5 ways to quit cheese for a more plant-based diet during Vegetarian Awareness Month

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October is Vegetarian Awareness Month.

“I could never give up cheese,” is a common response I hear when I tell someone I follow a plant-based, vegan diet.

While I once felt the same exact way, I successfully eliminated cheese (made from dairy) from my diet completely just over three years ago. And I’ve never looked back.

For many people who are lactose intolerant and suffer from other digestive problems, dairy can be a total nightmare. I started experiencing a sensitivity to dairy products as early as first grade when my primary school served pizza and ice cream on Fridays.

Lactose intolerance isn’t the only health reason to minimize dairy consumption from your diet. LifeHack explains that dairy cheese has high contents of fat, sodium, calories, and cholesterol. Additionally, InStyle reports that cheese and other dairy products can cause acne breakouts.

Despite experiencing some intense reactions to dairy, it wasn’t until nearly 20 years later that I was finally able to quit the habit.

To help celebrate Vegetarian Awareness Month, here are some tips on how you too can quit cheese.

1Explore the world of non-dairy cheeses.

Because the dairy industry is normalized in the American diet, many omnivores are shocked to learn there are several types of non-dairy cheeses, including but not limited to soy, cashew, hemp, and almond. Essentially, you can make cheese out of any type of milk, including non-dairy ones.

Daiya, Violife Foods, and Follow Your Heart are some popular non-dairy cheese brands. While sometimes you may need to venture to a health food store to find non-dairy cheese, many average supermarkets stock those brands. Check the produce section near the tofu, or the alternative dairy section by the soy yogurt. However, make sure you don’t accidentally buy lactose-free cheese, which still technically has dairy in it.

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2Experiment with spices.

It’s easy to add cheese for flavor when cooking for yourself. However, once you remove cheese from the conversation, you realize you have to get creative. Different types of spices — such as paprika, chipotle, red pepper flakes, turmeric, and more — can add flavor to your dishes without adding a high calorie count.

3Visit new-to-you restaurants.

Many vegan and vegetarian restaurants offer dairy-free dishes, as well as those without eggs and other animal products. Instead of going to the diner for nachos, check out a new restaurant that offers non-dairy cheese or savory dishes without cheese at all. To locate dairy-free restaurants around you, use the HappyCow app, which is like Yelp, but for vegan- and vegetarian-friendly options.

4Try new recipes.

Does your favorite dish have dairy in it? Research online how to make it dairy-free. With Yummly, for instance, you can search for dairy-free recipes easily. If you’re like me, you’ll likely enjoy the dairy-free dish even more, because you know how better you will feel after you eat it.

5Find a friend.

If you think you can’t take this journey alone, ask a friend to take it with you. You can hold each other accountable by going out to eat or cooking meals together. You’ll also have someone to vent to if you’re having a hard time. More likely than not, you already know someone who has been trying to reduce dairy in their diets, too.

Even if you don’t give up dairy cheese for good, making small steps to reduce your consumption over time still helps. Your body — whether it’s a clearer complexion or calmer stomach — will thank you in the long run.

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