What to Eat NOW: Dairy-Free
Are you allergic to cow’s milk? It wouldn’t surprise me, as it’s a top-eight food allergy. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed allergy, you may notice that you feel differently when you consume milk products — with good reason.
If you’re looking to stop feeling sluggish, snotty, and sick when you suck down milk, there are some great ways to replace it with foods that nourish and still taste great. What a concept.
What is a Dairy Allergy?
Dairy allergy and intolerance are actually two different problems. The first, and significantly more rare (though growing) problem, is an allergy to either whey or casein, the proteins in milk. This occurs in about 1 percent of the population, and is generally found in infants and toddlers.
Some symptoms of a milk allergy include hives, wheezing and vomiting. On rare occasion, it has been known to cause anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock, which is extremely serious and can cause death without a shot of epinephrine, a naturally-occurring hormone.
The difference between an allergy and an intolerance is the reaction of the immune system. With a true allergy, the immune system attacks it like a disease, fighting to right itself. In the case of intolerance, you become uncomfortable, even ill, but there is no immune response.
The second problem is lactose intolerance. This occurs when the body has trouble breaking down lactose into glucose and galactose. When we are deficient in lactase, an enzyme that helps break down lactose, bloating, gas, stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting are frequent results.
Why Avoid Dairy?
For others, choosing not to drink milk or consume milk products is based on how they feel. Milk, ice cream and cheese ramp up mucus production that I can feel right away, which then gives me a headache. It makes good sense when you think about it.
Cow’s milk is milk for baby cows. It turns a 40-lb calf into a strapping, fully grown cow in a year. It’s supposed to do that, just as human breast milk is meant to help an infant mature into a toddler before the cessation of nursing.
The fat molecules in cow’s milk are significantly larger in size than those in breast milk. Cow’s milk contains approximately seven times the protein of human milk. What does that tell us about the protein needs of humans?
In The China Study, a widely respected, ongoing study of the effects of diet on health, Colin Campbell states that the level of cow’s milk consumption is relative to the risk of Multiple Sclerosis. Drinking dairy milk has also been linked to diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
These are all serious, life-changing diseases. It only makes sense to limit dairy consumption in light of these issues.
Dairy Options for Lactose Intolerance
I’m not 100 percent anti-milk. I’m 100 percent against the hormone-laden, pasteurized, homogenized antibiotic-resistant dairy industry, and the two are not synonymous. If you choose to have milk, raw milk is best. Problem is, it’s illegal to sell for human consumption in most states. Yep, illegal.
In my state, it’s legal to buy raw milk to feed to your pets. It’s good enough for my cats, but not for me. Interesting, isn’t it? In any case, raw milk can be had for approximately $5/gallon. My preferred supermarket sells organic milk for $6/gallon, so even factoring in travel time, this is a better deal.
While you’re looking for sources of raw milk, do a bit of reading on the issue, and perhaps sign up as a consumer advocate for real milk. Many people who are lactose intolerant can consume raw milk yogurt and kefir due to the bacteria working to break down the lactose.
Another option is goat’s milk. I’m not a huge fan of the taste of goat’s milk, as it’s really tangy, but I was raised on cow’s milk. It’s terribly costly in the grocery store (and still pasteurized and homogenized, both bad things), so it’s best to find a local farmer who will sell it to you.
My favorite farmer’s market also sells raw goat’s milk cheeses, which are exceptional. The fat molecule in goat’s milk is significantly smaller than that of cow’s milk, making it easier on the system.
Substitutions for Cow’s Milk
So if we don’t have cow’s milk in the house, what do we use? The options are nearly endless. Of course, we don’t use soy products, so we skip to other nuts and seeds.
If you want to purchase prepared milk substitutes, I’d start with almond milk if you don’t have a nut allergy, and rice milk if you do. Hemp milk is another great choice because it’s sweet and creamy. You can make milk (sometimes called “mylk”) out of many nuts and seeds, but I have a couple of favorite recipes.
Cashew milk is great because it doesn’t require any blanching, soaking, cooking or prep of any kind. It’s also super creamy and delicious, and is my children’s preferred milk. While a high-speed blender is preferred, it’s not required for this recipe, another bonus.
Rice milk is great for those with many food allergies because it’s hypoallergenic. I use brown rice for this recipe. Don’t try to use raw rice in your blender, even if it is capable of grinding grains, as it is extremely starchy (been there).
Oat milk is wonderfully easy. It’s a great way to use up any leftover oatmeal from breakfast, too. If you don’t tend to have leftovers (and who would, after adding currants, coconut oil, and shredded coconut like we do?), make a bit extra.
All recipes are from care2.com, which I’ve modified slightly to my family’s needs.
1/2 cup raw cashew pieces
2 cups water
1 tablespoon Grade B maple syrup
1. Combine cashews with 1 cup water and maple syrup in blender. Blend on high until thick and creamy.
2. Slowly add remaining water and blend on high for 2 minutes.
Strain if desired (we use several layers of cheesecloth to strain).
Inspired by a recipe from Mothering Magazine
1/2 cup brown rice
8 cups water
1/2 teaspoon Real Salt
3 tablespoons Grade B maple syrup or honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1. Place rice, 8 cups water, and salt in pan.
2. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and simmer 3 hours, or until rice is very soft. (You can also do this in a slow cooker overnight.)
3. In blender, puree rice mixture with remaining ingredients. You will have to do it in two batches. Puree each batch at least 2 or 3 minutes to completely liquefy the rice.
4. Add more water if you prefer it thinner.
2 cups cooked oatmeal
4 cups water
1 ripe banana (or several dates)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of Real Salt
1. Place all ingredients in blender and process until smooth about 2-3 minutes.
2. Chill, and shake before using.
Sweeteners are personal choices. Honey is wonderful for fighting allergies, but isn’t vegan and shouldn’t be used with infants under a year old. Agave nectar is vegan, but is now being compared to high fructose corn syrup. Grade B maple syrup is healthful and vegan, but has a strong flavor.
Some people choose to use medjool dates or bananas to sweeten their milks, and that’s fine, too. Personally I find that it takes too many dates, which are expensive. While I love bananas, I don’t want their sickly sweet, over-ripe flavor in my milk.
I choose to use honey with a pinch of Real Salt, some vanilla bean, and sometimes a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg (or cardamon when I want it really exotic).
Dairy-Free Yogurt and Kefir Choices
The great news is that there are some great milk-free yogurts out there if you can’t stomach cow’s milk yogurt. Homemade yogurt is always preferred, and is simple. Even easier is homemade kefir.
I like making yogurt, actually, and don’t mind that it’s temperamental when it comes to environment. However, with my busy schedule, it’s easy to just throw some kefir grains into milk (raw is best) and let it sit until it smells yeasty. Toss that puppy into the fridge, then save half a cup to use in the next batch. It’s that simple.
Kefir is wonderful because you can culture it on coconut milk or even water! It’s versatile and keeps well. The only problem you may encounter is that, because coconut milk isn’t “alive” like raw milk, the cultures don’t survive terribly well. You’ll have to add more kefir grains to every few batches.
It’s a relatively small price to pay for homemade kefir, since store bought is outrageously expensive. If you’re in a pinch, So Delicious brand makes coconut milk kefir. It’s great to use in your smoothies if you don’t like using it in any yogurt-like applications.
Water kefir is harder to come by, and frankly, tastes a little weird to me. It’s finicky to make, and I don’t know that you can buy it commercially, at least not nationally.
There are a few commercially available nut- and seed-based cheeses, and they’re relatively hard to come by. If you can find them in your local market, you’ll save yourself the cash to ship them (cold packed) to your home. The two most common brands (at least in my area) Daiya and Sheese.
Personally I prefer Daiya because it melts. Wonder of wonders, that’s pretty well unheard of in vegan cheese. It’s also great for just about every kind of allergy because it’s dairy, soy, casein, gluten and nut free.
Another point is that it comes in two flavors, cheddar and Italian. Pizza, anyone? The price isn’t terribly unreasonable. One pound is $9.95, and you can buy 5 lbs. for $39.95. While it’s best used quickly to avoid spoilage, it can be frozen and thawed without any problems.
Now, there is one thing that bothers me about Daiya, and that’s that it may contain canola and/or safflower oil. They’re non-GMO, which is a small comfort, but in our home we choose to use only extra virgin olive oil and virgin coconut oil.
A second brand that’s good is Dr. Cow. Now, it’s not cheap, so brace yourself. However, it’s sold in rounds so that it can be sliced (Daiya only comes shredded). It’s tree-nut based and comes in six varieties.
It’s definitely on the gourmet end in both flavor profile and price. For 3 oz, the price ranges from $6.95-11.95. It’s a splurge, but for a party could be a real conversation starter.
If that seems a little steep for you, I’ve got a couple of recipes. The fantastic thing about making your own nut cheeses is that you can also thin them down a bit for milk-free cream cheese, and even further for vegan sour cream. Woohoo! And to think, all of this joy is soy free.
Macadamia Nut Cheese
2 cups macadamia nuts
Place in blender with enough water to cover. Blend until very smooth, this could take a couple of minutes. Take it out of the blender and pour into a colander layered with several folds of cheesecloth sitting atop a plate or pan.
Weight this down with an inverted plate and a brick or the like. Allow to sit in a warm place for 24-36 hours. Longer times will allow more tang to develop, but 24 hours is usually sufficient.
You can refrigerate for a day if you want a firmer cheese, or use right away. It will keep for 2-3 weeks in the fridge, so no need to devour all at once.
Cashew Cheese Recipe
From The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook by Tanya Petrovna
3 cups water
3/4 cup agar flakes (or a 1 oz. package)*
2 cups raw cashews (unroasted and unsalted)
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp tahini
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
Place agar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Turn to simmer for 5 minutes and continue to whisk; the mixture will thicken.
Grind cashews in a blender to form a powder; it shouldn’t be coarse. You may need to do in in two batches 1 cup at a time so that it grinds well. Put all the ground cashews back in the blender and add the lemon juice, tahini, salt, and garlic and onion powders. Then pour in the water-agar mixture. Blend until smooth and creamy.
Pour into an oiled loaf pan and refrigerate until firm.
Slice and serve. Store in refrigerator.
*Agar flakes can be purchased at a health food store or from Amazon.com.
Cheezy Hemp Nacho Sauce
From Kristen’s Raw
1/3 cup water
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 red bell pepper, seeded, rough chopped (approximately 1 cup)
1 cup hemp seeds
2 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons tamari, wheat-free
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan crystal salt (I use Real Salt instead)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
Blend all of the ingredients in a blender until smooth and creamy. This can be stored in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
Be sure to check your labels. Since milk is a “Big Eight” allergy, it’s required by law to be on product packaging. However, better safe than sorry. A comprehensive list should be carried at all times until it is memorized.
A bit of nutritional yeast (from the health food store) is amazing on popcorn. It tastes cheesy and wonderful. There’s a reason it’s used in so many cheese replacement recipes.
There are quite a few recipes for vegan cheeses at AboveRubies.org (this is a very conservative Christian site, but the recipes are the only thing that appear on the page save the sidebars). Personally I can’t wait to try the millet cheese recipe.
So Delicious brand also makes yogurt and coconut milk ice cream. Be careful, as some of their ice cream is soy based. Check the packaging carefully.