Considering a dairy-free diet, but unsure where to start? Doireann Murray, who has followed a plant-based diet since she was a child, and who turned vegan as an adult, explains how it's easier than ever to choose dairy-free.
Whether you've an intolerance to dairy, or are more conscious of the environment and what you're putting into your body, it is clear that dairy-free is having a moment.
Thanks to more education around the topic and shows such as Netflix's Rotten, more Irish people than ever are opting for a dairy-free lifestyle. According to the National Dairy Council (NDC), in 2018, 41% of Irish women and 30% of Irish men were avoiding or limiting their dairy consumption.
But there are still some myths around a dairy-free lifestyle, such as it not meeting your calcium needs, or it being unhealthy. And you can still eat meat while following a dairy-free lifestyle.
"For years, my dad and I battled through dinner wars," says Doireann Murray, who became vegetarian at the age of eight, and later vegan as an adult. "He felt I would die if I didn't have an element of meat on the plate – 'if it's white it's not really an animal'. I'd feed it under the table to my dog, the best fed dog in Ireland!
"After a few years, my mum stepped in as the voice of reason and encouraged my dad – an amazing cook – to put more time into making vegetarian food."
The best way to meet your calcium and protein needs when eating dairy-free is to follow a nutrient-rich diet. Food sources containing calcium include kale, canned oily fish, as well as pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and there are plenty of alternative milks, such as soy, to up your protein.
Here are three simple ways to incorporate a dairy-free diet into your lifestyle, without sacrificing on taste and nutrition.
Always check the ingredients of foods before purchasing. There could be a hidden dairy ingredient you hadn't considered. "With more options available in supermarkets, it's 100% easier to live a dairy-free lifestyle now compared to even 10 years ago," says Doireann. "I used to hate going out for dinner or to friends' houses as I was always the 'fussy eater'. Everyone held their breath while I tried to explain to waiters what a vegan was. More times than not they got it wrong and I'd end up with cream or eggs, even fish.
"Nowadays it is the norm. Don't get me wrong, there are still places out there that offer risotto every day of the year, but way less than usual. Coffees used to be a problem too, but non-dairy milk has really helped."
Know your substitutes
Opting for dairy-free will go a lot smoother if you plan ahead. For instance, replacing cow's milk with almond milk or soy milk, substituting avocado for cheese, dairy-free yoghurt for milk-based yoghurt, ice-cream for sorbet, homemade guacamole for sour cream, the list of nutritious and tasty food substitutes is endless.
Here are some delicious recipe examples to try – vegan and non-vegan – to give you one example of the tasty foods you can still enjoy dairy-free.
Dairy-free cabbage and raspberry yoghurt smoothie
Dairy-free cabbage and raspberry yoghurt smoothie. Photo: Getty Images
- Half a small head of purple cabbage
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- 1 cup frozen raspberries
- 1 ripe banana, peeled
- 1 pot of raspberry dairy-free yoghurt (we use Yoplait dairy-free raspberry flavour)
- 1/2 cup almond milk
Add all ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth. Serve!
Dairy-free Indian chicken
Dairy-free Indian chicken served with rice. Photo: Ryan Kwok, Unsplash
- 2 large skinless chicken breasts (cubed)
- 1/2 cup coconut-based dairy-free yoghurt (we use Yoplait dairy-free mango flavour)
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 400g chopped tomatoes
- 1/4 cup coconut milk
In a large bowl, mix the chicken, dairy-free yoghurt, lemon juice, and spices.
In a pan, add the marinated chicken and yoghurt mixture.
Sauté the chicken, cooking over high heat for about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and coconut milk.
Mix everything together in the pan and continue to cook the chicken for another 8-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is thoroughly cooked through. Serve with rice or Naan bread.
Don't deprive yourself
Choosing dairy-free doesn't have to mean depriving yourself of the foods you like. "When I moved from home and began cooking myself, it was a big education," says Doireann. "You need to ensure your body isn't missing any necessary ingredients because of the diet you've chosen. I researched it, spoke to my doctors and had a nutritionist when I was sick.
"I still get some people who say 'you couldn't pay me to live on salad', but my meals consist of delicious and nutritious food every day."
If you're opting for dairy-free, remember that most adults need around 1,000mg of calcium a day, while young children and people over the age of 50 need slightly more. There is calcium in vegetables such as kale and broccoli and it's often recommended that those on a dairy-free diet opt for calcium-fortified foods such as cereals, breads and juices.
To ensure you get your daily recommended dose of vitamin D a day – 0-10 micrograms per day for adults – fortified soy milk and almond milk will give you just as much as a glass of low-fat milk.
And to bulk up your protein intake, where it's recommended that women aim for 46g a day and men 56g a day, make sure you're eating protein-rich foods. If you're still eating meat in your dairy-free diet, you'll find protein in meat and poultry, as well as fish, eggs, nuts and soy milk.
Yoplait Dairy Free is available in stores now, in strawberry, raspberry, mango-passionfruit and apricot flavours.
For more information on Yoplait products, see yoplait.ie.
Main photo: Claudia Crespo, Unsplash
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