There are so many delicious dairy free milks, butters, cheeses, yoghurts, chocolates, creams and ice creams to choose from now made from oats, almonds, cashews, rice, coconuts ands soya we are quite literally spoilt for choice.
The Soy Myth
Soy has been consumed as a staple part of Chinese and Asian diets for centuries but only consumed in larger and more varied varieties of the West over the last 50 years, yet there are many health scare stories about soy circulating saying it contains oestrogens which can cause cancers and infertility. The question is does this hold any weight?
Does Soy Contain Oestrogen?
Soy contains phytoestrogens, a plant hormone, not the same as the mammalian oestrogen that we have, yet people hear the word oestrogen and run a mile. Unlike cow’s milk which contains lots of oestrogen, the phytoestrogens (isoflavones) in soy can bring many health benefits and are powerful antioxidants. Many other plant foods also contain phytoestrogens such as garlic, flaxseeds, dried apricots, other dried fruits and fennel but no one tells scare stories about these. The phytoestrogens are no bad thing either, in fact quite the opposite. They have been known to block oestrogen receptors and thus interfere with the ability of oestrogen to fuel certain cancers and can actually have a cancer-starving effect. Dr Neal Barnard confirms that women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and avoid soy do the worst – 30% increased risk of mortality compared to women who eat lots of soy.
Soy and the Environment
It’s also worth noting that many people seem to think that soy production is bad for the environment and causes deforestation but in fact there’s nothing inherently damaging about farming soy or any other kind of bean for that matter. Soy is a highly efficient protein sauce and the environmental damage associated with soy production comes from growing vast and unsustainable quantities of it to fatten up tens of billions of farm animals. Over 75% of the world’s soy bean crop is used for animal feed.
The Protein Myth
We have been led to believe that we need dairy and other animal products for protein but in fact all protein is initially made by plants, and it is not necessary to eat animal products in order to get protein. If you get protein from an animal it is simply recycled plant protein. A whole food plant based diet has all the protein you need and as Dr Colin Campbell says that level of protein is actually optimum for us. As long as we are getting calories from whole food plant based diet then we will be getting enough protein. Most Americans eat almost double the amount of protein they need which places a big strain on some of their internal organs. Unless you are malnourished, protein deficiency is unheard of.
The Organic Myth
Many people when they hear about the poor treatment of cows in the dairy industry just say ‘so I will buy organic in the future’ thinking that this label means green pastures and idyllic lives that the advertising wants us to believe. The reality is that organic dairy simply means cows have not been given hormones or antibiotics and must be fed organic feed, it does not mean cows have been grazing on pastures outside or benefit from any higher welfare living conditions. Organic dairy can actually mean more suffering for the cows. Primarily as dairy cows have such huge milk burdens painful mastitis is commonplace and organic dairy farmers are reluctant to give antibiotics to suffering dairy cows for fear of being stripped of their organic status. In turn cows with mastitis can have ongoing suffering and be in desperate need of antibiotics. Organic is a label to ease the consciences of consumers and can be very misleading in regard to improved animal welfare, much the same as the free range branding.
Plant Based Cooking
I now say that being vegan is both exciting and excruciating at the same time. Learning to cook and eat without dairy and other animal products has been the exciting part.
Since moving to a plant based diet I can honestly say that within a week I was starting to become the chef I had always wanted to be. I had this new drive and inspiration, a sense of oneness, intrigue and a whole new community and world.
The recipes that seemed gobbledygook to me at first with so many ingredients I had never even heard of. These new ingredients are now my staples and its rare I don’t have an ingredient for a new recipe. I was afraid and thought that plant-based recipes were for geeks and I would just stick to simple swaps and processed foods.
As soon as I bought nutritional yeast (only vegans seem to know this wonder product) I was more hopeful but still fumbling in the dark, however I wanted to cook, read recipes and plan, something I couldn’t be bothered with before. I bought a Bosh cookery book, and they used nutritional yeast in many recipes along with garlic powder, mushrooms, lentils, marmite, cashews stock, the picture slowly started to come together. Plant based cooking was all about flavour and taste. I made a few dishes and even swayed from the original recipe with my growing confidence. I read magazines and cookery books, joined Facebook vegan cooking groups, trialled new products from supermarkets and going to the health food shop was my new excitement. I started to make my own pizzas, home-made cashew mozzarella and dough, I’d watched the Buddhist Chef make one and was inspired. I had never made a pizza before or even wanted one at home before, but now I was becoming a chef, the one with the apron on that always has something on the go and feeds people.
Tofu, I would never even consider tofu as an option when there was meat to be had, what a waste of money I would think. My goodness, there was a whole world of tofu that I was missing out on, I now think tofu is a miracle food and when you learn to cook it well you wake up craving it. We have it for breakfast most days, fried in a teeny bit of oil and sometimes coated in cornflour and salt and pepper but always with a soya sauce, sriracha and sweet chilli dip. Tofu scramble I resisted and thought it was hype but one Sunday I made it with Kalanamak salt and herbs and spices, and we loved it. I joined the tofu appreciation society on Facebook for more ideas and when we discovered Tofu bacon, it was so good, we ate it every day for two months.
A few months into no dairy we bought some crackers from the supermarket. We ate some in the car on the way home from shopping, but they tasted very strange. We looked at the ingredients, and they contained cow’s milk. We tasted it, even in tiny amounts and rejected it. Give dairy free two weeks, and I’m sure you will do the same.
All dairy free means is replacing cow’s milk with oat milk or another plant milk (I like oat), buying plant-based butter (just as good as dairy versions), using cashews to replace everything creamy or cheesy along with nutritional yeast, buying dark chocolate, dairy free ice cream and then checking labels for hidden unnecessary dairy. I never missed cow’s cheese even though before my change to plant-based I had eaten it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Making vegan cheese is remarkably easy and totally rewarding and exciting. Once you have the ingredients and a blender you can make a delicious mozzarella or hard cheese in ten minutes, it will need to set in the fridge of course, but honestly it could not be easier.
Dairy Free Essentials
The plant based sections in supermarkets are growing and new products are coming out all the time. The market is flourishing and taste and variety are getting better and better. These are some of the products I use in my dairy free cooking.
Smoked Cheese Alternative
This is delicious and melts perfectly. It is my favourite shop bought plant based cheese by far, my non-vegan friends love this too. Widely available in most supermarkets.
Add these wonder flakes to any dish to add nutty cheese taste. Essential in dairy free cheese making. Use with ground cashews, garlic powder and salt for a delicious dairy free Parmesan in seconds. Buy in supermarkets or health food stores.
Oat Cream Alternative
A delicious alternative to dairy cream. 1% saturated fat compared to 10% for dairy creams.
Soya Yoghurt Alternative
This is perfect to replace dairy natural yoghurt. Mild and neutral tasting. I prefer this to coconut based plant yoghurts. Works well in cooking, dips and on its own.
Cashews are my cupboard staple. They add the creaminess, a cream replacer. I add them to soups during cooking before blending to replace cream. I blend them with nutritional yeast, garlic powder and salt to make vegan Parmesan, I make a variety of other vegan cheeses from scratch and so easily using them as a base.
Plant Based Milks
Most plant milks are fortified with many essential vitamins and minerals. However, organic plant milks are not so look out for this. The protein in cow’s milk is only matched by soya milk with oat and almond being 2/3 less. If you want protein you can always mix two plant milks together to get the taste and protein content you want.
Mother to Mother
Giving up dairy and animal products has never been easier. There are alternatives for everything and learning how to use new products and adapt old recipes to a plant based version is very rewarding and exciting. By giving up dairy you have everything to gain and so do the suffering cows. If we can enjoy food that is not only healthier for us but crucially doesn’t cause suffering then why wouldn’t we?