Dairy Alternatives

Continuing on our nutrition Tuesdays, Deb Gleason has the second part of her series on dairy. Deb is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and vegan triathlete as well as co-founder of Wellness Warrior Coaching, a whole foods nutrition and multisport performance coaching company. Deb works with people to help them transition to a whole foods, plant-based diet to help them achieve their health, fitness, and performance goals.

In Part 1 of this series I talked about dairy being a poor fueling choice for athletes.  Dairy is heard to digest, and leads to an acidic and inflammation state in the body which hampers performance and recovery. So what are the alternatives to dairy that will not only satisfy the palate but keep an athlete’s body properly fueled and running smoothly.

Let’s talk about the calcium in dairy first. The type of calcium that is present in dairy products is very hard to absorb and despite clever marketing to sway us to believe the opposite North Americans have the weakest bones and most incidence of osteoporosis in the world. We also are some of the top consumers of dairy products. There are many common foods that are very high in absorbable calcium that beat dairy hands down. The following is a list of some of the best. Kale, broccoli, collards, bok choy, mustard greens, turnip greens, okra, romaine lettuce, seaweed, legumes including tempeh, and especially tofu made with calcium, fortified rice, soy, and almond milks, fortified juices, almonds, almond butter, flaxseed, tahini, sesame seeds and blackstrap molasses. Including these in a well balanced, whole foods diet makes getting enough calcium easy.

So if it’s not about calcium then what longing for dairy products be attributed to? I think it is a safe bet that when it comes to taste and texture dairy continues to play a huge role in our food choices. There is a sense of comfort that comes with a grilled cheese sandwich, a gooey slice of pizza or a bowl of ice cream on a hot day. The good news is that there are wonderful alternatives to dairy products like cow’s milk, butter, ice cream and cheese that are quite delicious and easy to find. If you want to make a better choice for your body and still please your taste buds these are the way to go.

Let’s start with butter. If you want to taste a really GREAT butter substitute try “Earth Balance” natural buttery spread. This stuff is so buttery and delicious it can even be used in Christmas shortbread. Look for it in the natural food section of most larger grocery stores.  Most margarine contains dairy in the form of casein, a milk protein. There are some margarine companies like Becel adding vegan margarine to their product line which is terrific. You can easily find those in your regular supermarket aisle.

Cow’s milk is easily replaced with plant based milks like soy, almond, and rice milk. The great part about using plant milks in your bowl of cereal is that they are usually fortified with all of the calcium and vitamin D you need in an absorbable form. If you are used to using cream in your coffee there are wonderful soy based coffee creamers available like “Silk for Coffee” creamer.

For many years there were no good dairy free cheese products available. Fear not, the days of cardboard-like dairy free cheese are over! It started with Earth Island Vegan Gourmet cheeses. They were a huge improvement and with some work you could get this cheese to melt in a sandwich or on a pizza. Things got even better when “Daiya” cheese came to the marketplace about a year ago.  This stuff has revolutionized vegan cheese like no other. Not only does it taste great, it melt easily and gets stringy and gooey just like the cow’s cheese we are used to. Check out their cheddar, pepperjack and mozzarella flavours. Pizza and grilled cheese, burritos and mac and cheese will never be the same. The other good news is Daiya is available at all natural food stores and at many Loblaws, and Superstore locations and coming to Sobey’s soon.

I can’t write about dairy alternatives without mentioning ice cream.  We all need a treat from time to time and non-dairy ice creams have come a long way. These days they are creamy and deeply satisfying. If you want the creamiest ice cream you can get try a coconut milk ice cream like Coconut Bliss or Purely Decadent Coconut ice cream. For a really amazing soy milk based frozen dessert, Purely Decadent “Peanut Butter Zig Zag” is a show stopper. There are fun vegan ice cream bars for you and the kids. Try “Tofutti Cuties” and “Marry Me Dessert Bars” as great summer treats.

The bottom line is simple, if you want to achieve your best athletic performance you need to fuel you body with the the best possible fuel.  Sticking with greens and legumes for their high levels of calcium and swapping out dairy products with plant-based alternatives is a great way to keep your body alkaline and functioning at a high level.

Be sure to visit Deb’s website and feel free to contact her directly at 613-290-8733 or drop her an email. Deb is also on Twitter: @debgleason.