There are so many tasty keto recipes that contain dairy. This is because full-fat dairy is both high in fat and delicious and because keto recipes often turn to dairy for fat macros (daily calories from fat). Thus, if you’re avoiding dairy and attempting to start a keto diet, it can be frustrating; facing a sea of dairy-rich keto recipes, you may feel challenged to make the diet work and think “keto is just not for me.” But you absolutely can follow a ketogenic lifestyle and remain dairy-free! It may take a bit of effort to learn what alternative ingredients to reach for when cooking or to find dairy-free keto-friendly recipes that suit your taste, but dairy-free keto is still very doable. Read on and we’ll tell you all about it.
Why Some People Avoid Dairy
There are a variety of reasons people remove dairy from their diet, including allergies, intolerance, inflammation, issues with digesting dairy, autoimmune conditions, and skin conditions. Interestingly, a lot of these issues stem from just a few root problems.
Most dairy issues are a result of the immune system having an adverse reaction to one single element found in dairy called casein (the main protein found in dairy). In fact, casein is one of the more reactive foods for people who are struggling with their immune health, because when you can’t digest casein, the protein can be identified by your body as a foreign invader, and the immune system gets fired up to defend itself. This is also why intolerance to casein can contribute to intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”.
We’re now learning that it’s not just casein but rather the type of casein that matters. There are actually two types of casein: A1 beta casein and A2 beta-casein. European cattle (the majority of the cattle in the U.S.) contain A1 beta casein, which is the type of casein that many people struggle with. Evidence suggests that A1 beta casein significantly increases transit time (time between bowel movements) and increases inflammation and abdominal pain. Some health-food stores are now carrying A2 beta-casein products (from purebred Asian and African cattle); the form of casein found in this type of dairy does not create the same adverse responses in the body, which is promising for those who avoid dairy; it offers some hope that there may be some tolerable dairy products out there.
The other common perpetrator of dairy intolerance is lactose, the main sugar in milk. People with lactose intolerance don’t produce the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose so it can be digested. When lactose-intolerant people consume dairy, the lactose in that dairy ferments in the gut, creating digestive distress in the form of gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Why Some Dairy-Tolerant People Avoid Dairy on Keto
Some people remove dairy from their keto diet simply because they are struggling to lose weight while continuing to eat dairy.
Dairy contains a significant amount of protein. As you can see below, some cheeses are actually very high in protein. On a keto diet, protein intake should be moderate and eating too much of it can kick you out of ketosis. So some people avoid dairy to better regulate their protein intake.
Some people on a keto diet experience a significant glucose spike or ketone decline when they consume dairy–even if they’ve never been known to have issues with dairy. For anyone using keto for weight loss, this may be enough reason to delete dairy from the diet.
How to Tell if You Should Avoid Dairy on a Keto Diet
If you feel you already have reactions to dairy before starting a keto diet, it’s a good idea to continue on the dairy-free track. If you’re not sure how you tolerate dairy, the only way to find out is by testing your blood glucose and ketones for food sensitivity. If your glucose spikes or your ketones fall significantly after eating dairy, it’s a good indication that dairy doesn’t agree with you.
What You Can Eat on a Dairy-Free Keto Diet
If you’ve decided you want to be dairy-free and keto, you’re probably wondering what you can eat. So many keto recipes contain dairy. Fortunately, there are plenty of options and workarounds.
There are a lot of wonderful dairy-like, keto-friendly products on the market these days. Go to a well-stocked grocer and you may find cashew cream cheese to replace dairy cream cheese or almond yogurt, which is a good alternative to dairy yogurt.
Additionally, often the dairy in recipes can be replaced with non-dairy alternatives. Almond milk or coconut milk can often replace dairy milk in smoothies and baking. Just remember to watch macros when substituting ingredients in recipes and consider investing in a few great dairy-free keto cookbooks.
Even if you react to dairy, ghee, or clarified butter, may be a viable alternative to standard butter because its processing eliminates lactose. It’s not a good alternative if you have a casein allergy, however.
Non-Dairy Keto Snack Ideas
Easy dairy snacks like cheese and high-fat yogurt are off the table if you’re dairy-free. Once you get fully fat-adapted and in ketosis, you won’t have a desire to snack as frequently, but in the meantime, following are some of our favorite dairy-free keto snack ideas:
- Olives: All olives are loaded with good fats. But if the taste of everyday olives is too strong for you, try castelvetrano olives; they’re green, mild, nutty tasting, and really delicious.
- Berries with whipped coconut cream (make sure to calculate your macros to determine how much you should eat): take one (13.5-oz) can of well-refrigerated coconut milk, scoop the solid top part from the can into a mixing bowl (do not add any of the liquid part; save that for another use). Add ½ teaspoon of vanilla, and beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Serve with blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries.
- A spoonful of coconut manna, also known as coconut butter. Keep a jar on hand; when you get the urge to snack, a spoonful does the trick.
- Homemade dairy-free fat bombs. There are tons of recipes online for fat bombs, many of which are made with a nut butter and a coconut-oil base. Here’s one of our favorites.
- Nut-butters: Almond butter, tahini, and other healthy nut butters are perfect spooned straight from the jar or on keto slicing bread.
We know going keto and removing dairy from the diet can be challenging at first but here are a few recipes from our website for inspiration: