Many people go dairy-free to avoid digestive complaints or boost their health in general, while others are ethically motivated as part of a vegan lifestyle. Whatever your reason for transitioning, the following tips should help make the process smooth and easy.
Sticking to dairy-free food and drink is more challenging than maintaining an unrestricted diet, and there will likely be instances where you slip up. Most people find, however, that they just need to be a little more prepared than they were previously.
“Shopping in advance is the real key here,” says nutritionist Ashleigh Grange. “Don’t wait until Monday morning when you’re rushing off to work to think about how you’re going to eliminate dairy that day. It needs to be done before crunch time.”
While awareness around dairy-free diets is growing, it will take some work on your part, so don’t expect everything to just fall into place around you. It may be helpful to give yourself a few weeks or longer to complete the transition; this way you’ll have time to slowly adjust your shopping list and eating habits to suit your new dairy-free lifestyle. On the other hand some people find making a complete switch and going cold turkey (or Tofurky if you will) is the best way to start.
We all have favourite places to eat out, and many of us stick to the same meals each time we visit – if you know you enjoy it, why not? Ask your server if you can see the allergy list or vegan menu - most large chains now have these available, and even some smaller eateries too.
If that must-have dish isn’t dairy-free, or the menu doesn’t cater too well for your new diet, don’t torture yourself – find somewhere else to go.
Dairy-free-friendly restaurants and cafes are popping up all over the place, so see this as an opportunity to try new menus and dishes. Although most places have some dairy-free options, vegan-dedicated eateries are well worth exploring - that excitement that comes with being able to choose anything from the menu is particularly special!
As for finding vegan-specific venues, you’ll have more choice in larger towns and cities, but they sometimes exist in unlikely places. Check the Happy Cow website for help finding them.
It’s natural when going dairy-free – or making any other dietary changes – to think only about the things you can’t have anymore. But this is the first big mistake.
Sure, you’ll miss certain favourites at first, but they’ll quickly be replaced by delicious foods you’ve not even considered before. Instead of mourning the loss of traditional pizzas and ice cream, consider the healthier alternatives you can try instead such as nut mylks or soya cheese.
They don’t have to be direct substitutes either – you’ll find that some dishes fall out of your repertoire altogether, only to be replaced by new, more carefully considered favourites. Anya Sophie of Real Healthy Food advises: "Explore the dairy free options that are available to replace day-to-day items like milk and yogurts to find what you enjoy, but also don’t focus too much on living off dairy free alternatives! There are plenty of foods you can eat that naturally don’t contain any dairy."
Get over the initial shock and you’ll be more than ready to make a success of your transition. Dairy-free and gluten-free writer Rachael Roehmholdt agrees: “I found that by shifting my attention to all the new foods I could try and could enjoy that I was eating very yummy and even healthier foods with this shift in my diet and mentality.”
Sure, dairy-free diets do tend to be healthier overall, but that’s not to say you must stop treating yourself. The jealousy that comes with seeing someone open your favourite chocolate bars knowing you can’t do the same is enough to drive anyone crazy, so make sure you have your own equivalents to enjoy.
Vegan writer Gemma Tomlinson, author of ‘The Vegan Kitchen’, offers the perfect advice: “Have some treats to hand and you won’t be feeling so jealous when your friend whips out a bar of Dairy Milk. After all, you’ve got a bar of Ombar in your bag!”
The word ‘treat’ isn't often associated with healthiness, but the two certainly aren’t mutually exclusive; there are plenty of healthy dairy-free recipes out there!
Above everything else, make the effort to talk to other people who’ve made the same change as you. It may be that you have vegan friends and family, or you know somebody with a lactose intolerance at work – whoever it is, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. You’ll find that being dairy-free becomes much easier with time, so if someone else’s experience can give you a head start, make the most of it.
If you don’t know anyone personally, social networks like Twitter and Instagram are fantastic tools for learning more – just explore some relevant hashtags, such as #DairyFree and #Vegan.