Can’t eat dairy? You don’t have to give up flavor too

May 3, 2017

By Willow Jarosh, MS, RD & Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD

There is nothing problematic about eating dairy for most people. It’s a good source of calcium and vitamin D and delivers high quality protein. But, some people cannot digest the sugar in dairy (this is called lactose intolerance) and wind up with painful digestive symptoms when they eat dairy products. Others find that their skin becomes inflamed or breaks out when they have dairy or that it gives them a stuffy nose.

If you have found that you are lactose intolerant or that eating dairy isn’t something that feels good for your body, all hope is not lost for flavorful meals. We usually hear from our clients that cheese is the toughest to leave behind. While it’s true that a lot of products on shelves and dishes in restaurants do contain dairy (especially cheese), we’ve put together some tips that we’ve found to be really helpful for keeping the textures and flavors of cheese and other dairy around, but without the actual dairy. 

1. Avocado: While avocado won’t melt like cheese does, it will deliver creaminess to a sandwich in the same way cheese does. We also love mashed avocado as a sub for sour cream and even toss avocado into smoothies to make them richer/creamier. And then there’s avocado chocolate mousse. Thank us later for this. Puree 2 ripe avocados with 1/4 cup cocoa powder (adjust to taste), 3 tablespoons maple syrup (adjust to taste), 2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk (use more for a thinner pudding), and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and dig in.

2. Coconut milk: We always have a jar of homemade coconut milk yogurt in our fridges (video tutorial found here) to use as yogurt or sour cream. You can also stick a can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight, pour off the liquid, and whip the coconut cream that is left. It’s just like whipped cream! And if you love pumpkin pie, substitute a can of coconut milk for the evaporated or condensed milk and you will never miss the milk.

3. Steamed Cauliflower: Puree steamed cauliflower and add it to soups or smoothies and you’ll swear they contain cream. We’ve served potato soup with pureed cauliflower instead of milk/cream and no one knew the difference and we love making this smoothie that uses cauliflower (it tastes like a chocolate milkshake!)

4. Almond meal: Sprinkle almond meal on top of dishes you’d normally use Parmesan cheese on (ex: pasta dishes) to give that same texture. Better yet, mix almond meal with dried herbs and a pinch of sea salt and sprinkle that on top.

5. Pureed pumpkin: Spread canned pumpkin onto sandwiches to impart a similar mouthfeel to softer cheeses. We even use it to make quesadillas, sans cheese.

6. Cashews: Soak cashews for a few hours, drain, and then puree with a little garlic, salt, and nutritional yeast to make a dupe for spreadable cheese. Soaked and pureed cashews are also a replacement for ricotta cheese if you puree them and leave some texture and they can be used instead of cream cheese if you puree until smooth.

7. Nutritional yeast: Keep a jar of nutritional yeast flakes in your spice cabinet and use them in anything from salad dressing to burgers to popcorn. Sprinkle the flakes onto anything you want to impart the flavor of cheese into. We love tossing popcorn with olive oil, salt, and nutrition yeast flakes to make cheesy popcorn. It’s also delicious pureed with cashews, spinach, and artichoke hearts to create a spinach artichoke dip. Get creative!

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