As of February 2013, I cut out all milk products (Milk, cheese, yoghurt, cream etc) from my diet.
It happened by accident. I went to a Physio as I had hurt my shoulder while hiking. As I was laying down, she asked me if I had a cold, as I sounded quite congested and snuffly. My answer was "No, I'm always like this", and that it was just my allergies (hayfever etc). She asked me if I had ever tried giving up milk products, as they can sometimes cause nasal congestion and phlegm. And again my answer was something along the lines of "No, I freaking love milk products". At this point giving up dairy had never crossed my mind, I loved dairy products. I had milk and yoghurt on my cereal every morning, my favourite meal was lasagne and when it came to treating myself, icecream was the way to go. She suggested I cut out all dairy for at least 2 weeks and observe how I feel after.
So I went home, talked to Chris about it and we went grocery shopping together. Boy, was that a long and frustrating shop. Having to check the ingredients list on all my favourite foods and then putting most of them back on the shelf. Disheartened but determined we left the grocery store with a variety of new foods we had never considered before. Including a variety of new "milks" to try, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, soy yoghurt (we also tried lactose free milk but that didn't help me) amongst other dairy free snacks.
After a few weeks being dairy-free I had started to feel significantly better. I wasn't congested and sniffing all the time, I wasn't blowing my nose every 10minutes, and didn't have to clear my throat every morning. I didn't need to take hay-fever tablets every day and when I did suffer from my cat or pollen allergies they weren't half as bad. My skin had cleared up, with less pimples and irritation. (TMI warning!!) My I.B.S had gone away, along with tummy cramps, diarrhoea and gas. All of which had presented itself while I was at University, eating a students diet of cheese toasties, pizza, ice cream and whatever the food hall served that day.
I noticed the difference, my husband noticed the difference and so did some of my close family and friends.
Since then I have tried "Lactase tablets" which contain enzymes which are meant to help my body break down the lactose milk proteins. They can and do work for some people, but they gave me the worst stomach cramps, and I decided it wasn't worth the pain.
I have now been dairy-free for two years, and there is no way I would ever go back to my old way of living.
The hardest part was the initial stages, where everything was new, new brands and new ways to getting around using milk.
I have now found ways to get by without dairy, by doing a lot of my own cooking and baking (link to my recipes). Being able to choose what goes into a meal gives you so much more freedom to experiment. I do a lot of baking and all of my (normal?)non-dairy free friends love it. Yes, sometimes I find it difficult when eating out, but a lot of restaurants are very accommodating and will try to find something to suit your allergy needs. There are a lot of great food brands that are not only dairy-free but are super tasty. My husband (who has no food allergies) enjoys them too.
However, I am much more sensitive to dairy these days. In the fact that shortly after I eat something dairy knowingly or unknowingly I can feel it coat my throat and later, if I consume a lot, in my tummy. This may be partially because I now know what is "normal" for me. Which is starkly different from what, sadly, used to be my "normal" before.
It is sometimes a bit awkward when going to a friends place for dinner, as it is easy for them to forget your needs, or not realise that so many foods have dairy in them. For these occasions I tend to point it out before hand or bring a plate myself (usually dessert) as that way I know I can at least have something. My close friends are very supportive and they have now learnt what foods have hidden dairy in them, so it's very sweet when they make the extra effort to make my life easier.
Here is my dairy-free shopping list:
- Almond Breeze/Alpro Unsweetened Almond milk: I use this exactly as I would use milk, in cereal, baking and milkshakes.
- Alpro Soy milk: Almond milk has a tendency to leave little particles floating in coffee, so I tend to choose Soya milk instead. I also now drink a lot more herbal tea, which don't require added milk.
- Alpro Soya Yoghurt: I mentioned before my love for yoghurt, and this yoghurt is so yummy I don't even miss the original.
- Hummus: Cheese has been my hardest ingredient to replace, and so far I am yet to find an exact substitute, instead I add hummus to any sandwiches needing something savoury/smooth and as a topping on pizzas for that extra flavour and "creaminess"
- Coconut milk/cream: This can be used instead of cream in a variety of ways. My favourite is in curries. I have tried it in a "creamy" pasta sauce and it works the same but tastes different (obviously)
- Margarine (dairy-free): Not all margarines are dairy-free, so it's best to check the label. I use this in ANY situation where butter is required. Baking, greasing, frying etc. It all works the same.
- Dark chocolate: Hallelujah! Yes, I can still eat chocolate. Lots of dark chocolate (not all) do not contain milk, and I am so very grateful!