It's possible to have a healthful diet without dairy foods.

Emily Heikes dropped dairy foods from her diet about a year ago.

“I ordered milk for breakfast in a restaurant and I got really sick. Not long after that, I bought some milk in a store and it made me sick again. I thought, ‘Maybe it’s not the best thing for me,’” said Heikes, 22. So she went dairy-free.

The Springfield woman is one of many people who have deleted milk, cheese, sour cream, butter and other dairy products from their diets. Some suffer from lactose intolerance, some have milk allergies, some have chosen not to eat animal products on principle and others say their health is better without them.

“I feel so much better when I don’t eat dairy, I think it’s better for the environment and I’m concerned about animal welfare,” said Heikes. In fact, she has since given up all animal products and has gone vegan.

When milk causes trouble

Milk and dairy products usually are derived from cow’s milk, which is perfectly formulated for calves. Human babies would get sick drinking cow’s milk, so infant formulas based on cow’s milk are altered so that babies can safely digest them.

Cow’s milk contains many proteins, such as casein and whey. For people with milk allergies, proteins often are the trigger. Milk also contains sugar, or lactose, which causes problems for people who are lactose intolerant – they have trouble digesting it.

Milk is considered a good source of nutrition, especially for children. It has vitamins, calcium and proteins and is further fortified with vitamins A and D. But it is possible to have a healthful diet without it.

“I think the transition is kind of hard. But as long as you put a little effort into it, you can do it,” said Heikes.

Alisa Fleming is the senior editor of Allergic Living Magazine, editor of the website and author of “Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook.”

“People tell me that cheese is the thing they miss most. But the cravings do go away,” said Fleming, who has a milk intolerance. “For those really addicted to cheese, most people find the craving goes away in six months to a year. If it doesn’t, they’re probably cheating.”

Dana Bueno of Springfield said “no” to dairy more than five years ago in an effort to help with sinus problems. Giving up cheese was a hurdle for her but she found a substitute she likes: Daiya brand, which she buys at Food Fantasies in Springfield. She shares her favorite dairy-free recipes on her website,

Other tips for the dairy-free eater:

- Get calcium. Milk isn’t the only food with calcium. It’s abundant in almonds, blackstrap molasses, broccoli, enriched soy milk and rice milk, figs, leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale), salmon with bones, sesame seeds, soybeans and tofu, among others.

- Find milk alternatives. Try soy milk, rice milk or almond milk. Both Heikes and Bueno drink almond milk.

- Seek help. If you’re new to dairy-free eating, check out websites such as,, and for more information and product recommendations.

Restaurant dining

Eating in restaurants can be tricky for anyone with dietary restrictions. It’s the same for diners avoiding milk products.

When Fleming dines out, she questions the servers about the ingredients in the dishes, and asks if they can be made dairy-free. She offers this advice:

- Go ethnic. Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines are nearly dairy-free. African, Italian, Indian and Greek have plenty of no-dairy options.

- Unload the potato. Skip the sour cream, butter and cheese that come on a loaded tater or whipped into mashed potatoes. Dress a potato with salsa or a nondairy salad dressing.

- No cream in the coffee. Ask for soy milk to put in your coffee or tea. Many restaurants have it. Or bring along a packet of soy- or rice-based creamer.

- Dress salads lightly. French or honey-mustard dressings, vinaigrette or oil and vinegar make good dairy-free salad toppers.

- Double check on cheese. Chefs love to sprinkle parmesan on everything. Even if you’ve ordered “no cheese,” the request may not have been fully conveyed to the kitchen. Fleming has learned to say, “and there won’t be any cheese on that?” for just about everything she orders.

She also suggests looking at the restaurant menu online before you leave, or call ahead and ask about dairy-free options.

“When you sit down to dinner,” she said, “you’ll be able to enjoy your food.”

Check the label

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires that foods with milk ingredients use the term “milk” on the label, either in the ingredient list or in a separate “contains milk” statement. But the following words may also be a tip-off that the product contains milk ingredients: artificial butter flavor, butter fat, butter, butter oil, casein/caseinates, cream, curd, custard, ghee, lactalbumin, lactoglobulin, lactoferrin, lactulose, nougat, pudding, rennet, Recaldent, whey, yogurt.

- Source: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dairy-Free Eating” by Scott H. Sicherer and Liz Scott

Dairy-Free Potatoes Au Gratin

6 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1/4 cup white flour
3 cups unsweetened plain soy milk
1/2 cup unsweetened plain soy yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil 2 gratin dishes or a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish; set aside.

Slice potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick discs and sprinkle lightly with salt. Evenly layer the discs in the dishes and set aside while preparing the sauce.

Make the cream sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the 1/3 cup oil. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wire whisk for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the flour smells slightly toasted but is not burning. Whisking constantly, gradually add the soy milk, carefully pouring down the side of the saucepan. The sauce will sizzle and bubble slightly, and it is important to continue to vigorously stir at this point to prevent your sauce from burning or forming clumps of flour. Once the mixture is combined, whisk in the soy yogurt and salt. Cook until desired thickness; salt and pepper to taste.

Pour sauce over sliced potatoes in prepared dishes. Toss breadcrumbs with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle on top of potatoes. Lightly salt and pepper as desired and bake until golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Dairy-Free Creamy Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup dairy-free soy mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy yogurt
1/2 cup plain soy milk, almond milk or other nondairy milk alternative
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a blender, combine the soy mayonnaise, soy yogurt, non-dairy milk alternative, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, honey, olive oil, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried dill weed, onion powder and nutritional yeast, blending until well combined. Stir in the fresh herbs, Worcestershire sauce (if using) and salt and pepper to taste. Chill for 15 minutes.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Recipes are from

Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520.