There are so many benefits of ditching dairy, from clearer skin to healthy weight loss to reduced risk for developing disease down the road. But if you're trying to go plant-based and struggling to give dairy the boot, we hear you and we see you, friend! It can be tough at first! Whether you’re an avid milk drinker or you just use butter on your toast, the good news is there are simple steps you can take to detox your body from dairy in just three weeks to feel and look your best. Let's get started.
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A whole food plant-based diet sounds great in theory, but is more difficult in practice....especially if you have concerned (albeit misguided) friends and family whispering in your ear about nutrient deficiencies. But I've got some good news: eliminated dairy from your diet will NOT create any deficiencies.
This is a common misconception because we've been sold that dairy is a necessary health food. But let's back up and think about this for a minute.
What if I told you that you needed dog milk in order to get all of your nutrients for the day? You’d probably say, "Isn't that for puppies?"
(You'd probably also think I was pretty gross for suggesting it...)
OK, and what about human milk? You might tell me, "Well, that's for babies!"
And you'd be right to question me. There is a reason that we stop drinking breastmilk as young children and eventually get all our nutrients from solid foods.
So why would we need to consume cow’s breast milk intended for baby calves? That milk is loaded with estrogen and growth hormones (just like our breast milk) intended to make a little calf turn into a 2,000 pound cow in about 18 months.
We have reached our full size as adults...so it’s time to wean.
But if we stop eating dairy, who will milk those poor cows?
Cows only lactate when they have a baby to feed (like humans!).
Humans use bull sperm to impregnate heifers. Then, once the heifers give birth to a calf, they take the calf away so that they can use the cow’s milk for humans. Typically, they impregnate the cow immediately after it gives birth so they can start the cycle again soon after the cow stops lactating. This means that in these cows' milk, there is a large dose of pregnancy hormones beyond the typical level of hormones and estrogen found in mammal’s breast milk.
And if you really think about it, drinking another mammals milk is...kinda weird.
Not to mention, it's actually healthier if you forgo cow's milk altogether, especially when you choose to eat a well-rounded WFPB diet.
1. Stronger Bones
Milk’s biggest claim to fame is that it builds strong bones due to its high levels of calcium. But interestingly enough, those who consume cow's milk actually have a higher risk of bone fractures. And studies show that those who drink milk have a higher risk for early mortality. This is thought to be potentially from the galactose (found in milk), which scientists use in labs to make rats age prematurely by causing inflammation, oxidative stress, and brain degeneration.
2. Balanced Hormones
Everyone's heard about the hormones in milk. But you can just choose hormone-free milk then, right? Actually, no. The problematic hormones in milk don't just come from the injections farms give animals to grow faster than their meant to. There's natural hormones found in mammal milk, too, designed to help babies grow quickly. Cow's milk is loaded with naturally-occurring estrogen that adults don't need. These hormones in excess cause a boatload of health issues, from acne, mood swings, weight gain, and even prostate, endometrial and breast cancer. This added estrogen can throw male's systems out of whack, and can also increase the chance of infertility in women.
3. Better Antioxidant Absorption
Cup of Joe, hold the moo! Adding just a splash of milk to your cup of morning coffee can decrease your antioxidant absorption by over 50 percent. Drinking a cow's milk latte or cappuccino can decrease antioxidant absorption by up to 95 percent. So all of those awesome benefits of eating antioxidant-rich WFPB foods means almost zilch if you’re pairing it with milk or cream. Soy milk, on the other hand, did not change antioxidant absorption levels at all, so best to change up your creamer to a non-dairy version!
4. Reduced Risk for Parkinson's Disease
This horrible disease is one that most people would do anything to avoid — and your risk is directly associated with dairy intake. By just drinking a small glass of milk each day, you are at 17 percent higher risk of developing Parkinson's down the road. And just a half a slice of cheese a day puts you at a 13 percent higher risk. If you consume dairy, you are also 2 times more likely to develop early on-set Huntington’s disease, another degenerative brain disease that runs in families.
5. Clear Skin
All skin types are beautiful, and it's important to love yourself at every stage of life. When you break out, it's your bodies way of telling you something is unbalanced internally. Take a moment to thank you body for flagging this, and see your sensitive skin as a positive! What a valiant messenger from the inside.
This one should be common knowledge amongst dermatologists, but is just starting to become more well-known. If you're struggling with adult acne, going dairy-free may help big time! There is a positive association between milk consumption (particularly skim milk) and acne because of the sex hormones in milk. Removing dairy from your diet can often help to clear that skin up, and reduce inflammation.
Before we start, if you've been determined to give up dairy in the past, only to "fail," it’s important to give yourself a break.
Here's the thing: dairy is actually quite addictive.
Similar to cocaine, sugar and heroin, you get a tiny hit of dopamine each time you consume dairy. A protein in the milk called casein breaks town into casomorphins which attach themselves to the brain receptors, similar to narcotics. So if you’re struggling to understand why you can’t give it up easily, stop blaming your willpower.
Do your best, be kind to yourself, and take your time. And know that you may have to detox from dairy for a bit before you notice the benefits.
What to expect when detoxing from dairy on a WFPB diet
Yes, detoxing. When you detox from any kind of addictive substance, it can be difficult. You may even experience headaches or irritability. This will pass, as will your cravings for dairy all together.
How do I know? I grew up in Vermont eating sharp cheddar cheese on EVERYTHING from toast to apple pie (yes, this is a thing in Vermont).
Getting away from dairy was tricky, but I felt amazing after just a few weeks. Now, even if I try a bite of someone's fancy cheese I feel indifferent to it, and usually don’t want a second bite. I no longer crave it, which seems crazy, but it was 100 percent worth it.
Why three weeks you ask? It takes up to three weeks for dairy to fully leave your system after you stop eating it.
You may see results in just a few days, or it may take the full three weeks until your system is clean. Either way, you’re looking at a healthier you!
For those who want to 100% ditch dairy:
This is the best way to experience tangible results. You’ll find that the longer you do it, the less you’ll crave dairy, until one day the barista will use cow's milk by accident and you will find yourself NOT into it.
For those who want to reduce dairy:
Use dairy as a garnish! Sprinkle a tablespoon of parmesan on your pasta marinara, but don’t order the Alfredo sauce or ricotta-stuffed lasagna.
Dust your tacos in a tablespoon of Cotija, but pass on the cheese enchiladas.
Limit your frequency. Just reducing dairy leads to results and eventually you'll crave it less and less as you eat it less and less.
Of course, to get full results, you may want to test ditching it for three weeks to see how you feel.
When people go plant-based, or decide to give up dairy, the number one mistake they make is to buy anything and everything labeled “vegan” or “dairy free” in the grocery store.
PSA: just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean you HAVE to buy it...or that it's good for you!
To avoid a large bill (and a bunch of processed foods), I would focus on dishes that are naturally dairy-free in your first week of life without dairy. That way, you won’t feel like you’re giving something up, or that you’re replacing a favorite flavor with something not quite as tasty (let’s be honest — faux anything never quite cuts it).
That being said, it’s time to stock your fridge with a few WFPB basics:
1. Non-Dairy Milk (Unsweetened!)
Thanks to all the vegans that came before us, there are now about 100 brands to choose from. Overwhelmed? This can help: try a different one each week until you’ve landed on your favorite. Check the ingredients and avoid those with oil and sweeteners. Don’t worry about the stigma regarding soy (it’s actually quite good for both men and women)!
Need some help getting started? Here's our quick guide to non-dairy milk.
2. Raw Cashews
Cashew cream is your new dairy-free bestie. It's delicious in pasta dishes, soups, on sandwiches, even in desserts. It takes the place of heavy cream and it’s simple to make (I know it sounds intimidating, but after the first time you try it you’ll realize it’s a breeze!).
This versatile whole fruit (yes, fruit!) makes for a great butter replacer on toast, a swap for mayo on sandwiches, and can even make smoothies and vegan icing extra creamy.
Were you a big time milk drinker?
Non-dairy milk doesn’t always have that same mouthfeel or flavor, I get it.
Cow’s milk is fattier and loaded with sugar (naturally made from the mother cow). So if you're not loving non-dairy milk at first, that's OK! Try blending your 8-oz glass with ¼ of a ripe banana and a tiny splash of vanilla extract until it's all nice and creamy. This will make it thicker and sweeter.
Then, slowly wean yourself down to ⅛ of a banana and no vanilla.
One day, you’ll be drinking an ice cold glass of soymilk and genuinely enjoying yourself. You may even find yourself grossed out by cow's milk down the road!
Love coffee creamer?
Check out this simple recipe for a non-dairy coffee creamer. Add a few dates, or some maple syrup before blending if you’re used to sweetened coffee. Make a big batch and freeze it in an ice cube tray in your freezer. Crack into baggies and use one in your coffee each morning.
If this just isn’t cutting it for you, try a store bought non-dairy creamer.
Still not quite hitting the spot? Use ½ dairy and ½ non-dairy creamers and work your way closer to a larger non-dairy ratio throughout the week.
Life without cheese (you've got this!)
Start out by eating foods that aren’t typically cooked with cheese, so do your best to avoid Italian-American foods and Standard American fare. Instead focus on asian foods, Mediterranean foods, middle eastern foods, and Islander foods — all of which are often naturally dariy-free.
Need some dairy-free inspo? Here are 5 WFPB dishes that you wouldn't think twice about eating with cheese or dairy:
1. Oil-Free Panang Curry
Image and Recipe from Running on Real Food
2. Vegan Sushi with Brown Rice
Image and Recipe from Love and Lemons
(Use date sugar, not white sugar, to make this refined sugar-free)
3. Lemon Lentil Soup
Image and Recipe from MamaSezz
4. Avocado Pasta
Image and Recipe from by MamaSezz
5. WFPB Oil-Free Fried Rice
Image and Recipe from MamaSezz
Your New BFF: Nutritional Yeast
You can also sprinkle your pasta/soup/salad with nutritional yeast, which is a plant-based alternative to parmesan (it has a sharp cheesy flavor). Trust me, it's a dairy-free life saver, especially in the beginning!
Get addicted to Mylkshakes instead of Ice Cream
These honestly taste like the real thing. It’s crazy what a frozen banana can do for you, huh?
This Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake recipe is a MamaSezz team favorite — and it's just 4 basic ingredients that you probably already have on hand!
- Enjoy meals that you wouldn't normally add dairy to anyway.
- Pick up some plant based milk, whole cashews and avocados
- Enjoy a mylkshake every morning (or for dessert!)
- If you’re struggling, grab some store-bought cheese alternatives to help bridge the gap until you get the hang of things
- When you start to crave cheese, enjoy a Mylkshake or snack instead. You may find that you aren’t craving cheese, as much as you were craving calorie dense foods because you were hungry.
- Learn to make cashew cream (just do it!)
- Can't go 100 percent? That's OK! Use cheese as a garnish here and there (progress, not perfection is always the goal).
- You’re probably in detox mode at this point, so don’t worry if you’re feeling irritable, or your cravings are getting worse. They will pass, and it will be worth it!
- Thank yourself each morning for feeding yourself only foods that heal, not foods that harm.
- Start to experiment with replacing dairy in your favorite recipes. For instance, instead of using cream and cheese in your penne a la vodka, try using cashew cream. Instead of sour cream on your tacos, try blending cashew cream with garlic and chipotle to make a chipotle aioli. Try coconut milk in your soups instead of heavy cream.
- Remember, if you're craving dairy, start by enjoying a snack to quell your hunger. If you still want cheese, try a pre-made vegan cheese until you’re ready to transition to whole food.
- You might notice this week that your digestive system feels a little better, you are more regular, and you may even start to notice that your sweat smells a little better (weird, I know). The inflammation in your intestines may start to go down as well, making your tummy a bit flatter.
- You may notice your skin starting to clear up, your joints feeling less inflamed, and your energy levels increasing. You might even find that you sleep better, or that you’re less moody.
- You’re two weeks in and you’re starting to feel awesome! Time to get rid of all the dairy in your house (if you live alone) or rearrange your refrigerator (if you live with others). If you live with people who eat dairy, make a designated “dairy” drawer or section, and avoid it at all costs. This is not your drawer to go into!
- At this point, you’re used to saying “no,” but start to say “yes” to ingredients you have not used before! Buy a can of coconut milk and make curry, or experiment with chickpea flour pancakes. How about this vegan chocolate or vanilla dessert sauce, or avocado pudding? The more you experiment with new ingredients, the less you will feel like you’re eliminating an ingredient.
Most of All, Continue to Enjoy your Food!
Eating and creating delicious food is one of life's most wonderful gifts. Nourishing your body with healthy WFPB foods will help you to enjoy life to your fullest, and actually live longer. By giving dairy the boot, you won’t just be adding years to your life, you’ll be adding quality years where you are still independent, strong, and feeling great, rather than being in and out of hospitals with chronic pain. You have one body, treat it with respect. You’ve made the first big step in doing that today, by reading this article and considering cutting out dairy from your diet.
- Eliminating dairy from you diet will put you at less risk from disease, infertility, acne, inflammation, and digestive discomfort.
- Dairy can be addictive — and your body my need to "detox" from it at first.
- Start by eating meals that don't typically contain dairy.
- Learn about plant based milks, discover nutritional yeast, and cashew cream.
- Take it step by step...and don't be too hard on yourself!
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.