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Dairy-free is not an easy lifestyle because you don’t realize how many things have milk or milk products in them.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Going Dairy Free

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It has to be one of the hardest things I have ever done – going completely dairy-free. My personal reason for giving up milk and all the delicious associated products made from it is simple: I am allergic. After all these years of not understanding why I couldn’t breathe well and thinking it was hay fever or a cold, I now understand that dairy had been my undoing.

Going to the ENT was an act of desperation. I was so congested that sleeping had become almost impossible. Walking around all day like a zombie from lack of sleep does something to you, and not being able to breathe right was an added burden driving me bonkers.

A very annoying allergy test on my arm revealed some little bumps that made my skin crawl. The nurse said not to scratch them as I waited 20 minutes, but as I watched their slow manifestation I wanted to leap out of the chair and scrape sandpaper over my arm. Luckily, I had my iPhone and started looking at CNN, and the time went by slowly and uncomfortably.

When it was over I found out that I am allergic to cats, weed pollen, house mite dust (who knew they had dust?), and a number of other things – but when I heard “milk” I almost fell off the chair. How was I suppose to go through Lent without pizza on Fridays? How could I live without cheese on my sandwiches, butter on my pancakes, or that ice cream cone in the park?

31QDyILMD0L.AA220_PIbundle-12,TopRight,0,0_AA220_SH20_Still reality sets in and as I drove home from the doctor I vowed to make an attempt at this new lifestyle. I went online and researched some alternatives – soy products, almond milk, rice milk, and so on. I went out and made some purchases, and after three weeks I have found some products that are better than others – the Go Veggie line of cheese substitute products are amazing. There are other faux cheese products that taste like shredded cardboard.

Of course, a big issue was the liquid stuff with which I am used to drowning my Corn Flakes and stirring into coffee. After trying soy, rice, coconut, and almond milk, I settled on almond with vanilla flavoring. It tastes the best in coffee and on cereal.

As for my need for ice cream, I tested a few different ones and found that  rice milk frozen desserts tend to be the best and most like real ice cream; the others all taste a little chalky. To be honest, none of them are like the creamy Breyers ice cream that I knew and loved.

I am still trying to find my way in this dairy-free world, but I am breathing better than I have in years. The added bonus is that I have lost nine pounds since starting this diet. The truth is I feel much less bloated now than when I was sucking done a milkshake or chowing down on a pizza smothered in cheese.

As an important experiment, last night I discreetly made a cheese-free pizza. I bought the dough, sauce, and Go Veggie shredded mozzarella substitute and got to work. My biggest fear was that the shreds would not melt like real cheese (though the writing on the package claimed that they would). 20 minutes later the pie came out of the oven looking like any other pizza pie I have ever made.

The true test was my kids – and they happily ate their slices and had no clue. I sank my teeth into a slice and it tasted just like the real thing. I rejoiced – with this faux mozzarella cheese I can have my pizza and eat it too!

The trick in this diet is to be careful when going out. Last week at my favorite Italian restaurant, I had to go down the list of appetizers with the waiter – discovering there was some kind of cheese in almost everything. I settled on a shrimp appetizer and for my main course I got chicken parmesan without the cheese – I know, that’s like coffee without the caffeine, but it still tasted great.

When deserts were served, people at my table got cakes with dollops of cream, cheesecake, cannoli, or bowls of ice cream. I settled for lemon sorbet, but I while I was a little envious of people being able to eat those dairy-based things, I was okay with it and the sorbet happened to be delicious.

Dairy-free is not an easy lifestyle because you don’t realize how many things have milk or milk products in them (like delicious chocolate), but once you understand the playing field you can take the ball, avoid the hulking dairy defenders, and keep heading for the end zone. Overall, for me being able to breathe better and feel better is the goal and well worth it.

Photo credits: Amazon


About Victor Lana

Victor Lana’s stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His books ‘A Death in Prague’ (2002), ‘Move’ (2003), ‘The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories’ (2005), and ‘Like a Passing Shadow’ (2009) are available in print, online, and as e-books. His latest books ‘If the Fates Allow: New York Christmas Stories,’ ‘Garden of Ghosts,’ and ‘Flashes in the Pan’ are available exclusively on Amazon. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated on writing mostly fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as a faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with ‘Blogcritics Magazine’ since July 2005 and has written well over 500 articles; previously co-head sports editor, he now is a Culture and Society editor. Having traveled extensively, Victor has visited six continents and intends to get to Antarctica someday where he figures a few ideas for new stories await him.