A few years ago, it was difficult to find dairy-free milk and nearly impossible to find other dairy-free products at a conventional grocery store. Now, thanks to increased awareness about food sensitivities, it’s much easier to find dairy alternatives without having to make a special trip to the health food store.
But can your standard keto diet make the big switch to dairy-free? It’s no secret that many keto recipes incorporate dairy products, but thankfully, there are plenty of dairy-free — and keto friendly — alternatives.
Before we dive into the details of a dairy-free keto diet, let’s review the benefits of dairy and how to replace those nutrients.
What Does Dairy Bring to the Keto Table?
Browse through some of the most popular keto recipes, and it’s apparent that dairy products play a starring role in many recipes. Cheese, butter, and cream — to name a few of the top dairy products — find a place in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert recipes. Whether it’s cheesy eggs for breakfast or Creamy Keto Stuffed Chicken for dinner, it can seem as if dairy is everywhere.
Dairy products bring a lot to the proverbial table. A study published in Food and Nutrition Research highlights that the consumption of dairy reduces the risk of childhood obesity, facilitates weight loss in adults, and decreases the chance of developing cardiovascular disease. 
As far as nutrient content, dairy products supply a healthy amount of calcium and vitamin D, which are both essential for healthy bones and teeth. You’ll also get healthy fats and protein. One tablespoon of butter, for example, contains 11.1 grams of fat and only 0.1 gram of carbohydrates. This means that dairy, especially butter, can help individuals following keto to reach their daily fat consumption goals without the worry of too many carbohydrates.
Why Go Dairy Free on Keto?
Most people tolerate dairy just fine, but some even struggle with the low-lactose products. An estimated 65% of the global population struggle to digest lactose properly. Research also shows that some individuals with lactose intolerance can consume up 15 grams of lactose per day.  However, others may find that it is better to avoid lactose altogether.
Although dairy products contain fat, protein, and lactose, some fermented dairy products have very little (or even zero) levels of lactose. In kefir, for instance, “good” bacteria consume the lactose, which is a type of sugar. As the fermentation process completes and the bacteria consume the sugar, there is very little lactose left. Harder cheese — which ages longer than softer cheese — also has less sugar and therefore less lactose than softer cheeses.
Going dairy-free may be right for you if you’re:
- Struggling to become fat adapted
- Dealing with eczema (a common sign of lactose intolerance)
- Experiencing GI symptoms including diarrhea, indigestion, flatulence, bloating, and gas
- Trying to manage an autoimmune condition
- Stuck at a weight plateau
What to Eat on Dairy-Free Keto
Even without dairy, it is possible to adhere to a keto-friendly diet. Even though dairy alternatives are abundant, it’s a good idea to make sure the rest of your diet includes the nutrients that dairy typically provides such as calcium, vitamin D, fat, and protein.
Thankfully, it’s not too hard to find keto-friendly foods rich in vitamin D and calcium. For instance, the average can of Atlantic sardines provides 351.4mg of calcium while 100 grams of raw spinach provides 99 grams of calcium.
Need a butter replacement? Duck fat and ghee (technically a butter product in which lactose is removed) are good additions to a dairy-free keto diet.
In general, a dairy-free keto diet should contain:
- Animal-based and plant-based oils. This includes coconut oil, duck fat, tallow, and more.
- Protein sources such as red meat, poultry, and seafood. Eating sardines and canned salmon (with the bones) ensures that calcium and vitamin D are consumed.
- Low-carb vegetables, especially dark, leafy greens. Again, raw spinach helps to achieve the calcium goals needed for healthy bones and teeth.
- Low-carb fruits. Most fruits contain high levels of carbs, but avocados are a great addition to a dairy-free keto diet. Avocados can be used in place of creamy, dairy-based spreads.
- Nuts and seeds, especially high-fat choices such as almonds and macadamia nuts.
- Dairy alternatives. Need milk for a recipe? Don’t worry. There are plenty of milk alternatives
Non-Dairy Fat Sources
Dairy is often incorporated into keto recipes because of its high fat content. For example, one tablespoon of cream cheese adds five grams of fat to a recipe. Remember dietary fat is the foundation of the ketogenic diet. Your body stays in ketosis thanks to the high fat intake and low carb intake— using those ketones for fuel. Even without dairy, it is possible to achieve a high fat intake, and there are plenty of dairy-free fat sources to add into your diet.
Non-dairy plant-based fat sources include coconut oil, MCT oil, and olive oil. Non-dairy animal fats include lard, tallow, and duck fat. Ghee is often included in this list, although it is technically made from butter. During the heating process, the milk fat is separated from the liquids, which means ghee is essentially butterfat without any of the lactose.
Ready to Start a Dairy-Free Keto Diet?
Whether you’re just starting out on the keto diet or you’re a keto veteran just trying to eliminate symptoms of a dairy sensitivity, a dairy-free trial can help give you the answers you need.
- Thorning, Tanja Kongerslev, et al. “Milk and Dairy Products: Good or Bad for Human Health? An Assessment of the Totality of Scientific Evidence.” Food & Nutrition Research, Co-Action Publishing, 22 Nov. 2016.
- Szilagyi, Andrew, and Norma Ishayek. “Lactose Intolerance, Dairy Avoidance, and Treatment Options.” Nutrients, MDPI, 15 Dec. 2018.
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