When discussing my lifestyle, people most commonly react with the exclamation that they could never live without dairy. I like to think that the entire vegan population (now 7.5 million strong in the U.S.) negates this claim, and does so quite healthily. In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health asserts that contrary to popular belief, dairy is likely not the best source of calcium. But if studies like this and the cruelty associated with dairy production aren’t enough to convince you that life without dairy is not only healthy, but delicious too, let the substitutes speak for themselves.

When someone craves cheese, I don’t believe it is the actual milk they want (though it may be, according to some evidence of casein, a protein in dairy, being addictive). Something that imitates the fatty mouthfeel and the tangy, salty taste is often all that’s needed to satisfy the craving.

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  1. Avocado: They replicate the properties of cheese remarkably. Try to mash it up, spread it on a tortilla with some vegetables, and warm in in a skillet like a quesadilla.
  2. Nooch: If it’s macaroni and cheese or nachos you’re in the mood for, or simply a cheesy dipping sauce, try making one from nutritional yeast. Nooch has a distinctly nutty, cheesy flavor, and as a bonus it’s a complete protein and a good source of vitamin B12, something vegans need to seek from supplements or fortified foods. In addition to making sauce, try sprinkling nooch on pasta in place of Parmesan or using it as a popcorn topping.
  3. Cashew cheese: A great substitute for cheese sauces, and depending on the amount of liquid it can also replicate the taste and texture of foods like cream cheese and sour cream. The beauty of making these foods at home is that you can flavor them however you like! There are many recipes online, but the basic process is simple: process soaked cashews with liquid and spices to your taste and desired consistency.
  4. Tofu: The texture of tofu lends well to creating substitutes for cheese, particularly ricotta in dishes like lasagna. Once again, making this yourself allows you to control the flavor and texture.
  5. Vegan Cheese: If none of these tickle your fancy, or if you really want a hot, melty slice of pizza, Daiya makes the best shredded cheese substitute I’ve tasted. It melts and stretches just like dairy cheese and comes in mozzarella, pepper jack, and cheddar. Rumor has it they’re unleashing block cheese soon which I imagine will be perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches. Plus, it’s soy-free!

Milk is easy to substitute, given the plethora of plant milks on the market. Try out a couple different types to find one that suits your tastes and allergy restrictions. If you can’t get started in the morning without your cream-laden coffee, there are non-dairy versions of creamer as well. Baking with non-dairy milks is a cinch, and a little vinegar or lemon juice stirred in will replicate buttermilk quite well. Want whipped cream? Not a problem. Coconut cream can be used in place of heavy cream for just about anything. And don’t fret once the holidays roll around. There are even non-dairy versions off eggnog that blow the dairy nogs out of the water.

There are plenty of commercial non-dairy yogurts available as well, including a Greek-style variety. Non-dairy yogurts tend to be slightly thinner than dairy versions, but their texture makes them a perfect backdrop for mix-ins. And if you’re avoiding soy, there are even almond- and coconut-based products.

All of these options provide a wider range of flavors and textures than do dairy products, plus they’re free of saturated fat and cholesterol as well as cruelty-free. Still concerned about getting all of your nutrients after cutting out dairy? Don’t worry, leafy greens, beans, and fortified plant-based milks are great sources of calcium and essential vitamins and minerals (and for the record, dairy milk only contains vitamin D because it’s fortified). Not only will your body and your pleased palate thank you when you forego dairy, the cows and their calves will be much better off as well.

Image Source: Mattie Hagedorn/Flickr