How to Go Dairy Free

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I cut out dairy for a while because of lactose intolerance.  I hoped the intolerance would go away, but it didn’t, and I simply began using lactose free milk and Lactaid pills.  At times over the years, though, I have wondered if I would benefit from going dairy free.  So many people who are gluten intolerant also have problems with dairy, specifically casein, a protein in dairy products.

I was never motivated enough to give up my beloved cheese and butter until I learned that going dairy free could help control autoimmune reactions related to my Hashimoto’s thyroid disease.  In many ways, my thyroid problems have been more life changing than my celiac diagnosis, and I was eager to do anything that would help.

I went dairy free for a month last June, then went back on it.  After consulting with a naturopath, I went dairy free again in September and have stuck with it since then. How dairy contributes to autoimmune thyroid problems is not something I understand well, and is a topic I may address in a later post.  It is also not something that one would see immediate results from.  However, I think there are other reactions I have to dairy which became evident when I recently had some dairy by accident.  It happened when I was eating out and simply forgot that I needed to check for dairy ingredients as well as gluten.

imageI had two reactions.  The first, not surprisingly was congestion.  Just a couple of nights prior I was thinking about how perfectly clear my sinuses were—something I had not experienced in a long time.  The second reaction was itching, specifically on my abdomen.  I had that itching before I went gluten free, and it went away after going gluten free.  It came back later, though, and then went away again.  When the itching started this time it dawned on me that when I first went gluten free, I also went dairy free for a while because of lactose intolerance.  I then understood why it had come back later.

Those symptoms alone are enough to keep me dairy free.  It has not been easy, but it has been easier than I expected.  For that reason, I want to encourage any of you who are thinking about going dairy free and share with you some things I have learned.

1.  Do it for several months if you are doing it on a trial basis. It needs time to completely get out of your system before you will see all the benefits.

2.  Don’t assume that recipes won’t work. I’ve adapted many of my favorite recipes to be be dairy free, and most of the time my family doesn’t notice the difference, or they like it even better.

3.  Accept the fact that some things don’t have good substitutes. I’m thinking of cheese here.  I know that many dairy-free people rave about Daiya.  It is probably the best cheese substitute, but it doesn’t come close to real cheese for someone who can still remember what it’s like.  It does help to make the loss easier, though, and is better than eating pizza with no cheese at all.

4.  Focus on foods that are naturally dairy free. Eating real, unprocessed foods is healthy and most of the time those foods are naturally gluten and dairy free.

5.  Use your gluten free skills. The label reading and ingredient checking you do to be on a gluten-free diet is exactly what you need to do for a dairy free diet.  Since milk is one of the top eight allergens, it is required to be listed on labels, making our job easier.

6.  You can do it! I wish I had gone dairy free sooner.  I know it’s not easy, but our health is worth it.

Part 2:  Dairy-Free Substitutes

Part 3:  Adapting Recipes

This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.


  1. Charis says

    A couple of good substitutes for new non-dairyers are:
    – for milk, try vanilla almond milk. It's sweet and creamy, better than soy (b/c of the processing of soy that naturally goes on), and it tastes great. Chocolate hazelnut milk is also a great treat.
    – for creamer, try "So Delicious Coconut Creamer." It comes in a little blue carton, and is HEAVEN in coffee or smoothies or tea.

    I went back to dairy too, for the holidays (lots of old-fashioned family cooking means lots of cheese, especially when you're talking Italian cooking!), but after this week's detox, me and hubs will be dairy and gluten-free again. Can't wait.

    Good luck!


  2. NanaNor's says

    Hi there, When I first went gluten free I also went dairy free and have tried my best to avoid dairy but I have found that goat's cheese definitely meets my craving for cheese. Don't know whether you've tried it or not. Also, have you addressed, in a past post, how to deal with friends/family when they invite you for dinner. Everyone knows I'm gluten free and often I will bring bread that I can have but sometimes it is awkward, people think it is a fad and not a real health issue.
    Blessings to you.

  3. gfe--gluten free easily says

    Great post, Linda. As you know I've struggled with the dairy-free diet. I can see all the benefits for sure (and you telling me before what you'd learned on the effect of dairy on the immune system was really helpful) and I only need a day or two of eating some dairy to get the congestion, joint pain, sluggishness, etc. Thank you … needed another reminder! Will look forward to future posts on this topic.


  4. Becca says

    Great post! I have been gluten-free for over a year and a half. Just before the holiays a friend and I took on a challenge: 10 day dairy-free elimination ( is very informative). I couldn't believe how I felt eliminating dairy from my diet too. My stomach was no longer bloated, I felt lighter, and much less gassy (hope that's not too much info.!:). Over the holidays I ate some dairy and I sure noticed a difference. I am proud to say I am gf/df and plan on sticking to that!

  5. Lisa Whitaker says

    This post is so informative to me in my journey. First I was diagnosed with Thy. Ca. Then Hashis and finally Celiac. But I really believe it happened in reverse. Now Im trying to best to reverse the damage I have done or at the very least stop it in its tracks. I only recently (say two weeks ago) started to realize that diary is making me sick too. Now I read this and wonder….I wonder if continuing on dairy is what is causing those darn Thy. antibodies to not go away!!! Could not hurt to try.

  6. Vegiegail says

    What a great post! Thankfully, it's easier than ever to go dairy-free! (I've been doing it for 25 years.) Many people find that after giving up dairy (or anything food for that matter) for 2-3 weeks, they no longer have intense cravings. These are just a few of my own favorites:

    Purely Decadent and So Delicious Coconut Milk Ice Cream (better than dairy ice cream, and no funny aftertaste)
    Vegan Gourmet Sour Cream and Cream Cheese Substitutes (contain no casein or unhealthful hydrogenated oils)
    Soyatoo and Healthy Top Whipped Cream Toppings (Dangerously good!)
    Dr. Cow Tree Nut Cheeses (they have the "tanginess" of aged dairy cheeses!)
    So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverages and Coconut Milk Creamer (the best milk and coffee creamer alternatives I've ever tasted)
    Earth Balance Buttery Spread (verrrry buttery tasting!)

  7. Robin Raven says

    Great post. Thanks for the tips.

    The most important reason for me to go dairy-free was the enormous, overwhelming cruelty of the dairy industry. The dairy industry provides torturous lives for the cows that it exploits, uses their babies for meat, keeps the females pregnant unnaturally frequently, and mistreats them in so many ways. (Also, the grossness of milk, there's puss and blood in all dairy milk.)

  8. pilgrimscottage says

    When I went gluten free, I also switched from conventional dairy to raw. I find raw milk from pastured goats to actually be beneficial to me. It's not an issue for me like conventional dairy.

  9. Anonymous says

    I am gluten-free, and 95% dairy free. I do use
    some organic butter. (Not daily) Now that the holidays are over I won't be using very much butter at all.

    The majority of the processed dairy substitutes contain ingredients that are not healthy.
    Things like, "natural flavors", "carrageenan", "annatto" etc….
    These substances are tough on some of us. They contain "free glutamic acid" That is the same thing as MSG. These substances cause me as many health issues as gluten ever did.
    If anyone has eliminated everything they can possibly think of, and are still having health issues……consider the above. It has changed my life.

  10. Diane-The WHOLE Gang says

    Great job Linda. So glad you tried it and stuck with it to see results. It's really not as big a deal to adjust your eating if you've already had that experience as you did with gluten. There are lots of ways around it or without it.

    Noting tastes as good as good feels. Keep healthy my friend.

  11. Jane says

    I'm exited for part 2 and part 3. Since I have to go dairy free and gluten free in order to clear up my acne. (:

  12. Heather @ Marine Corps Nomads says

    I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. We may need to go this direction at our house. We're going to need to "experiment" to see what is necessary and what isn't. I know that raw dairy products seem to work better for my family, but I can't get everything raw. I use a lot of dairy, so it wouldn't be an easy transition. It's nice to read the been there, done that stories…

  13. Paul says

    My celiac fiancee helped me understand my own lactose intolerance, I just thought the stomach aches were normal but thankfully I now know better.

    Even though we both live completely dairy free now, we still enjoy dishes made with rice cheese or almond milk and overall we don't miss dairy one bit … although it's hard to pass on those fancy cheese platters at parties, I've had my hand slapped more than once hehe.

    Thanks for the great post, looking forward to parts 2 & 3 !

  14. Alisa Fleming says

    Great advice Linda. I definitely agree that people try to use subs as a crutch a bit too much. I always advise people to just forget about dairy-laden dishes for a little while (until those cravings are broken) and focus on dishes that can be made naturally dairy-free first. Email me when you get the chance :)

  15. Tasty Eats At Home says

    Good tips. It took me a long while before I decided to try to go dairy-free. I didn't want to give up cheese. But when I went strictly dairy-free for a period of a few weeks, and then reintroduced it, I couldn't ignore the congestion and the nausea. When I had IgE skin prick tests done soon after, milk allergy was on the list. I've been dairy-free ever since. Restaurants are the hardest part – a lot of chefs don't think butter is dairy. Getting people to understand the difference between lactose intolerance and casein intolerance or dairy allergy is sometimes difficult too.

  16. tammy says

    I am just starting to go gluten/dairy free due to recent health problems. I dont believe going gluten free will be as hard as going dairy free. i appreciate your info and the comments below. I will be using them to get started.

If you have a question about a recipe (especially substitutions and nutritional information), please read my FAQ page before asking the question in a comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>