Last week marked the end of the Dairy Detox week, and you all know what that means: I got to indulge in all my dairy-laden favorites, one by one, and soak in the deliciousness of it all.
However, reintroducing these foods into my diet wasn’t quite what I expected. With my dairy-free days “officially” over, you’d think I’d be slightly more excited to return to all things creamy and cheesy, but I actually discovered that many of the habits I practiced during my detox are ones I’d like to continue.
Although I’m not convinced I have a dairy allergy or even a sensitivity, I have noticed that the benefits of going dairy-free often outweigh the side effects of giving in to temptation. I would rather my body feel better, and know my diet is making me healthier, than be momentarily satisfied by a cheese stick.Here’s my own personal takeaway from this dairy-free experiment—and these are lifelong dietary modifications I plan to stick with.Probiotic supplements instead of yogurt.
One of the main reasons yogurt is good for us is because it contains probiotics—good bacteria that help keep our gut happy and functioning properly. I used to eat quite a bit of yogurt, mainly for this reason, so after one week of being dairy-free I decided to start supplementing with probiotics. I’ve noticed positive improvements to my gut health, yet I don’t feel as bloated or tired as I normally do after eating yogurt. So, probiotic supplements will continue to be part of my daily routine as I forego yogurt.
Almond milk, always.
I made the switch from cow’s milk to almond milk back in April, and I have no plans to go back. Overall, I feel less “sick” when I drink almond milk; I’m not bloated or fatigued like I am when I drink cow’s milk on a regular basis. Also, almond milk has less calories than cow’s milk—and even the unsweetened variety tastes sweet to me, which helps me drink less—so I’m not consuming a bunch of extra liquid calories. Anyone who knows me knows that I eat a lot of cereal, so having a type of milk I can depend on is super important.
Choosing cheese only when it’s a main ingredient.
If I really want pizza, I’m going to have pizza; that said, there are loads of other ingredients besides cheese that classify pizza as junky, greasy comfort food. No one has ever eaten a slice of pizza and said, “Wow, I feel great!” However, I’m a firm believer that eating what you want (but in moderation) truly contributes to a healthy body. I crave pizza every month or two—and I know if I give in on those occasions I’ll not only satisfy my craving for a while, but also be less likely to binge on something else equally unhealthy in my pizza-seeking quest.
I do plan to ditch the cheese on most wraps, sandwiches, and salads, though. Let’s be honest: When mixed with a variety of other ingredients, you can hardly taste the cheese, so what’s the point of eating it? Creamy guacamole or tomatoes can add wetness and flavor to these meals, and both are healthy and tasty alternatives.
Ranch dip when there is no alternative.
Some people might argue that there is always an alternative dipping sauce, but for someone who loves ranch as much as I do, I just can’t jump on that bandwagon. For example: Buffalo wings must be dipped in ranch (and/or bleu cheese) for me to thoroughly their flavor. If I can’t have these dipping sauces, I simply won’t order wings. This is fact.
However, I consistently choose an oil-based dressing for my salads—balsamic, Italian, or even just plain oil & vinegar—instead of ranch. I also have noticed that I eat less ranch just as a by-product of other habits. Subbing avocado for cheese in my wraps, for instance, means I’m less likely to dip the wrap in ranch because it’s already creamy (and I don’t want to lose the taste of the avocado).
Ice cream for treats.
I love ice cream—caramel swirl, chocolate chip cookie dough, or just plain ol’ vanilla—but if I don’t buy it I don’t eat it, and I generally don’t crave it unless someone else offers it to me. A small treat on occasion is just that—a treat—so I find no harm in indulging every once in a while. Again, everything in moderation. This applies to some of my other favorite dairy-sourced foods—alfredo sauce, cottage cheese, sour cream—but keeping intake of those foods to a minimum will go a long way when it comes to building a better body and caring for it with proper nutrition.
Overall, I’ve learned to be much more informed about what I’m putting into my body. I’m going to try to shop for bread that doesn’t contain whey protein, for example, because I’ve found that those varieties with whey often don’t contain the preservatives found in the breads that do contain whey. I want to read the ingredients of a product before I buy it and discover the source of my food, when possible. I realize that’s not always possible when dining out, but when I’m buying groceries for myself I have the option to choose exactly what I’m feeding myself—so why wouldn’t I?
For those without an allergy, the choice of whether or not to eat dairy products is highly individual—but if you are considering going dairy-free, I highly recommend doing a dairy detox. You might be surprised by how your body feels and even adopt some lifelong healthy habits. I know I did!
Erica Tasto is an editor for Natural Solutions and Alternative Medicine and the author of "The Natural Suite" blog. Follow her on Twitter @editorerica.