Greek yogurt and whey protein seem to be the go-tos when we’re low on protein, but what if you’re unable to eat either of these foods? For many of us who choose to leave dairy (such as whey, casein, cow’s milk and goat’s milk) out of our diet, finding adequate and creative substitutes for dairy can be a bit daunting, especially since many alternatives also have added carbs and fats due to the foods they are derived from. So we’ve put together this helpful guide but you can also get your own WAG coach to help you navigate specific dietary needs!
Whether you find yourself accidentally out of yogurt in the fridge one day or intentionally leave dairy out of your diet, we hope this article and the corresponding infographic charts will give you more ideas for how to fulfill your macros with non-dairy sources. Many of these substitute foods will also work well for many of you following a plant-based or vegan diet.
Some tips to consider when using dairy alternatives:
Coconut Milk: This can come in either a box or in a can. The purest (and fattiest) canned coconut milk will have no additives or thickeners such as guar gum. Most boxed coconut milks will be slightly lower in fat compared to their canned counterparts.
Nut Milks (almond, cashew, macadamia): These milks are typically made from soaking nuts in water, blending the mixture into a thick liquid and then straining out the chunky solids to leave a creamy milk.
Seed Milks (hemp, flax): These are similar to nut milks but are useful if you have a nut allergy. Hemp and flax tend to be a little higher in fat content compared to soy, nut or grain milks.
Plant Milks (soy, peas): Soy milk is one of the most popular milk substitutes. If you have a problem digesting soy protein, pea milk is a delicious alternative.
Grain Milks (rice, oat): Use these when you are looking for a higher-carb alternative. These starchier milks are good substitutes if you have nut allergies but can tolerate some grains. Fun fact: Many baristas like using oat milk because it froths well for lattes!
Protein powders are an easy way to sneak a bit more protein into your day, or a quick way to replenish protein following a workout. Although many of the proteins below aren’t as quick-absorbing as whey, they are great alternatives to use for that post-workout shake, in a smoothie, for baking in recipes or even as a bedtime protein hot cocoa.
Plant Proteins (hemp, pea, soy, rice, pumpkin): Most plant proteins will have some carbohydrates (usually fiber) in conjunction with the protein macros, so a plant-based protein option is great if you are also looking to add some carbs. Since plant proteins tend to be slightly starchier and grittier in texture, they’re often good additions for baking substitutes that usually call for whey or casein protein powder.
Here are just a few brands that carry plant-based proteins:
For a longer list of plant-based proteins, see our blog and infographic about vegan protein sources.
Collagen Protein: Although not as quickly absorbed as whey protein, many dairy-free and egg-free eaters are finding collagen protein to be an excellent supplement for meeting daily protein requirements. There are also many additional benefits to adding collagen to your diet as it ensures you have plenty of building blocks to strengthen body parts that rely on collagen, such as skin, hair, nails, joints, tendons, ligaments and cartilage.
Here are a few brands that we’ve found:
Helpful Tips When Choosing Collagen Protein:
Grass-fed Beef Isolate Protein: Recently becoming popular, there are many beef isolate protein powders on the market now made from 100% grass-fed beef (and not the cows’ milk). Don’t worry, most of these do not actually taste like meat. In fact, many of them are flavored just as well as the popular chocolate and vanilla varieties. Some brands that make beef isolate are:
Beef isolate proteins tend to be slightly grittier than smooth whey powders, but they can be used similarly to whey proteins in baking. While many beef isolate powders should dissolve in a standard shaker bottle, you will achieve the smoothest consistency mixing this powder in a blender.
Egg White Protein:
For those of you who still enjoy eggs, egg white protein will give you a high-protein bang for your buck.
You CAN still make your overnight oats without using a cow’s milk yogurt! While many yogurt alternatives may not be as high protein and low fat as traditional Greek yogurt, there are many brands and varieties that come close enough to the texture and taste of this fermented treat.
Plant-Based Yogurts (soy, pea)
Soy and pea yogurts will be some of your higher vegan protein alternatives that don’t also have high amounts of fat. The texture of many pea-based yogurts can feel a little chalky (think milk with lots of pea protein powder added in to thicken it up).
Here are some brands of various pea and soy yogurts:
Coconut yogurts will usually contain some fat (although the So Delicious brand is lower in fat than some others). The thicker texture in these yogurts is usually due to the high amounts of coconut cream and pulp used in the fermented liquid.
If you’re a DIY person, it’s also possible to culture your own yogurts at home if you have a vegan milk culture and a means of controlling the temperature to allow fermentation (either with an instant pot or a yogurt maker).
Nut & Seed Yogurts (cashew, flax, almond)
There are some yogurt brands that utilize and ferment nut milks to make yogurt. These yogurts may have a milder flavor than coconut milk or pea-based yogurts.
Note that many yogurts in this list may incorporate some sort of thicker additive, such as guar gum, to achieve a thick, creamy texture without the addition of fat.
There are some brands that make cheese in shredded or sliced form that has a gooey, stretchy texture when melted:
Many of these cheese-shred alternatives use soy or nuts, so read your labels if you are trying to avoid certain foods!
Go to any vegan section of your grocery store and you will probably find several types of shaker cheese alternatives:
Make Your Own! Homemade “Cream Cheese”
It is actually very easy to make your own soft “nut” cheeses and spreads at home!
If you have a bullet blender or food processor, you can soak nuts (peeled Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts) in water overnight.
The next day (or several hours later) drain the nuts, then blend until smooth in your blender or food processor, adding a little bit of liquid or milk at a time to reach the consistency you desire. You can also add unflavored protein powder (collagen protein is excellent for this) to increase the protein content of your cheese. Other flavor additives to help your cheese feel a bit tangier and “cheese-like” are:
If you would like your cheese block to be more solid, you can also blend in a small amount of gelatin powder dissolved in hot water. The gelatin will solidify when it gets cool and give your soft cheese a little more structure to cut through with a knife.
Butter and Coffee Creamer Alternatives:
Need ideas for how to cream up that coffee drink without the dairy? Here are a few:
Solid Spreadable Butter Alternatives:
What fun would this article be if it didn’t contain ice cream? Most frozen treats are pretty easy to find alternatives for (just browse your frozen food aisle and look for that “dairy-free” label!). Here are a few of our favorite go-to brands to get you started:
Don’t forget that sorbets are dairy free as well! These are usually exclusively carbs due to the high juice and fruit content and are excellent choices for those high-carb refeed days.
Make your own! You can purchase Popsicle molds and blend your own frozen treat. This is also a great method to add more protein to your Popsicles! Blend your favorite milk with a protein powder and juice or flavorings of your choice, pour into Popsicle molds and freeze until you just can’t wait any longer. You can also pour the mix into an ice cream maker if you have one. Here are some ideas for homemade Popsicle mixes:
Where Can I Find Many of These Alternative Food Items?
Fortunately, the quest for “alternative foods” has become more popular, as many companies are noticing a demand from consumers who need to substitute foods due to food sensitivities, food intolerances, and allergies or just personal preference. We’re always finding new products and brands on the shelf every day.
One of the biggest ways we come across these brands is through the recommendations of many of our members! We have many clients (and coaches) who choose to avoid or leave certain food groups altogether because omitting these foods makes them feel better overall.
At WAG, our quest is to help you find the foods and nutrition that make you feel your best, regardless of what you choose to leave out or leave in your diet. If you feel that you need some guidance when it comes to finding the right foods and nutrition that works for you, our WAG coaches can help you through the process.
One of the benefits of being a #TeamWAG member is having access to our supportive Facebook community, where we share a plethora of practical recipe ideas, unique product finds and ways to navigate dietary restrictions, as do other #TeamWAG members who may also be experiencing the same dietary needs as you.
Become a part of our community and get the support you are looking for to make your nutrition the best it can be.