy to brew at home (watch this space), if you're not fussed about eating actual yogurt.
Coconut Yogurt: But if you are, this is my favourite. Delicious, rich, healthy, but expensive.
Soy Yogurt: Is a cheaper option, and it's widely available. Often absolutely loaded with sugar though, so do read labels if you mind that sort of thing.

I could go on and on, but I will spare you. I'm not one for outrageous wellness claims, but when I gave up dairy, I not only felt cleaner and lighter in my body, but clearer in my mind. I was waking up with more energy, and lost 10 pounds without trying. True story!

Now, it's May, so the votes start over for the new month, so please don't forget to vote if you want to!

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