How to Shop Dairy-Free on an Elimination Diet

Red shopping basket filled with fresh food: bananas, pineapple, blueberries, potatoes, etc. sitting on the aisle way floor. The shelves are filled with juices and processed food snacks
Cheri Moore

Written by Cheri Moore

August 12, 2021

Did you just think, “Oh no! Not the word, eliminate and diet, in the same sentence.” Be encouraged, I am talking about a food elimination plan to improve your energy, clarity of thought, and mood. Basically, your behaviors. Do you or a loved one battle morning or afternoon fatigue; suffer from brain fog or headaches; experience mood swings, hyperactivity, explosive anger episodes, or irritability after eating? If so, I challenge you to take the plunge right now. Download the food elimination chart and track common symptoms of food allergies. I will help you learn how to shop dairy-free while on an elimination diet. Enjoy the numerous links to products and baking tips.

Something now is better than nothing at all.

Four pages from the Food elimination tracker PDF shrunk down to one image with a blue background

Download Your Free Food Elimination Tracker

Before I share a few tips on how to shop dairy-free while on an elimination diet, I’d like to share a little bit of background concerning why you may want to try an elimination diet.

Common Food Allergy Symptoms

When there is an actual food allergy, each exposure results in a more and more severe responses within the body. Unfortunately, you may experience responses in the body like hives or unseen like a headache. Another example of an unseen response is inflammation in the eustachian tubes. Thus, I challenge you to think about the meaning behind behaviors. Is there a pattern to your loved one’s headaches, unclear speech, or challenging behaviors? What did your child eat and when? Learning how to shop while on an elimination diet is overwhelming, so I started with dairy-free tips and resources.

The following food allergy symptoms should be tracked and shared with your pediatrician:

  • Headaches
  • Eczema, hives, rash
  • Runny nose, congestion
  • Poor ear health
  • Asthma, trouble breathing
  • Immediate GI distress: bloated belly, loose stools, vomiting
  • Anaphylactic reactions: swelling of the tongue or throat

Dr. Amita Shroff, MD explains the risk factors of increased middle ear fluid (not always infected) associated with food groups in her article, “Understanding Ear Infections — The Basics”. When eustachian tubes are inflamed, little ones pull on their ears; hit their head with their hand or against something; and may fail to respond as if they did not hear you. Swollen eustachian tubes diminishes one’s ability to hear others and even one’s own speech.

Developing a food elimination plan is a commitment.
It takes time for inflammation to go away changing behaviors.

Two Types of Allergy Testing

When my daughter started experiencing arthritis-like pain in middle school, I was alarmed. After seeing a doctor, my daughter was diagnosed with induced rheumatoid arthritis. Luckily, the doctor ordered two types of allergy testing: IgG and IgE.

  • IgG blood testing looks at antibodies in blood against foods.
  • IgE blood testing detects a true DNA food allergy.

My daughter’s test results showed no DNA food allergies. However, her IgG milk and gluten antibody test results were very high (12). Normal test results are less than 0.50. Finally, we could develop a plan to help her avoid an upset GI system, hives, and chronic pain. One of the first things I had to learn was how to shop dairy-free while on a food elimination diet. Through an elimination diet, we were able to remove the sources of inflammation. In my opinion, foods that cause an inflammatory response are as important to identify as foods that cause an allergic response. Over the years, her gut has healed to the point where she no longer has chronic pain. Now, she enjoys all foods on a rotational basis. Best of all, I am now learning from her at Steiger Family Farms where she shares recipes.

Challenging Behaviors Indicate Need for an Elimination Diet

Did you know that when challenging behaviors come and go, it is a clue that you need to try a food elimination plan? Foods influence behaviors. This is most apparent in diabetics who feel sleepy when sugar levels fall. But it is also seen in children who become hyperactive after eating chocolate.

In contrast, we rarely hear about inflammation in the brain and hearing system due to inflammation in the GI system from food. If this is new information, I encourage you to read my blog post, Six Foods Contributing to Inflammation. When a food triggers inflammation, your typically cheerful loved one may become moody, easily angered, or lose their self-control.

When infants experience colic and a diaper rash, they are experiencing a food or environmental reaction. Learn about new recommendations from the medical community in my blog post, How to Help the Sensitive Gut Baby and Toddler.

What is a True Food Allergy?

A true food allergy is caused by a malfunction in the immune system. When you consume a food allergen, your immune system identifies the proteins in the food as harmful. It then triggers the production of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. Why? Antibodies neutralize the protein. Your immune system stores this information in its memory. Wow! That is why the reaction occurs so quickly. The release of histamines and other chemicals causes an array of inflammatory responses like swelling, upset GI system, hives, and joint pain. When there is an IgG response, the reaction occurs more slowly. Sometimes, even the next day.

How to Shop Dairy-Free on an Elimination Diet

Sources of Inflammation

Cow’s milk is a common allergy and source of inflammation. There are two main proteins within cow’s milk that cause inflammation. Being able to identify these two proteins on nutrition labels is important when you begin shopping dairy-free while on an elimination diet.

  1. Casein – found in the solid part of milk that curdles, the curd. (cheeses, yogurt, butter, cream, puddings, milk, etc.)
  2. Whey – found in the liquid part of milk. (milk, protein powders, cheeses, etc.)
Tall glass cup in front of a turquoise backdrop. Milk is being poured into the cup from a pitcher outside of the image. The cup is nearly full of milk

A Third Area of Difficulty – Lack of digestive enzymes. For example, some people have difficulty digesting lactose, milk sugar. Typically when enjoying a milk-based food like ice cream, lactase enzyme deficiencies cause discomfort like cramping, bloating, and/or gas. More severe reactions are hives and diarrhea. Lactose intolerance is very different than a milk allergy because it is not an immune response. Thankfully there are lactase enzymes and Vanilla Lactaid Chewables that are easily found at stores like the Vitamin Shoppe, Walmart, and drug stores. However, I encourage you to shop dairy-free to minimize exposure to lactose.

A word of caution. I encourage you to discuss digestive concerns with your family physician. Digestive difficulties not explained by allergy testing are also associated with other medical conditions like Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn, and a sick gall bladder.

Alternative Dairy-Free Products Makes an Elimination Diet Easier

Today, numerous dairy-free products makes it much easier to eliminate dairy. My favorite product is Cashew Carmel ice cream.

  1. Nut or oat milks
    • My family prefers coconut milk. The original provides the most balanced taste and is good in cereal. If you need to avoid added sugars, the unsweetened does well for cooking and baking. However, it’s not something I would drink a glass of on its own.
  2. Pancake Mixes
    • Many pancake mixes have milk protein concentrates. Household brand names also tend to be made with bleached flour. I encourage you to read the labels carefully. Pancake recipes from scratch give you flexibility to add non-dairy milk, butter, and gluten-free flour like buckwheat. Best of all, you save money. I am looking forward to sharing my favorite maple pumpkin pancakes and apple cinnamon pancakes with you.
  3. Chocolate Chips
  4. Condiments

Alternative dairy-free products are numerous.

  1. Cheese
    • There are many vegan cheese options available for those with a true milk allergy. Look for brands like Diaya or Go Veggie.
    • If not allergic, try goat or sheep cheese. Although both contain casein (a protein), they contain very little to no A1 beta-casein which is found in traditional cheese. An easier to digest A2 beta-casein is found in sheep and goat cheese.
    • If lactose intolerance is your primary challenge, you may tolerate the following cheeses: Swiss, blue, gouda, provolone, brie, cheddar, muenster, and parmesan.
  2. Yogurt
  3. Bread and Wraps

The #1 Tip on How to Shop Dairy-Free on an Elimination Diet

Take the stress out of shopping and reading nutrition labels by buying fresh foods. Mixes and processed foods are convenient. However, when trying to find a source of inflammation in your diet, numerous ingredients make it too confusing. As you improve your energy and mood, I hope the temptation to reach for a frozen or boxed meal fades away.

an array of fresh whole foods spilling out of a brown paper grocery bag onto a white surface.

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