Want to Ditch the Dairy? Try These 11 Smart Swaps

Updated: May 26, 2021

Whether you are vowing to eat more plant-based foods or need to give up dairy for health reasons, we have ideas for smart swaps to help you lose the dairy without sacrificing flavor or taste.


Instead of butter, use olive oil

When cooking, replace this dairy-based animal fat with plant-based olive oil, suggests Rebecca Lewis, in-house dietician with HelloFresh, a meal-delivery service. “If you are feeling adventurous, you can also try cooking with coconut oil—but know that it does lend a particular flavor to the food,” she says. If you are baking consider other options instead of butter. “When baking, swap out butter for sweet bananas, creamy ripe avocado, or silken tofu,” Lewis says.


Instead of cheese, try yeast flakes

Those with dairy sensitivities will often find that the firmer the cheese (we’re looking at you Parmesan and pecorino), the easier it is to digest. “However, if you’re looking to completely kick dairy to the curb, nutritional yeast flakes are the way to go,” says Lewis. “These dairy-free and gluten-free flakes are an inactive yeast grown on sugar cane and beet molasses, then dried into a flake or powder form. They have a savory cheese flavor and are also an excellent source of vitamin B12—a bonus to all the vegetarians/vegans out there.” (Here’s what happens when you stop eating dairy.)


Instead of milk, try soy milk

With the rise of dairy-free needs, we have also seen an increase in the availability of dairy-free yogurts and milks. “Soy, almond, and coconut milk/yogurt are now a staple in most grocery stores and still contain those gut-loving probiotics we love,” continues Lewis. “These nut-based milks are better for your waist-line as well.” For example, she says, almond milk is low-calorie, cholesterol free, and nutrient dense: An 8-oz. glass has 60 calories (compared to 120 calories in 8 ounces of 2 percent reduced fat cow’s milk). It’s also lower in sodium, fat, saturated fat, and carbohydrates. Here are more benefits to going dairy-free.


Instead of sour cream try an avocado

When it comes to sour cream, a simple swap is to substitute luscious and silky avocado, Lewis says. And if you’re feeling especially adventurous, try using cashew cream. “The flavor will knock your socks off,” says Lewis. (Read up on the avocado benefits you didn’t know about.)


Instead of cheese ravioli, try mushroom

Sure, cheese ravioli is a quick weeknight meal idea that goes from freezer to plate in no time. But, for a ravioli that’s dairy free, and not stuffed with animal-based protein like meat or seafood, Matthew Sade, CEO of Kite Hill, suggests his company’s almond milk ricotta ravioli. The filling contains a combination of portobello and shiitake mushrooms whipped together with almond milk ricotta and Marsala wine.


Instead of sour cream dip, try almond milk yogurt

For a ranch dip idea for entertaining without dairy, Sade says dip with sour cream to be swapped for dip made with Kite Hill’s plain unsweetened yogurt. Here are some more dairy-free recipes perfect for entertaining.


Instead of water in soup, try nut milk

Soups with creamy bases tend to be comforting and delicious, but they can’t be enjoyed by those with dairy restrictions on their diets. “For richer soup, feel free to substitute a portion of water with nut milk,” suggests Talia Segal Fidler, nutrition curator at The Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley, Pennsylvania. “Blending the soup ingredients in a high-speed blender will result in a creamy and rich consistency with no need for added cream.”


Instead of ice cream, try sorbet

You can’t go wrong with fruity sorbets that are fresh, bright, and dairy-free. Or if you’re longing for that richness, try coconut ice cream or almond milk ice cream, says Fidler. And, don’t let the indulgence stop there: Top your ice cream with spiced nuts or chopped up berries or bananas.


Instead of cheese pizza, pile on the veggies

By stripping away sodium, fat, and salt, you can pull yourself away from cheese pizza’s gravitational pull, says Neal Barnard, MD, author of The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy. “Instead of topping pizza with cheddar or mozzarella, try mushrooms, artichokes, garlic, and hot peppers,” he says. “Most vegetables have a low-glycemic index and are viewed as the least addictive foods. There’s no limit when it comes to microgreens, red peppers, and arugula. Pile on the veggies, hold the cheese.” (Find out the 13 things your pizza guy won’t tell you.)


Instead of feta cheese, try tofu

Traditionally topped with feta, the cheese in a salad can easily be replaced with crumbled tofu or a few avocado slices and your favorite spices, says Dr. Barnard. “This saves your heart from having to work harder to regulate sodium intake and pump blood throughout your body. A couple of servings of cheese contains more than 750 mg of sodium—half the recommended amount we should eat in a day. Here are some more ways to boost your calcium without dairy in your diet.


Instead of milk-based smoothies, try coconut water

Convenient and filling around-the-clock, try leaving out dairy next time blending, suggests an article in the New York Times. The article suggests using fruit, almond milk, coconut milk, water, or coconut water to create smoothies that are low-carb and dairy-free. Check out 7 more tricks to making a healthier smoothie.