Food: A guide to dairy alternatives

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 23, 2024

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Food allergies affect millions of people around the world. The group FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) says researchers estimate 32 million Americans have food allergies. Among those allergies, milk is a leading source of food-related irritation.

People with milk or dairy allergies experience symptoms because their immune systems react as though these foods and beverages are dangerous invaders, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Symptoms of dairy allergies can include upset stomach, vomiting, bloody stools, hives, and general feelings of malaise. Dairy allergies also can cause anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening reaction.

As delicious as dairy products can be, people with dairy allergies have to avoid milk, cheese and yogurt, among other foods. Fortunately for allergy sufferers, a variety of foods and beverages can be easily substituted for dairy products.

• Traditional milk: Non-dairy alternatives for milk abound. Soy milk was one of the first alternatives to cow milk, and now rice, almond, coconut, oat, and hemp seed milks also are available.

• Yogurt: Dairy-based yogurts come in a variety of flavors. So, too, do dairy alternatives. Many alternatives are made from the same ingredients as milk alternatives. So these yogurts may be soy- or coconut-based.

• Ice cream: Silky, creamy ice cream is a treat on a hot day. For people with dairy allergies, soy- and coconut-based ice creams can serve as an alternative to traditional ice cream.

• Cheese: Cheeses can be hard, grated, spreadable, and soft. Substituting for cheese in a non-dairy diet can be challenging. Nutritional yeast can make foods more flavorful and can be sprinkled on like parmesan cheese. Sliced smoked tofu can mimic mozzarella or provolone on cracker platters. Cubed tofu may have the texture of cottage cheese or ricotta. Cheesy sauces often use a combination of ground nuts, spices and nutritional yeast to create that tangy appeal.

• Butter: Many non-dairy butters are made from vegetable oils or coconut. They often lend fat and flavor to dishes. Margarines and other butter alternatives are readily available in the dairy aisle.

Many people must avoid dairy due to allergies or other health-related reasons. Fortunately, stores are stocked with many items that can easily replace dairy in recipes or as stand-alone foods and beverages.