"Help! I'm new to...a dairy free diet!"

A big dietary change, like removing gluten or dairy, can be a daunting task. Where do you start? What do you need to know?

Because I remember how it felt when I first began to tailor my diet to my body’s reactions (exciting, challenging, a little scary to face life without good bread), I decided to create a new series called: “Help! I’m new to…” where we discuss new diets and how to approach them.

Today, with the help of Alice from Gluten Free Alice, we’re tackling what to do when you’re beginning a dairy-free diet: the pros, the cons, the potential pitfalls…

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With a delish dairy free ice cream from Yorica!

What is a dairy-free diet?

In simple terms, a dairy free diet is a diet free from any milk based products, such as milk, cheese, cream, ice cream, yoghurt etc. It is important to note the difference between a dairy allergy and a dairy intolerance. Some people may have a dairy allergy where consuming even the slightest amount could lead to anaphylaxis and life threatening conditions. Others may have a dairy intolerance, where consuming milk could cause less serious but still uncomfortable symptoms, such as bloating and diarrhoea.

What is it in dairy that you might find hard to digest?

One of the most common reasons people may find dairy hard to digest is due to the lactose, which is a sugar found in milk. We produce an enzyme in our guts called Lactase which is what helps to break down the lactose we consume however some people do not produce enough lactase to digest the sugar, causing a variety of symptoms.

Lactose is found in all milk based products, such as:

  • Milk

  • Cream

  • Cheese

  • Whey

  • Yoghurt

  • Ice cream

  • Cheese and more.

Lactose free products are available to buy in most supermarkets, these products still contain dairy, but have the lactose removed from them.

What are the common symptoms of lactose intolerance?

Common symptoms of a lactose intolerance include:

  • Bloating

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea

  • Cramps

  • Vomiting.

These symptoms can vary from person to person depending on how intolerant you are. Some people may be able to tolerate a small amount of lactose however some may not be able to tolerate any.

How to go dairy-free

To go dairy free, you will need to eliminate all foods containing milk and find alternatives. Start by looking for nondairy replacements which you will find clearly labelled in the Free from section in most supermarkets. You will find a range of different dairy free milk options (almond, oat, coconut, soya etc.) plus many other fridge, frozen and store cupboard essentials! You will also find lots of naturally dairy free products outside of the Free From aisle such as fruit, vegetables, rice, potatoes, meat, fish and more! It is definitely a lot easier to follow a ‘dairy free’ diet now, as supermarkets introduce more and more Free From products.

Watch out for these foods with ‘hidden’ dairy

It’s important to watch out for foods that you may not realise contain dairy. Examples of this include products such as certain crisps, sauces, cakes, biscuits, bread, cereals, salad dressings, soup and more! Be sure to thoroughly read labels to ensure you find safe products.

Being careful when cooking at home

In terms of cross-contamination with dairy I'd be wary of cooking on the same surfaces/using the same equipment as someone who cooks with dairy-containing foods. Ensure everything is thoroughly cleaned and it may even be worth investing in your own chopping boards/trays etc and labelling them so only you have to use them.

(For me though as I'm only dairy intolerant it's not as big of a deal as gluten contamination, but definitely depends on the severity of the allergy/intolerance!).

Being firm when eating out

It is important to be firm when eating out and always double check with your serving staff so you don’t eat anything you shouldn’t. If you are worried about eating out dairy free, make sure to ring your restaurant prior to your visit to discuss options. Most restaurants also tend to have an ‘allergy book’ where you can see which allergens are in each dish and decide from there.

Eating Out: Top UK chains to eat dairy free

There are so many great places to eat out in the UK whilst following a dairy free diet. With the rise of veganism, lots of restaurants now serve dairy free cheese on their pizzas and many have special allergy friendly menus. Here are some recommendations:

Zizzi’s: With the option of vegan cheese on your pizza, Zizzi’s is a great choice for eating out dairy free by switching our cheese for a dairy free option. They also serve an amazing dairy free chocolate torte for dessert.

Pizza Express: Another Italian chain with the option of dairy free cheese is Pizza Express who have so many different pizza and pasta options which can all be adapted to be made dairy free.

Honest Burger: Honest Burger make all of their food from scratch, the majority being dairy free if you take away the cheese. They also have an amazing ‘Beyond Meat’ vegan special which is totally dairy free and you wouldn’t know!

Las Iguanas: Serving amazing Latin American, Mexican and Brazilian food, Las Iguanas have always been a great option for dairy free, with choices such as jackfruit tacos, veggie chilli and their guacamole plate.

Leon: Leon is also a great option for quick and easy ‘fast food’ with lots of dairy free choices, which are all clearly labelled on the menu.

Pizza Hut: Another Italian restaurant which have recently introduced dairy free cheese is Pizza Hut, which is a great and cheap eating out option.

Handmade Burger Co: This burger chain make all their burgers from scratch and offer plenty of dairy free and vegan options.

Nandos’: Nando’s have a fantastic process in place when it comes to dealing with allergies and intolerances and have a really handy allergy book to help with finding out exactly what you can and cannot eat.

Favourite online dairy-free resources

Follow these dairy free bloggers on instagram for an insight into life without dairy!

Thank you so much Alice for this fantastic guide to a dairy-free diet! If you loved Alice’s guide and want to read more of her writing, you can find her at Gluten Free Alice and on Instagram.

And if you want to know about other diets like the AIP diet, the Low Fodmap diet, or a gluten free diet, check out our guides!

Help I’m new to…gluten free

Help, I’m new to…the AIP diet

Help, I’m new to…the Low Fodmap diet