We pour it on our cereal, splash it in our tea, our coffee, eat it as an after dinner dessert or slice onto crackers with chutney for a mid-afternoon snack. Dairy in all its forms is something we have been brought up on. In the western world we are told as soon as we stop breast feeding to drink our milk, so much so that is an integral part of most peoples’ diets.
Memories of a glass of warm milk before bed as it helps to send you to sleep, that minuscule red wheel of Babybel cheese you fished out of your lunchbox daily, and squeezy yogurts that you stuck in the freezer to make into ice lollies on those (more frequent back then) days of stuffy summer. Frubes I’m looking at you! Dairy, seemed to be a fundamental part of the diet.
Marketing campaigns encourage parents to feed their children dairy products, enforcing the fact that without it they won’t get enough calcium to grow and have strong bones, ‘it will make you strongerer’. The fear of rickets is probably on most parents minds, so if the guidelines say to eat dairy, the children will eat it. What if they were lactose intolerant though? Around 10-20 years ago the only option you had as a dairy alternative was fortified soya milk. Probably sweetened. Most likely a bit gross. There wasn’t really much development in terms of dairy free milks, yogurts and cheeses, and the free from aisle…what free from aisle? If you were lactose intolerant you either gave it up cold turkey, or suffered the consequences.
I can’t pinpoint when exactly, but here in the UK, let’s say 5 years ago? Something triggered a small amount of the population to go dairy free. We also became more aware of the effects of soya on the environment and how it disrupts hormone levels (particularly for us women). The dairy free market was steadily growing, the occasional almond and coconut milks were accessible, still didn’t taste that good- mainly water and emulsifiers – so the need for creamy dairy wasn’t ever satisfied. You know it’s become a thing when Starbucks catch onto the trend and almond and coconut milk become an optional extra, with a 30p charge of course. Soon the media channelled into it spreading the word that dairy is the devil, it leads to cancer and causes osteoporosis, and every other ailment under the sun.
Around the same time, another tribe of people were touting that low fat dairy should be avoided at all costs. You can still eat your cheese, yogurts, milk and butter, but ensure that it is full fat. The higher the better for some, swearing off high fat – low carb diets. Bulletproof coffee (that is indeed coffee blitzed with butter to supposedly give a creamy drink without the crash from the caffeine), full fat yogurt, choosing cheese over dessert and searching out raw milk if possible. Totally contrasting to the dairy free crowd, making it utterly confusing to us consumers.
There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to this problem for the time being. The government guidelines include dairy as part of a healthy balanced diet, it’s a good source of protein and calcium ensuring that you stick to lower fat varieties as the amount of saturated fat can be high. Personally, I find a happy ground in between all this conflict. I eat full fat yogurt (organic if I can, Yeo Valley is my go to), spread salted butter liberally on my toast and eat cheese when I want. I enjoy dairy. Cutting it out from my life would make me miserable and being unhappy doesn’t contribute to a healthy lifestyle. If you’ve ever experimented with removing or reducing your consumption of something, you will have realised that it penultimately ends up in being substituted with something else. The best dairy substitute by far is nuts, healthy though they are, you can always over do it. Need some cream, use cashews, spread nut butter instead of butter on toast, make cheese from cashews herbs and garlic, and milk from, yet again, more nuts.
Nuts aren’t the only culprits in the dairy free gang. Rice milk has been a favourite for many for years as it’s naturally very sweet, and coconut milk too for something a bit creamier and richer. Oat milk hailing from Sweden and even hemp, quinoa and tiger nut milk can all be spotted. If you’re wanting to switch up your milk routine and try something new here’s a list of dairy free milks that I would always choose. They are tried and tested, all of them with a different flavour which lends themselves to different things.
- Oatly – Oat Milk
A personal favourite, creamy milk which tastes as delicious chilled from the fridge as it does on your morning muesli or stirred into your porridge. Also note that it is one of the best dairy free milks for using in tea and coffee as its foams well and doesn’t separate. I tend to choose the blue Oatly carton as it is fortified with calcium, vitamin D, B12 and riboflavin and it is also cheaper than the organic version.
- Rude Health
I’m a huge fan of the company Rude Health, having sampled all of their range of milks (many times I may add) they still are a firm staple on my shopping list. Their almond, hazelnut and coconut milks all are made with a base of brown rice so are delicately sweet, perfect for those of you wanting some sweetness without adding sugar, and when blended into smoothies or lattes have a nice subtle flavour. Then there’s the ultimate almond for the purists – with a heftier price tag – and a higher percentage of nuts and none of the rice. The cashew milk too, which I’m highly fond of, purely made from cashews and water, it is the creamiest of the lot and makes a mean turmeric or matcha latte. All of the Rude Health milks have the added bonus that there are no emulsifiers or stabilisers so they do require a good shake before pouring. However if you’re worried about missing out on certain nutrients when you cut out milk, none of these are fortified so you may want to opt for another brand for the everyday use.
- Alpro – Unsweetened roasted almond milk
Alpro is well known by the masses notably for soya products, which has a bit of a bad rap. This almond milk though is the best of the lot they offer. Unsweetened and fresh, it’s the sort of milk that fits into your everyday life. More cost-effective too at the cheapest on offer, but with a very low content of almonds and quite a neutral flavour it may not be the most exciting for your tastebuds.
- Califia farms – Unsweetened almond milk
New to the UK and currently found in Sainsburys, Califia Farms is a bit of a game changer in terms of almond milk. Carageenan free, no added sugars and utterly delicious I have to add, this one is something to hunt down. It’s so good I enjoy drinking it as is, from a glass (and when I’m that desperate straight from the bottle) and that’s that. Also brilliant for use in hot drinks as there is no curdling and it isn’t thin so you won’t require half a carton to get your tea how you like.
Now what’s my stance on dairy? I love the stuff and have tried (vow to never again) giving it up, and believe that if you aren’t allergic or intolerant and most importantly you enjoy it, don’t deprive yourself. Dairy is high in saturated fat but as long as you don’t overdo it, there will absolutely be no problems. Here’s some of the dairy products that I like to eat, I always try to stick to organic if possible and mix it up by consuming not only cows milk, but sheeps, goats and buffalo too. You will be surprised how many of your favourite cheeses aren’t actually made from cows milk.
- Yeo Valley – Natural yogurt, Greek style yogurt and salted butter
I love this brand as all of their products are organic the cows are fed on luscious grass and made in Somerset . I always return back to their natural yogurt, or the greek style if I want something richer, as it has a good tang and you can find it in most supermarkets and even corner shops. The butter too is lovely, a bright marigold yellow with a little salt, spread it on sourdough. That’s what you call heaven.
- St. Helen’s farm – Goats yogurt
This may be a dividing option. It’s rich, but with a salty savouriness that balances all out. The flavour too is much stronger than a cows milk yogurt so a little goes much further. Dolloped on a crumble, topped with strawberries or strained to make a labneh. Perhaps keep it real simple with just a drizzle of local honey and a little pinch of salt, bloomin’ marvellous!
- Feta cheese
The most famous of offerings from Greece. That salty crumbly cheese that none of us can get enough of. It makes every meal better, whether that be avo on toast, a mundane salad, a sandwich or a pile of broccoli. Add feta and automatically it is elevated. Traditionally feta is made only from goats milk so try to opt for one of those, searching in your local Aldi or Lidl should do the trick.
Halloumi tends to be the vegetarians’ choice (and eaten by all the carnivores too) particularly when BBQ weather rolls along. You Nando’s aficionados will know the drill. Squeaky cheese, as my mum refers to it, takes on flavours well so when marinaded and griddled to leave blackened scorch marks, that rivals any sausage or chicken drumstick. Another cheese which traditionally is made from goats or ewes milk and found in the Mediterranean sunnier climes of Cyprus.
- Longley Farm – Crème Fraîche
From a dairy local to me comes this crème fraîche. Alongside many yogurts, butters, milk and creams they produce, this is the better than any supermarket version. If anyone knows in more detail, please back me up on this, but supposedly this is the only variety of cream available to buy in France. Crème fraîche goes through a fermenting process to give it that tang, meaning it lasts longer in the fridge and is better for our digestion than cream.
- Godminster – Organic Cheddar cheese
Having worked a stint in a farm shop and on a cheese counter, a good few chunks of cheese came my way. Blue, Cheddar, Lancashire, Cheshire, Brie, goats cheese, I like them all, but when it comes to making a cheese board I know that a good cheddar will always be the first to disappear and everyone fights for the last slither. This Cheddar cheese from Somerset is mature and punchy enough to stand up to any chutney, but still creamy and lingers on your palate…until the next piece. Available to buy in the UK at many delis by the slice or in individual truckles. Grated into a cauliflower cheese or sliced in a cheese sandwich, guaranteed it will be the best you have ever made.
To wrap it all up, I still don’t think there’s an outright decision on whether we should be eating dairy or not. Do what works for you. I do try to limit my dairy consumption, so that means substituting dairy milk for a plant based milk instead, for environmental reasons mainly as methane production is one of the main causes of global warming. Milk is something in the western diet that is consumed at least once a day, particularly for us Brits – we’re all rather partial to a cuppa – very swiftly by switching that up you’ll be eating and drinking much less. Yogurts, cheeses, butter and cream don’t tend to be an everyday thing. Also yogurt and crème fraîche (and some butters if they’re french) are all fermented or cultured. They’re beneficial to our guts and if you’re not a huge fan of other fermented products such as sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi they are a good way of getting those good bacteria into your diet.
Do what’s right for you, your lifestyle and your budget. As long as we’re all ensuring to eat as many vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, mainly plant based, then that cheeseboard and a glass of vino, it’s there to ENJOY!
Until next time