The keto diet seems simple, but there are differing opinions about a few details. How much protein you should eat is a big one.
And the other hot-button topic when it comes to the ketogenic diet? DAIRY.
The fact of the matter is — the keto diet is dairy-friendly. When dairy is full-fat, organic or raw, and sourced from healthy, happy cows.
But if you’re not losing weight on keto or you’re simply not feeling better and more energetic after going low-carb, high-fat, then dairy just might be your problem.
Yes, even if you’re not allergic or sensitive to dairy.
And what if you are lactose intolerant or you have a casein allergy or sensitivity?
Not to worry. Even with a dairy limitation, a low-carb diet is full of delicious dairy-free recipes and alternatives. And with this dairy-free keto guide, you don’t have to feel left out of the fun just because you’re going dairy-free anymore.
One of the benefits of a keto lifestyle is the free-reign you have over high-fat foods that you might have once thought were off-limits. And yes, this includes dairy in all of its delicious forms.
The problem is, not everyone handles dairy the same. Here are some things to watch out for with dairy on the keto diet.
Dairy Allergy Or Intolerance
Not everyone can properly digest dairy. In fact, some people continue eating dairy for years without knowing that they have a dairy sensitivity.
It’s estimated that about 65% of the world’s population has a reduced ability to digest dairy. This is especially prevalent in East Asian cultures, where dairy consumption has historically been pretty low. West African, Arab, Jewish, and Greek cultures also see a higher prevalence of dairy sensitivity and intolerance.
Those of Northern European descent, however, tend to have an easier time with dairy as this is a culture that’s been consuming unfermented dairy for generations[*].
Dairy sensitivity or intolerance can stem from a few different issues.
Lactose intolerance occurs when your body doesn’t sufficiently produce the enzyme lactase to properly digest lactose ( a sugar found in dairy). The undigested lactose results in digestive symptoms which can include:
- Abdominal cramps
Some people only have slightly insufficient lactase and can still eat dairy. However, if your body doesn’t produce enough of this enzyme to break down lactose, you’ll notice digestive disturbances when you consume dairy[*].
Dairy allergy is another form of dairy sensitivity. Although it is not as common as lactose intolerance, the symptoms can be very similar.
With a dairy allergy, it’s not an issue with enzymes, it’s an issue with your immune system. When you have a dairy allergy, the proteins in the dairy can turn on an immune response because your body doesn’t recognize them.
Your body reacts as though the dairy proteins are invaders, and it tries to protect you by eliciting an immune attack. Some symptoms of dairy allergy include:
- Upset stomach
- Bloody stools
- Anaphylactic shock (in severe cases)
Most people are already aware that they have a dairy allergy, as the symptoms tend to be more serious. However, if the allergy is only slight, you may be eating dairy and causing havoc on your immune system without knowing it[*].
Weight Loss Inhibition
For some people, dairy can be the culprit behind your inability to shed those extra pounds. While dairy offers a delicious and fat dense keto-friendly option, it’s also easy to go overboard with it.
If you’re adding cheese and dairy spreads to all of your meals, those calories can quickly add up. While you don’t need to hyper-focus on calories on a keto diet, at the end of the day if you’re over-consuming calories the weight isn’t going to come off.
If you’re stuck at your current weight or have hit a plateau, try cutting dairy out. You could even just cut back for a few weeks to see if it allows for a weight loss breakthrough.
There has been ongoing concern about the naturally occurring hormones, as well as additive hormones that can be found in dairy products. Hormones, no matter where they come from, can have a significant effect on the health of your endocrine system.
The delicate balance of your bodies hormones is something that can cause significant issues when thrown off. Growth, development, and reproduction are just three physiological processes that can be disturbed by hormonal imbalances.
Research also shows that some dairy products contain estrogen and insulin-like growth factor hormones which may be involved in the development of breast, prostate, and endometrial tumors[*].
If you’ve never tried going dairy-free before it may be a good idea to try it out. Many people live for years with dairy intolerances and allergies and don’t even realize how much better they could feel.
There are a few different ways to test if you’re sensitive to dairy.
Many people recommend cutting dairy out entirely for three to four weeks and then adding it back in. This type of elimination diet allows your body to clear itself of dairy and hopefully, any sensitivity or immune response that the dairy is provoking.
You may notice within a few days or a week that you feel much different. On the other hand, you may not notice a huge difference at all, until you add dairy back in.
If you reintroduce dairy and have a reaction (bloating, gas, nausea, etc.) then you likely have some type of dairy sensitivity. However, if you add it back in and feel just fine then you’re probably someone who can consume dairy without a problem.
When you reintroduce dairy, it’s a good idea to do one type of dairy at a time. Also, try to keep dairy foods as pure as possible. For instance, plain yogurt, plain milk, and pure cheeses as opposed to flavored yogurt, ice cream, and pepper jack cheese.
The less factors that could contribute to a digestive reaction the better.
Dairy products can come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes dairy ingredients can be hiding in your favorite foods. Here is a comprehensive list of dairy products to watch out for on your keto diet.
- Cheese (all varieties)
- Milk (whole milk, dry milk, evaporated milk, milk solids)
- Cream (heavy, whipping)
- Half and half
- Cottage cheese
- Cream cheese
- Sour cream
- Whey protein
- Ice cream
Some dairy products and ingredients go by tricky names, here are some sneaky dairy ingredients to be aware of:
- Butter oil
- lactalbumin phosphate
Some food products that have hidden sources of dairy may surprise you. Always read the ingredient list when buying products like:
- Baked goods (cookies, muffins, cakes, pastries)
- Cream candy
- Mashed potatoes (even your best friends keto cauli mash may have some dairy)
- Salad dressings
- Vodka sauce
- Processed meats
The good news is; even without all of the dairy sources mentioned above, you can still have a satisfying keto diet full of variety.
Chicken, turkey, beef, bison, pork, and eggs are all dairy-free options on the keto diet. Any animal meat will work just fine as long as you make sure it isn’t processed with dairy ingredients. For instance, a turkey burger is great; however, a turkey cheddar burger won’t work.
Also, make sure that you’re keeping an eye on quality. Organic, free-range, grass-fed animal products are always best when possible.
Fats and Oils
Steer clear of fats that come from dairy products like butter and ghee. Instead, go for fat sources like olive oil, avocado oil, MCTs, lard, and tallow.
There’s an abundance of low-carb vegetables that you can eat while going dairy-free. Green leafy veggies like spinach, kale, collards, and lettuces, as well as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts are fantastic options.
Just make sure that when you’re out to eat or cooking at home that your vegetables are cooked and dressed in dairy-free fats.
Most fruit should be avoided on a dairy-free keto diet due to the carb content. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Berries like raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries can be consumed in moderation. And avocado (which is technically a fruit) is an excellent keto-friendly food. You can also use lemon and limes freely.
Nuts and Seeds
While nuts and seeds can provide a great source of fat, they also pack some carbs with them. Nuts and seeds like macadamia nuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, pecans, and sunflower seeds have a good fat to carb ratio.
Be aware when you’re buying nut or seed butters, sugar is often added so keep an eye on the ingredient labels.
Dairy plays a pivotal role in many meals. Luckily, the world has provided many different types of dairy alternatives so that you can continue to enjoy your favorite foods without the added dairy.
Here are some dairy-alternatives to look for:
- Almond milk
- Cashew milk
- Flax milk
- Non-dairy creamer
- Coconut cream
- Coconut butter
- Dairy-free cheese (always check nutrition panel for carb count)
Below are some delicious dairy-free keto recipe ideas.
Dairy-Free Breakfast Ideas
There are plenty of dairy-free options when it comes to breakfast. Even baked goods and scrambles can be made without the cheese and butter.
All the creaminess that you want in a smoothie without any of the dairy. This recipe adds a punch of protein with collagen instead of whey so you can have your dairy-free smoothie while still getting your protein in for the day.
Pancakes are a classic breakfast staple. This fluffy pancake recipe works great whether you’re following a keto diet, dairy-free diet, or gluten-free diet. Simply substitute the dairy milk with coconut milk.
This casserole is an excellent dairy-free option if you’re craving the richness of dairy. You’ll be so busy taking in the tastes of eggs and sausage you won’t even notice that there’s no cheese. The same concept goes for frittatas and scrambles.
Dairy-Free Lunch Ideas
If you like Greek food, there’s good news for you. That creamy tzatziki sauce? It doesn’t need to be made with dairy. This recipe calls for a delicious combination of ground beef and lamb, surrounded by all the delightful flavors of the Mediterranean like onion, lime, mint, and parsley.
When most people think of Mexican food, cheese and sour cream likely come to mind. In reality, however, Mexican food offers an incredible array of flavors and textures. This zesty taco salad recipe can be made with, or without, the cheese.
If you’re looking for a way to go dairy-free without too much thought, then go for the Asian-inspired meals. As mentioned earlier, Eastern cultures tend to use a lot less dairy in their dishes and therefore are a fantastic go-to when you’re looking for dairy-free options. These lettuce wraps offer a delicious flavor profile — sans dairy.
Dairy-Free Dinner Ideas
This dairy-free keto chicken recipe is loaded with flavor and texture. The unique use of hemp hearts adds a nutty flavor and crunchy consistency. And the best part is that they’re ready to go in only 15 minutes.
Using cabbage in place of noodles is truly an act of brilliance. You get all the delicious flavors of the romanesco without the added carbs.
This dinner classic is one of those rich and flavorful recipes that can easily go without dairy. There are so many flavors packed into this recipe you won’t even notice that it’s dairy-free.
Dairy-Free Dessert Ideas
Fat bombs are a cornerstone snack on the keto diet. While there’s an endless amount of ingredient combinations that you can choose from when making fat bombs — dairy definitely doesn’t have to be one of them.
These delicious caramel delights are made with coconut butter and nut butter.
Lemon bars are your zesty answer to dessert. If you’re looking for a little refreshing tanginess, these bars are not only dairy-free, but they’re gluten-free and sugar-free as well.
It isn’t really dessert if chocolate isn’t involved, is it?
This recipe omits dairy but adds in creamy avocado, giving these keto brownies a smooth and soft texture.
- Keto Pancakes with coconut milk
- Zesty Taco Salad without the cheese
- Keto Mocha Chia Pudding with dairy-free milk
- Zucchini Pancakes made with coconut oil and coconut milk
As you can see, there are plenty of keto-friendly dairy-free recipes out there. Whether you have a dairy allergy, sensitivity, or you’re just trying to lose weight, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor and enjoyment.
Even if you aren’t sure if you’re sensitive to dairy or not, this guide should provide a delicious and easy way to test dairy-free life out. Many people find that once they omit dairy they feel a lot better — so it may be worth a shot.