Going dairy free is hard, especially for somebody like me, whose favorite food is cheese! Here are the products that have helped make the transition easier and tastier.

By Erica Zelfand, ND

After years of recommending the elimination and challenge diet to my patients, this past summer I finally took the leap of courage and did it myself. I knew it would be hard, so I roped along my supportive, up-for-any-adventure husband for the journey. The elimination and challenge diet, for those who aren’t familiar, is the gold standard method for determining what foods your body does and does not tolerate – it’s even more effective than blood testing. It entails eating a very clean diet for eight full weeks, during which time all common allergens like eggs, dairy, peanuts, gluten, and even tomatoes are avoided. After the eight weeks are over, these foods are re-introduced into the diet one at a time while monitoring for reactions.

As you’re probably thinking – yes, this is hard! And it takes months! Read more about the elimination and challenge diet HERE.

…But as hard as it was, it was definitely worth it. Those daily headaches that I’d been living with my entire adult life? (You know, the ones my doctor told me were probably hormonal?) I figured out those are triggered by dairy. Bingo! (Hormonal shmormonal!)

As simple as it seems to remove dairy from my life and live headache free, there was one small problem: cheese is one of my favorite foods, second only to chocolate. (Which, thankfully, was proven to not be a trigger food for me!)

At first, it wasn’t too hard to go dairy free, since I was enjoying all of the fruits and vegetables available during the summer and autumn. But as the weather turned colder and it came time to eat more warm foods, I realized that dairy has been somewhat of a staple in my diet. I really started missing it. I didn’t know how to prepare a meal without it.

I started whining. A lot. (My poor husband.)

Thank goodness for Diane Sanfillipo and her book Practical Paleo, which helped a TON with recipes and meal ideas.

Along the way, I’ve also found some great products at the health food store for those moments when you don’t feel like cooking but just need a little creamy goodness in your food.

Some of my favorite finds have included:

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Culinary Coconut Milk (So Delicious)

coconut milk

It’s like the coconut milk that comes in a can, only this one’s sold in convenient, 11-oz re-sealable containers. I’ve been putting this in my black tea, chai, and coffee as a cream substitute.

Yumm! Sauce (Café Yumm!)

yumm-sauce-jars

This thick and creamy sauce is made from canola oil, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice. It has that salty, tangy flavor similar to melted cheese. I’ve been putting this in breakfast burritos, mixing it in with rice and beans, and essentially using it like cheese sauce.

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Coconut Bliss (Larry and Luna’s) 

salt-caramel_choc_pint_0

It’s like ice cream. Minus the sinus congestion afterwards.

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Macaroons (Hail Merry)

hailmerry_macaroons_strawberry_900x900…Because you can’t always have ice cream! These come in a variety of exciting flavors, and unlike the other macaroons in the grocery store, these aren’t disgustingly sweet.

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Avocado

avocadoOkay, it isn’t a product, per se, but another little trick I’ve discovered when ordering in a restaurant or food truck is to ask for avocado instead of cheese. The creaminess of the avocado adds nice texture to whatever you’re eating, and adds in a little healthy fat too, thereby enhancing flavor. (Remember, fat = flavor, which is why fat free foods are packed with sugar, to make up for the lost flavor!)