Dairy-Free Shopping Tips

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June is National Dairy Alternative Month, acknowledging the growing number of Americans who choose a dairy-free lifestyle. Although we’ve all heard the advertising slogan “every body needs milk,” it turns out that not every body can actually tolerate it.

According to the National Institutes of Health, between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant─especially certain ethnic/racial populations. This includes up to 75% of all African Americans and American Indians, and 90% of Asian Americans.

If you or someone you love needs to go dairy-free, it’s easier now than ever. Dairy alternatives are widely available, particularly in upscale markets and natural food stores. Ready for a game plan?
These tips can help:

Determine what you need to replace

Some families consume more categories of dairy products than others, which should be considered when seeking alternatives. Do you want high-quality, dairy-free milk, butter, and cheese? How about yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, and ice cream? Whatever you and your family rely on, you’ll find a range of replacement options─many so good that you’ll never miss the dairy.

Check for hidden sources

Dairy items like milk and cheese are easy to target and replace, but we should also consider less obvious sources of dairy, as they can still create problems for people avoiding lactose or casein (milk protein). Dairy ingredients come in many different forms, which you’ll catch if you scan labels closely. Look for terms like whey, ghee, casein, rennet, lactose, lactulose, whey and casein hydrolysates, lactalbumin, and lactoglobulin.

Focus on fresh, whole foods

Scaling back on dairy can also be a golden invitation for you and your family to consume more fresh, whole foods like fruits, veggies, unrefined grains, beans and legumes, as well as nuts and seeds. Not only are these über healthy foods packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber, and more, but unlike many prepared and processed items, you can easily determine that they’re dairy free! Fresh produce is especially varied in the warmer months. Check out your local farmer’s market and see what’s in season now.

Assess your options

Many companies offer alternatives that make minimizing dairy deliciously easy. Earth Balance has a wide array, including soy milk, “butter” spreads and baking sticks, dressings and more, plus a new non-dairy mayonnaise. Blue Diamond has perfected the art of almond milk, including a new almond-coconut version. Other brands with dairy-free options include Van’s, Lundberg, Amy’s, Nature’s Path, Santa Cruz Organic, RW Knudsen, Pacific and more. Also, health food store employees are often quite knowledgeable about dairy alternatives.

So, here’s the suggested strategy: prioritize your replacement needs, starting with basics like milk, butter, and cheese. Check out your options at local markets and natural food stores. Scan labels carefully, especially in prepared/processed items. Incorporate more fresh whole foods. And finally, relax and enjoy! You may find that along with feeling better, you’re in for a whole new culinary adventure.

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