When we asked Scarlett Dixon, author, blogger and owner of boutique PR agency, Partner & Bloom, to share her experience of giving up dairy for health reasons, we were surprised by the three things she discovered when cheese and chocolate were most definitely off the table!
Scarlett showing that dairy-free can be delicious..
While veganism has taken the world by storm in recent years, bringing the dairy-free lifestyle into the wider provision when I started my own health journey five years ago, the Free-From aisle looked far less exciting than it does today. After being presented with a severe dairy intolerance diagnosis I had to face the prospect of giving up my beloved chocolate and cheese, for good, prior to which my friends probably wouldn't have blinked if I'd have changed my middle name to 'Camembert'.
But alas, years of hideously debilitating symptoms caused by a reaction to casein, one of the proteins found in dairy, was enough to encourage me to seek alternatives. Here's what I learned along the way..
I discovered so many 'hidden' ingredients in food items Before cutting out dairy, I naively never really looked into what I was putting into my body. Sure, I might quickly have glanced over the calorie count, just to check it wasn’t hugely excessive, but I’d never really bother to look at the ingredients list. Now that I have to keep a close eye on the ingredients list, I was very surprised at how often dairy sneaks into the everyday foods we love, and how much we really eat. All too often, people hear of my allergy and say, “Oh yes, well, I don’t eat too much dairy myself either. I have oat milk in my latte” But you probably eat far more than you think you do, unintentionally. Rosé wine? Bizarrely, it often it has milk powder in. Salt and vinegar Pringles? You guessed it, there's milk hiding in there too! Gravy granules? They often bulk it with whey, derived from milk. The bloating stopped Of course main reason for cutting out dairy was to improve (or ideally, get rid of) my debilitating digestive symptoms, so while minimising the bloating was an aim, I didn't realise how much of an impact cutting out the dairy would have. Previously, I just expected to have to unbutton my jeans after a meal, rather than questioning whether it was normal that my stomach ballooned up whenever I ate. It used to be so bad that I’d have two or three different dress sizes in my wardrobe at any one time, because I never knew if I’d be able to squeeze myself into something with all the bloating going on. Thankfully, that’s now a thing of the past! My tastebuds changed When the creamy, cheesy dishes are off the menu for you, it’s then time to get creative with other recipes and experiment with flavour. Five years ago, I probably wouldn’t have eaten a tomato even if you’d offered me a lifetime supply of cheese. I just wasn’t keen. But I started introducing tomato and other vegetables into my pasta dishes and roasting them for dinner, adding herbs and spices on top, and they’re now staples of my everyday meals. Obviously when you cut something out of your diet, you do have to ensure you’re getting those nutrients elsewhere. I would recommend seeing a nutritionist to ensure you’ll be following a healthy meal plan while you make the change. In my case, the benefits of cutting out dairy definitely outweigh the first week of wondering how you’ll ever live without it. Because soon you’ll wonder why you ever put up with its hideous side effects in the first place.
Of course when it comes to cutting out or reducing any food groups, it's definitely advisable to do it in a balanced, healthy way and seek advice from your doctor or health practitioner.
For me, I had invasive tests to discover the culprit of my symptoms and eventually got to the bottom (no pun intended) of why they were happening, which was linked to dairy. However for many people, they can handle dairy in small doses. I follow the mantra of eating to make my body happy. If it makes my stomach hurt and gurgle, it probably isn't loving me and so I try and switch it up for something else. Vegan options are now readily available, however they can have hidden ingredients in them too - in the form of more sugar - so I prefer not to find substitutes and create flavours using wholesome ingredients instead - like coconut milk and date brownies!
Dairy-free dinner ideas to try..
Miso & Honey Salmon with toasted sesame seeds Sticky sweet chilli cauliflower with egg noodles
Creamy butternut squash risotto with coconut milk
Seared chicken fillet with pomegranate & broccoli salad
Chicken & red pepper wrap
Sweet potato salad with avocado & strawberries (sounds odd, but it's delicious)
About Scarlett Dixon
Scarlett is an author, brand consultant and blogger. She is also co-owner of Partner & Bloom, a boutique PR agency created to help businesses and brands bloom and grow.
Follow Scarlett @scarlettlondon
Follow Partner & Bloom @partnerandbloom