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The Dairy Addict Goes Dairy Free: Easy Plant Based Snacks

I fully admit I was a cheese addict.  I’m still kind of obsessed.  Two years ago I think almost daily staples for me included caprese in some form or cheese curds with my bell pepper slices.  My favorite foods as a child (and maybe an adult too!) were grilled cheese, mac and cheese and salads…which consisted of lettuce, cheddar cheese & cucumbers.  Also loved cheese pizza and still love ice cream and frozen custard more than almost anything.  I think I consumed more dairy products as a child than anything else.  So that made my osteopenia (decreased bone density, precursor to osteoporosis) diagnosis a big surprise at the time....but more about that below. This definitely makes me an unlikely candidate for being dairy free right? 

While I also don't eat meat and that is no big deal to me, dairy is different.  It hasn’t been easy and I don’t always like it…but I can’t ignore science and evidence based research.  I’ve read the research and dug for more and the clear answer is that consuming dairy products is not to my benefit.  And for me, it is also about the animals.  But getting to the point…

Why Less Dairy –  just a couple reasons of my personal reasons here:

  • Saturated fat & cholesterol.  We all should look out for sat fat and keep it to a minimum because it is incredibly easy to go overboard on.  Think about a cheeseburger with a side of cheese curds from Culver’s….that’s 21.5 grams of saturated fat right there which gives a person who eats ~2000 calories a day about 10% of their calories from sat fat not considering anything else they are consuming that day.  There is nothing wrong with having it in our diets or the occasional burger & cheese curds but for health reasons about 10% or less of fat consumption should be of the sat fat variety so think in moderation.  It’s important to include other fat sources in your diet like avocado, flaxseed, nuts, seeds for their phytochemical (and other numerous) benefits. 

  • The way it reacts with other nutrients. In thinking about that greek yogurt you like to eat with berries on top…. Did you know that the dairy can block the absorption of nutrients from the berries?!(1)  All those great antioxidants lost…research shows that combined with dairy those berries aren’t giving us what we think they are. While I love the taste of berries, a reason I focus on plant based foods like them are for the phytochemicals found in those foods and all the benefits we derive from them.  I don’t want to lose those. 

  • Speaking of dairy blocking nutrients, gotta bring up calcium.  When I found out I was considered to have osteopenia a few years ago, I was mad.  I've always worked out, gotten plenty of calcium and taken my vitamin D supplements.  We need dairy for strong bones right?   Well…actually not so much.  Research in teenage boys has found that per EACH glass of milk consumed daily, it raised the risk by 9% that a hip fracture would occur later in life.(2)  Countries with the lowest rate of dairy consumption (think Africa for example) have the lowest rates of osteoporosis.  Many things can affect your daily calcium loss (we all lose it daily) including protein in your diet. Think high protein = more calcium lost through urine.  Something to think about for the high protein diets, my fitness and bodybuilding people, is that your higher protein intakes see more loss of calcium especially when they are coming from animal products.  Your plant based protein sources do not cause AS MUCH calcium loss.  Since I’m on the topic, other culprits that may increase your calcium loss include caffeine, lots of salt in your diet and smoking. 

So these are a couple reasons I did or I should say do my best to eliminate dairy products.  I would call it about 95% gone from my diet.  If I go out to eat or to someone’s house where dairy free isn’t much of an option, I will eat some, but not at home and not the strong majority of the time.  But also – BALANCE.  If I want something, I will have it.  In moderation.  I don't believe in total restriction of anything however I try to make "better choices" (that's why I keep perfecting the vegan mac & cheese). 

The benefits I’ve personally seen include:

  • Clearer skin (when I eat ice cream or cheese, especially more than once, I tend to see breakouts following.  In fact, sadly it is starting… I had caprese Friday night and I woke up to the start of a painful lump. Research proves this by the way) (3)

  • Weight loss (without any other changes I simply “just lost” ~7 lbs)

  • Less joint pain (I can tell when I’ve been hitting the dairy too hard by waking up to an abnormally achy body)

  • Less bloat (many clients just tell me they seem bloated no matter what…I always say get rid of the dairy and see how it changes – it always works)

Benefits you don’t feel…but we know are there: (3)

  • Lowered risk of obesity

  • Lowered risk of certain cancers

  • Lowered risk of other chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, etc

Back to the point of this blog (I got a bit sidetracked).  My clients always ask what they can eat for their snacks if they aren’t pairing veggies with string cheese or cottage cheese or yogurt with fruit.   It seems to always come back to “how do I get the protein??” and the good news is you easily can without dairy. 

We often forget about protein in whole grains.  For example, my favorite bread (by Angelic Bakehouse) has 4 grams of protein per slice.  If you pair that with two tablespoons of natural peanut butter, now you are up to 12 grams of protein which is perfect – more than enough for a snack.  Also, I love that the whole grains are full of fiber…this is what pushes everything through our bodies and helps to stabilize blood sugar. 

Plant based SNACKS with protein.  Here’s a few ideas to try:

  • Whole Grain Toast + Natural PB

  • Whole Grain Toast + Avocado

  • Bell Pepper Slices + Hummus (hummus is SO easy to make yourself but there’s a million variations if you’d rather just buy…try Roasted Red Pepper or Sabra Taco – so so so good)

  • Almonds + Apple

  • Pecans + Pear

  • Pumpkin seeds + Banana

  • Sunflower seeds + Berries

  • Roasted Chickpeas (rinse a can of them, spread on a baking sheet, drizzle olive oil, garlic, black pepper & sea salt over them, bake at 400 for 20 min)

  • Smoothie: banana, berries, soy milk, flax seed  (Flax seed is a great source of fiber & also protein)

  • Smoothie: sweet potato, almond butter, kale, almond milk (WAY better than it sounds, I’ll post the recipe)

  • Soy, almond or cashew yogurt ( I like Kite Hill best) + Berries (absorb all those nutrients!)

If you are looking to cut back on dairy for any reason or become more plant based, give some of these snacks a shot.  Your body will thank you for all the extra plant nutrients!

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