If you love the creamy texture of milk, cheese, or ice cream but experience digestive distress when you eat these foods, you’re not alone. Some 65 percent of people have trouble digesting lactose, a sugar in dairy products, after infancy. If you’re among them, be sure you’re getting sufficient calcium (think leafy greens, broccoli, and fortified nut milks) and protein (from lentils and beans, fish, lean meat, and nuts). When making substitutions for dairy products, look for options that are nutritious and minimally processed. “Just because a product is non-dairy doesn’t mean it’s nutritious,” suggests Cleveland Clinic nutritionist Amy Gannon, R.D. “Always check the nutrition label and ingredients list to see what you’re getting.”
Consider these substitutes for your favorite dairy products that will please your palate and support your health:

  • Milk. Choose plain, unsweetened almond, cashew, or soy milk. “Each has a different nutritional profile,” says Gannon. Almond milk, for instance is low in calories but also low in protein, while soy milk is higher in both calories and protein. Remember to shake before you pour.
  • Cheese. Instead of cheese or cream cheese on sandwiches, try creamy avocado. In salads, swap crumbled cheese for nuts. Read the labels on packaged cheese substitutes carefully, says Gannon. “A vegan cheese substitute made with almonds and miso is a great substitute, but some products have palm or soy oil as the first ingredient and contain high levels of saturated fat.”
  • Butter. Whether you’re sautéeing vegetables, baking muffins, or making popcorn, olive oil is a delicious, nutritious oil to choose — just don’t use too high of a heat when cooking.
  • Ice cream. Vegan ice creams abound in the freezer aisle, but they’re usually high in added sugar and often high in saturated fat. “Instead, try frozen fruit blended with a non-dairy yogurt, tofu, or non-dairy milk,” says Gannon.
  • Yogurt. Check non-dairy yogurts for sugar and other additives. “Choose plain yogurts and add your own toppings,” says Gannon.
  • Cream or half & half. For coffee or tea, use nondairy milk (add a dash of cinnamon or vanilla extract for flavor). If you’re cooking, mix non-dairy milk with silken tofu or plain-nondairy yogurt — experiment to get the right consistency.