Butter, cheese, milk, yogurt, and cream are the some of the most commonly used dairy items by consumers today and have been so for decades. They’re popular items to pick up at the grocery store on a regular shopping trip, familiar to most everyone, and found in most all traditional American recipes. But as most people know by now, dairy products are not beneficial or required for health reasons, nor are they necessary to make delicious food. 

So if you’re looking to avoid dairy products because you’ve heard that dairy actually isn’t good for humans, the planet, or the cows themselves, great! There are limitless plant-based options you can choose from at the store and online to use in place of dairy products that are tasty and affordable.

Try one of these five healthy swaps for common dairy products next time you head to the store and use them in place of the dairy items suggested below. The only regret you’ll have is that you didn’t make the switch to a plant-based option earlier!

1. Instead of Butter: Choose Avocado, Fruit, or Nut ButterLooking to Eat Less Dairy? Here are 5 Healthy Swaps that Make it Easier!

While there are incredible butter alternative products on the market (or recipes on how to make your own vegan butter), there are also whole foods that you can use in place of butter. Using whole foods is a much healthier option than using oils or oil-based products in place of butter since oils are and not best for heart health.

Avocado is one of the most well-loved nutritious replacements for butter and is even referred to as “nature’s butter” by many people. Avocados are packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, unlike butter, which is full of cholesterol and animal saturated fat. Avocados can be used in most any recipe that calls for butter with a few exceptions. They take on the flavor of other ingredients in recipes which make them great for items like these Avocado and Date Brownies, this Healthy Chocolate Avocado Fudge, or other baked goods. Check out all the ways avocado can replace butter for more ideas!

If you simply want a pat of something special on a stack of whole grain pancakes, waffles, or to stir into oatmeal, use fruit instead of butter. Apple butter, mashed berries, sliced or mashed bananas, unsweetened applesauce, and even canned pumpkin work really well for this use. These items can also be used in baking recipes to reduce the fat content and replace the butter at the same time, as in these Black Bean Avocado Brownies.

Nut (and seed) butter can also be used in place of butter in some baking recipes (muffins, waffles, etc.), or if you just want to add flavor to a simple recipe such as a bowl of porridge or sautéed veggies. For instance, almond butter lends a rich flavor to baked goods and stir-fry dishes, and cashew butter and tahini (sesame seed butter) lend a creamy, mild flavor to savory and sweet dishes. While nut butter doesn’t taste like butter, it does make for a heart-healthy switch that can lend a rich flavor to recipes and can make them taste better. Check out these Easy Almond Butter Brownies as the perfect example!

2. Instead of Cheese: Choose Nutritional YeastLooking to Eat Less Dairy? Here are 5 Healthy Swaps that Make it Easier!

We know, we know … nutritional yeast sounds a little scary if you’re new to it. But there’s no reason to fear nutritional yeast or “nooch,” as it’s also called. While there are plenty of dairy-free cheese products sold in stores, nutritional yeast is definitely one of the most nutritious alternatives to cheese since it’s full of B vitamins and protein. It has an incredible umami flavor just like cheese does and is similar in flavor to cheddar cheese. Nutritional yeast is also vegan and doesn’t contain the harmful casein protein in it like cheese made from cow’s milk does.

You can find nutritional yeast in the spices aisle at most grocery stores or in the bulk buy section at health food stores. It’s also easy to find online and doesn’t need to be refrigerated after opening. Sprinkle it on anything just like you would Parmesan cheese and use it in a variety of recipes including dressings, sauces, scrambles, and spreads.

Keep in mind that many recipes call for nutritional yeast to be blended with cashews, white beans, or mild nuts like almonds. This trick helps make dishes richer and creamier just like dairy cheese while also boosting the health benefits of a recipe. Try this Life-Changing Cheese Sauce as a great recipe to experiment with! You can also use nutritonal yeast to recreate cheesy classics like this Gooey Grilled Cheese Sandwich, these Cheesy Corn and Smashed Avocado Quesadillas, or this Green Chili Nacho Cheese Sauce.

3. Instead of Cow’s Milk: Choose Unsweetened Rice, Almond, Cashew, Oat or Soy MilkLooking to Eat Less Dairy? Here are 5 Healthy Swaps that Make it Easier!

Possibly the most well-known replacement for cow’s milk is simply replacing it with a non-dairy alternative. There are so many to choose from at the store, which is great! But how do you know which is the best one to choose if you just want something to use in place of cow’s milk on your morning cereal, oatmeal, or in your coffee? Don’t worry, here are a few tips!

Unsweetened rice, almond, cashew, oat, or soy milk tend to be the best options to choose if you want to replace cow’s milk. Rice milk is naturally sweet and has a mild flavor, even when it’s unsweetened. Rice milk also works really well in place of skim milk because it’s naturally low in fat. Almond and cashew milk are a bit creamier than rice milk and are great replacements for most any cow’s milk product (except whole milk).

The same can be said for oat milk although it’s a bit less creamy than nut milk since it’s lower in fat.  Soy milk is the creamiest option of all of these yet still mild enough in flavor that it won’t interfere with the flavor of whatever food(s) you’re pairing it with. Soy milk is also a little richer and an excellent replacement for whole milk and sometimes even for cream. For more information, read A Non-Dairy Milk Guide for All Your Cooking and Baking Needs.
Hemp, coconut, and flax milk are also available in stores, online, and are easy to make at home. Although they do tend to have a more distinct flavor than the options above, they’re still delicious and incredibly healthy. If you want to make your own dairy-free milk at home, check all of these dairy-free milk recipes!

4. Instead of Dairy Yogurt: Choose a Dairy-Free Alternative or Fruit PuréeLooking to Eat Less Dairy? Here are 5 Healthy Swaps that Make it Easier!

Yogurt is one of the most popular snack foods of all time and many people rely on it daily. If you’re looking for something to tote in your lunch bag or throw together a quick breakfast, then definitely choose a dairy-free yogurt alternative product at the store (such as unsweetened coconut milk and almond milk yogurt alternatives). You’ll want to avoid added sugars in these products or at least purchase options with less than five grams of added sugar per serving, so check the labels. You can also make your own dairy-free yogurt at home, such as this Greek Coconut Yogurt or this Cashew Yogurt. For more information, read How to Make Dairy-Free Yogurt at Home.

If you want to replace yogurt in a baking recipe, a smoothie recipe, or something similar, then you have other options that are more nutritionally sound. Fruit is a great example of how to do just that. While it might lend a certain flavor to a recipe, chances are the fruit will enhance the recipe, not take away from it. Frozen bananas or frozen mango make any smoothie creamier without excess fat, and they’re also great for digestion and immunity since they’re loaded with fiber and prebiotics which fuel the growth of good bacteria in the gut.

For baked goods, applesauce, mashed banana, jarred prunes, and jarred pears can also be used in place of yogurt for a creamy, sweet, low-fat option. And although they aren’t a fruit, pumpkin and sweet potato purée are also great replacements for yogurt in baked goods since they lend a creamy, delicate texture to any recipe they’re used in. Try recipes like these Sweet Potato Tahini Brownies, these Chickpea Chocolate Chip Banana Bars, or this Fruit Sweetened Triple Coconut Cake.

Unlike yogurt made from cow’s milk, all of these options are also free of lactose, and hormones from cows. Concerned about probiotics? Don’t be! Here are five easy ways to get probiotics without consuming yogurt from cow’s milk at all.

5. Instead of Cream: Choose Nut Milk, Coconut Milk, or Coconut CreamLooking to Eat Less Dairy? Here are 5 Healthy Swaps that Make it Easier!

Cream is a tricky option to replace, but definitely not impossible. Cream from cow’s milk is typically used in small amounts and in very specific ways, such as in coffee, ice cream, or to make whipped cream. Since this is the case, it’s best to use a rich ingredient as a direct replacement for cream. The best options here are a homemade nut milk since they’re richer in fat than nut milk products sold at the store.

You can also use coconut cream instead of dairy cream, which is available in cans. If you can’t find coconut cream at the store, then purchase full-fat coconut milk (also sold in cans), turn the can upside down, and then let it sit in the fridge overnight. All the cream will rise to the top of the can so when you open it, you can simply scoop out the cream on top and discard the liquid. Coconut cream is an excellent choice for ice cream and it’s also nut and soy-free so it’s safe for those with nut or soy allergies.

For a simple replacement for cream in your coffee or tea, then purchase a store-bought dairy-free creamer which is the easiest option. Although these do contain some additives and a little sweetener, they tend to be the most popular option for coffee since they’re hassle-free and tasty. Choose one low in sugar or unsweetened as the best option. These won’t work well to make a homemade whipped cream like coconut cream will, but they’re great one-to-one replacements for beverages. You can also use regular nut milk or coconut cream in your coffee or try one of these 8 Dairy-Free Coffee Creamers on the Market.

So, there you go! With all of these plant-based options up your sleeve, you have plenty of dairy-free choices to try out. Be sure to let us know if you have a favorite dairy-free alternative that works for you, and tell us how you enjoy it! In the meantime, check out all of our dairy-free recipes here!

Recommended Resources to Get You Started!Creamsicle Cashew Milk

Looking for more information on how to cut dairy out of your diet? Here are a few articles you might find useful:

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Lead image source: Green Chili Nacho Cheese