Tips for Doing Keto Without Dairy

I love dairy. As a man of primarily Northern European descent, my ancestors have been consuming the stuff for thousands of years. It doesn’t give me any issues. You won’t find me chugging tall glasses of straight milk these days, but I’m a big believer in cream, cheese, yogurt, and kefir. Very nutrient-dense food if you can handle it. Lactase persistence? I practically have lactase insistence.

My favorable response to dairy makes keto especially easy. High-fat and fermented dairy is high in nutrients and low in digestible carbs (the bacteria consume most of the lactose). Cheese, cream, kefir, and yogurt all happen to be the most nutritious forms of dairy and the most keto-friendly. Many others getting into keto lean heavily on dairy. It just makes keto easier, especially if you’ve grown up eating dairy.

But globally my reaction to dairy is pretty rare, and that changes the keto landscape for most people.

Most of the world has some degree of lactose intolerance, meaning once weaned from breast milk they no longer retain the digestive enzyme required to comfortably break down the milk sugar lactose. A smaller but still significant chunk of people have dairy protein intolerance; they get an inflammatory or allergic response to the proteins found in dairy, most commonly casein. And there’s also the problem of A1 casein, a relatively novel form of dairy casein that has been shown to cause inflammatory issues in the guts of susceptible people, whereas the more “ancestral” form of casein—A2 casein—does not. A1 casein is far more common these days, and not everyone can handle it or find access to A2 casein-producing dairy animals.

In other words, there are many people reading this blog interested in going keto who either cannot or don’t want to consume dairy. They need tips for doing it dairy-free. And today, I’m going to give them some.

Before anything, make sure you actually are dairy or lactose-intolerant. I wrote a post explaining how to determine whether you truly are intolerant of dairy, as well as some suggestions for overcoming it (if possible).

If you know you’re dairy intolerant or choose to avoid dairy for other reasons, here are a few tips for keto eating dairy-free.

Explore Cream Alternatives

If you prefer cream in your coffee, it doesn’t have to be heavy whipping cream. Other options exist.

Coconut milk/cream: Pretty simple stuff. Coconut cream is richer and heavier.

Coconut butter: Just add a spoonful or two and blend to combine.

Coconut milk powder: This is another option. I use it in my Primal Fuel and Collagen Fuel products.

MCT oil powder: I’ve never been a big fan of the straight-up MCT oils. They’re fine if you like adding oil to your coffee, but I really prefer using the powdered MCT oil. The way I do it is mix a scoop or two with a little liquid—milk (although not if you’re avoiding dairy), coconut milk, water, etc—and then add the resulting slurry to the coffee.

Cashews: Cashews are a great creamer replacement because they have a natural sweetness to them. They’re also very rich in fat and low in fiber for a nut, so they promote extreme creaminess when blended. Some of my favorite Indian curries use cashews blended into water as the base instead of heavy cream or yogurt.

Tahini: A fantastic alternative to heavy cream is to blend tahini (sesame seed butter) with coconut milk and a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses. I normally blend the tahini into a bit of heavy cream, but coconut milk or cream also work. Don’t fear the few carbs in that teaspoon of blackstrap molasses; it’s key. You’ll find a nice coffee recipe using tahini here.

Macadamia cream: Blend macadamia butter (make by throwing mac nuts into a food processor) with a bit of water. Mac nuts are almost pure fat, so they make a fantastic creamer base.

Hemp: As I mentioned in one of my recent Sunday With Sisson emails (subscribe to the newsletter to receive those if you’re interested), one of my latest favorites is using 2-3 TB whole hemp hearts, a scoop of Vanilla Collagen Fuel, a dash of salt and cinnamon, and blending it all together until frothy and creamy. The hemp provides a ton of magnesium and creaminess, the Fuel gives collagen and rounds it out, and the salt and cinnamon provide flavor, sodium, and a little extra barrier against insulin resistance. All told, it’s a great way to enhance your coffee and provide many of the nutrients you need while ketogenic.

Eggs: Primal egg coffee. Egg yolks are also great thickeners for sauces where you’d normally use cream or butter.

Non-dairy milks: Read all about the relative benefits and drawbacks of the various non-dairy milks, then make your choice.

Get Enough Calcium

Yeah, yeah, conventional wisdom sources are obsessed with people missing out on calcium if they choose to eschew dairy, and they get so much about nutrition so wrong that it’s easy to ignore that one, too. They’re not wrong though. Dairy is a good source of calcium, perhaps the best, and definitely the easiest and most available. And although one reason why people feel they need so much calcium for good bone health is that they’re walking around with vitamin D deficiency—which impairs calcium metabolism—you do need calcium.

How do you get calcium on a dairy-free keto diet?

Eat bone-in fish. Canned sardines are a really easy, really delicious way to do it. An average can provides about 20% of your daily calcium requirements. Trader Joe’s has a great bone-in, skin-on wild pink salmon in a BPA-free can. If you eat all 7 servings in the can, you’ll hit 70% of your calcium requirements plus 35 grams of fat, much of which is omega-3, and 90 grams of protein. You could even slow cook whole bone-in fish until the bones soften enough to eat.

Cook bones or bone-in meat in acidic liquid. The old practice of adding a splash or two of apple cider vinegar to your bone broth pot doesn’t actually extract any measurable calcium from the bones. To really extract calcium, you need lots of acidity. An old Chinese postnatal meal was spare ribs cooked in vinegar (and sugar, but you can leave that out); the vinegar extracted huge amounts of calcium from the bones, giving the mother a much-needed source of calcium as she nursed her child. Cook ribs, shanks, or make bone broth using an acidic liquid like red wine or a high vinegar:water ratio. The Chinese vinegar sauce had a pH of 3.2, so you’ll want to aim for something in that realm of acidity. Red wine runs between 3.3 and 3.5 pH.

Eat collard greens. Some of the other calcium plant sources are also quite high in oxalates, which can bind to calcium and inhibit its absorption. Collard greens have less oxalate than most others and plenty of calcium. They’re also delicious cooked in some bacon fat, bone broth (maybe the high-calcium bone broth from the last section, even), and vinegar.

Focus On Whole Foods Rather Than Isolated Fats

Lots of keto people use dairy as a crutch. They drink cream by the cupful. They eat blocks of cheese like apples (not a bad thing, necessarily). They eat bowls and bowls of stevia-sweetened whip cream. They throw sticks of butter in their coffee. All of this in a quest to “get more fat.” These are good foods, to be sure (it’s a great crutch), but I don’t think they should form the basis of your caloric intake. They should enhance a meal, not replace it.

What if instead of subbing in buckets of coconut cream, cashew cheese, and MCT oil, you ate more eggs, meat, and salads? You don’t need to drink shots of olive oil or avocado oil. You can add them to your salad along with some olives and avocado. You can eat actual foods. Actual meals.

This applies to people eating dairy, too. But if you’re dropping dairy and are interested in 1-to-1 isolated fat sources, perhaps use this opportunity to switch over to a whole foods-focus.

Be Prepared

A big reason keto folks rely on dairy so much is that it’s easy. It’s right there, ready to be poured (kefir, cream), sliced up (cheese), spread (butter), or scooped out (yogurt, cottage cheese).

If you’re like most people, and you don’t have unlimited time to whip up amazing meals at the drop of a hat, you need to be prepared. You need to go shopping and get easy-to-prepare and prepared foods.

  • Charcuterie/cured meats, boiled eggs, cooked bacon, olives, nuts, seeds, canned fish, smoked oysters.
  • Cook meals ahead of time, or make enough for leftovers. A cold chicken leg or cold NY strip steak sliced up are some of my favorite “easy” meals.
  • Salad makings prepared and on hand (veggies, lettuces, dressings).
  • Coconut butter on hand for those times you just need a spoonful.
  • Primal Kitchen® fare—this is pretty much the reason I started making mayo, dressings, and bars. I wanted something I could travel with and just have on hand whenever I wanted.

Most of all, don’t sweat it too much. Dairy isn’t essential. Dairy isn’t necessary. You’ll do just fine with or without dairy.

What about you folks? Do you do dairy? Do you not? How do you approach keto without dairy?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!

TAGS:  Keto

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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13 thoughts on “Tips for Doing Keto Without Dairy”

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  1. Back in the days when I was “doing Keto” I pretty much ate eggs, meat and veggies as Mark suggests. The simplest way to do it. I’m from Native American and Northern European descent and was a fan of dairy at every meal in childhood but gave it up completely as an adult and have never felt I suffered any consequences. As pointed out in this post there are plenty of other ways to get calcium, many of which are probably even better absorbed by humans than animal milks which, after all are supposed to nourish the young of animals. Even they won’t eat it after being weaned. Keto is completely do-able without dairy.

  2. Although I dearly love milk from Jersey cows, and homemade yogurt, and cheeses, cream, and ice cream…. (YUM!!!) I went without dairy for about 4 months during an elimination diet. My elimination diet was also a ketogenic diet. While I certainly yearned for dairy over that time, I had no problem filling my belly without it!! My simple solution was to eat A LOT of vegetables! Each day, I had some raw vegetables in a large salad (yes, like Mark’s “Big Ass Salad”, mine has both veg and protein), and also at least a couple of giant servings of cooked vegetables, with coconut oil and sea salt (delicious…), along with some meat. If I was still hungry at the end of that, I would have another helping of the meat and the vegetables. It worked fine!
    I am very happy, however, to report that I found that dairy was NOT the source of my digestive issues!!!

  3. For a calcium part… I saw in a past some old Japanese samurai recipe to regenerate your body after fights or whatever. It was basically whole egg with a shell left soaked in brown rice vinegar. After day or two egg shell will dissolve, you throw away membrane that is left and mix it all. Never tried it tho

  4. I can also tolerate dairy – the main dairy I eat is organic grassfed butter or the amazingly thick raw Guernsey cream from the farmers market which is great turned into low carb ice cream with raw egg yolks. Add in the occasional raw cheese and that’s the extent of my dairy consumption. It gives me a lot of pleasure and I only consume the highest quality dairy I can find. Still on the fence about whether casein is good to consume regularly which is why I stick to the high fat types.

  5. Pureed mac nuts with a drop of fish sauce is a great way to turn a bag of frozen spinach into a creamed spinach side dish. Although I prefer goat cheese.

  6. I don’t do dairy as casein gives me migraines and sets of my seasonal allergies like crazy. I can tolerate a small amount of goat dairy on occasion as long as it’s not peak allergy season and ghee doesn’t bother me. I personally do find it a challenge to get enough fats to make keto sustainable, especially as my area has not had good avocados in months. Breakfast is fine (I love eggs and bacon!) but I always struggle with the other meals. If I can’t get avocados, I’m just hungry all the time even if I eat loads of veggies. Any suggestions for someone who doesn’t do dairy or coffee (bulletproof or otherwise) and doesn’t always have access to avocados?

  7. Dairy gives me horrible cramps and a swollen belly, as does wheat of any derivative. Nuts of any kind dry out my scalp and make my whole body itch. I’m also a genetically reactive hypoglycemia (hereditary), which means if I eat carbs or sugar at all I my body weight pegs the scale at 280lbs and does not budge (up or down.) It doesn’t matter how clean or whole the grains or diet. Calorie restriction doesn’t work for me, my body is like gravity hill where nothing makes sense and dietary science doesn’t apply.

    Forgive me if I get a little irritated with people who can tolerate milk products or a diverse diet. I can’t relate, and the rest of the country and the food establishment doesn’t support my needs. You don’t want to know my pain or how joyless my experiences w food at weight loss have been.

    Thank you for more dairy-free content. I don’t think I’m the only one w these issues by far.

  8. I am a lucky guy in this:
    Dairy is very fine with me, cheeses, Greek yogurt. It’s been years since I have had regular (non-raw) milk
    My daily bulletproof coffee has cream cheese as one of the secret ingredients.
    Some time ago I skipped dairy for two weeks: I hoped it would give superpowers. But it didn’t and happily returned to my dairy ways.

  9. I haven’t noticed any direct effects of dairy on me, possibly makes me itchy and makes my seasonal allergies worse, it’s hard to say for sure. BUT considering how dairy works, even grass fed dairy, I really want to cut it out of my diet completely. Maybe some people have adapted to consuming it, but I really don’t think it’s ethical to impregnate cows over and over just to eat dairy products. Health benefits or sensitivities or not, I can’t justify consuming it. So I appreciate this article, and would also appreciate more recipes and other content tailored to those who can’t or choose not to consume dairy. Thanks Mark 🙂

  10. I am fine with dairy. Especially in summers, I can’t do without dairy. I choose to take buttermilk ? in the morning which gives me energy all day. I also love toned milk, sugar-free ice cream, home made curd and sometimes sugar free mango shake.

  11. Thanks for the good info. I went Keto for post menopause weight gain, post viral meningitis headaches and low thyroid problems. Worked like a dream but I keep trying dairy on my Keto plan and it gives me sinus problems and bloating. I needed to know it could still be done. Thank you again Mark sission

  12. I am A1 intolerant – by many years of trial and error I figured this out. Goat cheese especially hard goat cheese like gouda is fine for me.
    I loved these suggestions. Mac nuts = delicious in any format.
    I recently tried Lactaid cottage cheese and actually really like it especially with savory toppings – hemp hearts, diced tomato, s&p and some nutritional yeast.
    Tahini variations became my new bff on keto and beyond.

  13. Thank you for this. As a person of mixed Asian/Euro descent I thought I could tolerate dairy until realizing it was the direct reason for my horrible unrelenting eczema and loose digestion. As far as I know any bit of milk product makes it flare up again. It’s still hard eating outside the house or anything I didn’t make myself – I basically have to eat vegan because who knows what has added casein or lactase or whey or other milk derivative in the flavorings.

    It’s good to know I can still do primal and keto as long as I control the products myself and make it from scratch.