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The Adventures of Living Dairy Free…And What That Actually Means

Craig has a dairy allergy.  Technically, it’s an intolerance, but there’s no need to get into the difference between the two.  My point is that Craig can’t eat dairy.

So what does this actually mean?

Well, to answer that question, I think I’m going to start with what a dairy allergy/intolerance doesn’t mean:

It does NOT mean that Craig has lactose intolerance.

  • While it is true that Craig can’t have anything with lactose, there are a lot of things that Craig can’t eat that don’t contain lactose.  Furthermore, it’s not like Craig should just try to avoid dairy foods but could take a pill or something if he decided to eat a little ice cream or just a tiny bit of cheese shredded on top of a salad or something.  He can’t have dairy, period.  Not even a little.  While I’m on this particular point, I must add in that it absolutely drives me crazy when I see a (fake) cheese labeled as “dairy free” but find that it is actually only lactose free.  In my opinion, that is definitely false advertisement.

It does NOT mean that Craig can’t eat things that contain egg.

  • I’m not quite sure how many times a year people find out about Craig’s allergy and warn him that whatever he is about to eat contains eggs.  Craig CAN eat eggs.  Just because an item is found in the dairy section of a grocery store does not mean it is actually a dairy product.  This would be like warning someone not to eat jelly or jam because he or she is allergic to peanut butter.  Yes, those items go together, but no, they are not the same thing.

It does NOT mean that Craig and I automatically always eat super healthy food 100% of the time.

  • Craig and I both got bachelor of science degrees in health [and exercise] science, so we are in general very healthy eaters to start with.  However, we still like a good taste of some crappy (health-wise, that is) food every now and then.  Living dairy free means there are some unhealthy foods that Craig can’t have, but trust me, we have taken the time to find plenty of other ways to satisfy any cravings for empty calories.  The good eating habits we try to incorporate as part of our lifestyle has nothing to do with living dairy free and has everything to do us intentionally trying to live healthy lives.  Of course, you can pretty much always find a good amount of cookies and baked goods in our apartment, but no one’s perfect.  🙂

It does NOT mean that Craig simply can’t eat items where milk is a large ingredient.

  • Figuring out what Craig can and can’t eat is WAY more complicated than this, which leads me to what it really does mean to live dairy free.

Living dairy free means reading the labels on everything.

  • Most people don’t know that milk proteins are often used as a preservative in basic items you may find in the grocery store.  Craig obviously can’t eat anything that says it contains some variety of milk in the ingredients, but he also can’t eat anything that says it contains lactose, whey, or casien.

Living dairy free means finding particular varieties of different foods that Craig can eat.

  • Because milk proteins can be used as a preservative but are not the only option, Craig can eat certain brands of a particular type of food but not another brand of the same food.  For example, Craig can (currently) eat the Publix version of Fig Newtons, but not the name brand version.  In other instances, Craig may be able to eat the name brand but not the off brand of a particular food.

Living dairy free means always erring on the side of caution.

  • The key fact to keep in mind with this point is companies are always changing their ingredients.  Craig used to not be able to eat Oreos, but not he can.  There are other foods that Craig used to be able to eat but can’t eat anymore.  Because of this, we choose to error on the side of caution.  I read the ingredients on absolutely everything, no matter how many times I have gotten a particular item from the store and Craig has eaten it.  We never know when the ingredients will change, so we check every time.

Living dairy free means hours upon hours of research.

  • I’m not a vegetarian, and neither is Craig.  We don’t live dairy free because we want to.  We live dairy free because we have to.  That being said, my goal in cooking dairy free is not make something that tastes “good enough.”  I don’t have to eat dairy free, and Craig didn’t have to eat dairy free when he was younger.  We both know what amazing cooking tastes like, and I’m not willing to compromise good taste.  I literally will spend hours looking for the perfect ingredients to match color, texture, consistency, etc. of different dairy filled foods.  I my mind, if someone who doesn’t eat dairy free can tell a difference, than the food is not up to par.

Living dairy free means taking the time to cook from scratch.

  • I have been told by many different women that cream of mushroom soup is the key to everything in the kitchen.  You can throw it in the crock pot with just about anything, and you’ll end up with a great meal.  I mean how easy is that?!  Well, Craig obviously can’t eat cream of mushroom soup, as well as a lot of other things that would otherwise make cooking quick and easy.  I have to spend a lot more time in the kitchen cooking things from scratch.  Even if I did want to use a crock pot for something, it would likely just transfer preparation time from later in the day to earlier in the day, rather than lowering the preparation time altogether.

Living dairy free means that eating out is not always an easier option when we’re too tired to cook.

  • Eating out can be fun and relaxing, or it can be a huge pain.  We don’t enjoy being that couple,  the high maintenance couple that makes the waiter check with the kitchen about absolutely everything.  However, enjoy the idea of Craig getting sick even less.  Some restaurants, such as southern cooking restaurants, are better off avoided altogether.  At others, there are just certain foods that have to be avoided, and, as I said before, we always err of the caution.  If a restaurant doesn’t bake its own bread and isn’t sure of its specific ingredients, then Craig won’t eat it.

So, I married into a dairy free lifestyle.  I’m not saying that I always eat dairy free.  I still use skim milk on my cereal instead of soy, and Craig can’t eat my Special K Bars.  However, I have changed how I cook, bake, eat, shop, and think about food in general.  I am much more aware of exactly what I am eating, which I think is a good thing.

Yeah, it can be tough figuring out dairy free ways to create the same snacks, meals, baked goods, and more that everyone loves, but I’m definitely up for the challenge!

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