To fu, or not tofu?
November 5, 2014 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on making a few changes to the way I cook to emphasize vegetables and grains, and minimize the animal products which I totally love but need to cut back on. However, non-dairy substitutes are not always automatically healthier than the dairy option. I need your help playing a fabulous game: whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiich ingredient is healthier?

Since I'm not actually vegetarian or vegan, I'm having a hard time deciding which dairy products to keep and which to replace. Which options will give me the most amounts of micro+macro nutrients with the least calories/fat/weird things that will contribute to health problems?

1. Yogurt: I'm still eating a lot of organic nonfat yogurt. I'm pretty sure it's a good healthy option for me; this is an example where the dairy option is a better option than hard-to-find, weirdly packaged and flavored, full-of-artificial-stuff soy yogurt.

2. What are the best options to enrich/thicken creamy soups besides just pureeing whatever the soup is made of? Rice? Potato? I pureed soaked raw cashews and added it to a potato-broccoli soup recently to make "broccoli and cheddar" soup; it tasted amazing but I was very doubtful that the cashews were any better for me than nonfat milk would have been.

3. What is the best creamy cheesy spread? I love stuff like cream cheese and goat cheese and I miss them. I heard you can make yogurt cheese out of nonfat yogurt by straining it. What are other options? I'm totally open to stuff like white bean dip that satisfies the "dipping a cracker into something" itch as well.

4. What is the best mayonnaise/sour cream substitute for stuff like chickpea "tuna" salad, topping baked potatos, and dips? I usually use yogurt for this.

5. Milk for use in drinks: hot chocolate, tea, etc: I actually prefer the flavor and shelf stability of non-dairy milks, but I'm not sure there is actually any nutritional advantage to using nut/soy/rice milks over skim milk. What are the drawbacks to using these alternatives (ex: I know beekeepers are freaking out over the rise of almond milk, I know soy can cause estrogen levels to rise)

6. Milk for cooking: Non-dairy milks never really act the same so unless I'm cooking for a vegan I'd probably use the lowest fat milk I could unless y'all have alternate ideas. I'm thinking of dishes like mushroom gravy or duxelles, for example.

7. Cream for coffee: Oh, god, this is embarrassing, but we have terrible office coffee and I'm only ok with black coffee if I'm drinking, like, the world's fanciest freshly ground beans brewed by Dr. Chemex himself and he's watching me judgmentally. I drink maybe 1.5 tablespoons of that International Delights crap a day. Milk spoils too quickly to keep in the work fridge. If you have any suggestions, store bought or homemade, to get me to kick the Hazelnut slurry I'm all ears; you're also welcome to be like "1.5 tablespoons of that crap a day isn't going to kill you, calm down."

I have previously used coconut milk (the dairy aisle, not the canned kind) for this but I have no idea how the nutrition breakdown looks.

8. Fresh non-melting cheeses like ricotta or queso fresco: I definitely remember crumbling, cooking, and pureeing tofu to make filling for lasagna or enchiladas back in the day, and as long as I'm not eating All Soy All The Time I'm pretty sure that's the healthiest option. It's been forever though and I want recipes/tips for using tofu like this!

9. What else does tofu substitute well for and how do you prepare it?

Any other suggestions or comparisons are welcome!
posted by Juliet Banana to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I have a few questions for you because I eat a very whole grain heavy and vegetable heavy diet, with not much dairy, but I try to emphasize quality dairy instead of replacing all of it. Are you trying to almost entirely eliminate dairy, or are you trying to decide between whether the dairy is worth replacing? I found it easier for me to replace a lot of dairy by working on building my cooking up to include a lot of naturally vegan recipes, rather than trying to sub out dairy for other things.

I made a lot of bean dips and roasted vegetable purees, which are delicious and don't need to have dairy added. If I'm making things like tuna salad, I either use yogurt of something completely different like pesto. I think you are fine with the hazelnut non dairy creamer.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:29 AM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't answer all of them, but...

4. I substitute mayo with ripe avocado. Just mash it up and it turns into a spread. For the chickpea tuna salad you describe, I've actually seen a recipe for a chickpea-avocado mash sandwich that looked good.

2. To thicken soups, you can just blend up beans. I make a soup with cannellini beans where I blend the beans in the broth to thicken it, and then I add some more beans and veggies I want to be chunky. It works well. It will "settle" so you'll have to stir it if you left it sitting in the fridge, but it gives you a nice creamy texture without cream.

6./7. Coffee cream is seriously awful for you. I just use unsweetened almond milk, and I specifically buy almond milk from Trader Joe's or Whole Foods that doesn't have carrageenan. Silk doesn't, but I find the consistency of Silk almond milk to be kind of gross. As for the comparison to regular cow's milk, I'm not sure there's a huge difference, although I've heard of concerns about the cows being given hormones and such. I think with almonds, you want to sure you are buying a brand that steam pasteurizes the almond, rather than using a chemical spray. Blue Diamond gasses all their almonds they sell whereas Trader Joe's, for instance, steams them. I've cooked with almond milk, unsweetened. Works fine.

8./9. I don't use tofu or any soy protein. I have thyroid issues and what I've read about soy and thyroid concerns me. I have sometimes used paneer in dishes the way someone might use tofu. It's an Indian cheese that doesn't melt. It looks like tofu and can have similar texture, but it's not completely flavorless like tofu. Still, I think it goes well in most things. I also eat veggie burgers that are actual veggie burgers, not soy burgers. My favorites are the original Gardenburger, which is just rice and veggies and oats, and Amy's California burger, which is similar.

Also, fat isn't bad for you (except the trans fat in your coffee creamer is bad). As far as heart disease and weight management, focus on calories and sugar and you will be fine. Sounds like you are also concerned with other health effects too, but I just wanted to mention that fat (saturated fat included) isn't really the enemy.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:32 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

When you say "healthy", what do you mean by that and what are you trying to accomplish? For example, why do you "need to cut back on animal products"? That can help us give you answers. Cream cheese and beans are equally non-poisonous to humans, for example, so it is hard to give you advice about what kind of dips you might find helpful without knowing what your goal is.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:32 AM on November 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

1) I guess if you want to avoid dairy but get probiotics, you could try to find a source of good fermented sourkraut and/or kimchee. those offer similar benefits, although of course they fit in a completely other niche of meals.

2) Most people thicken things with flour -- I use arrowroot powder as a paleo substitute. neither involve animals, but neither brings much flavor other than "thickness."

Otherwise, I'd reconsider your insistance on low-fat everything -- not all fats are evil, and some greatly improve your health. You might be able to add richness to a lot of foods by adding healthy fats such as olive oil (for savory things) or coconut oil (for sweeter things), as well as ground nuts (esp. walnuts, pecans, almonds), all of which have other benefits as well.

No idea about all those other things -- coffee seems particularly, hard, and I think soymilk or ricemilk might be your best bets. (As for the estrogens in soy, do you think you're not getting those out of the teats of female cows?!? when I stopped all dairy I had to weather 2 months of menopause-like symptoms until my body adjusted...)
posted by acm at 10:32 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not good at nutritional stuff, but I do have a couple of notes:

I have heard that Just Mayo is excellent. I haven't tried it yet, but it seems like it'd be worth a shot.

I often use Greek yogurt or labneh in places where you might use sour cream or soft cheeses. (You can actually make these all the way from scratch much more easily than you might think if you want it cheaper or want to control the ingredients yourself.)

Lentils are a great thickener. If you cook them long enough, they all but disappear into broth, making it a cream soup consistency. This is so easy that I've had it happen inadvertently.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:44 AM on November 5, 2014

For creamer get the so delicious brand coconut creamer. It's amazing. I probably have some solutions to the other stuff too but I'm at work at the moment. Seriously though that creamer is so good. I use the vanilla flavor and I add it to oatmeal and tea.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:45 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always use thick yogurt (Greek or Icelandic) as a substitute for sour cream. Mix with hot sauce and voila, delicious taco topping!

For milk alternatives I suggest cashew milk. You can make it yourself if you have the right kind of blender, or you can usually get it at fancy raw-vegan type places.

I would like to nth the question on what your definition of healthy is and what your goals are. Not all animal products are bad and fats are not inherently bad either. If it's an ethics thing, you could focus on small, local farms that don't cage their animals and don't use antibiotics or hormones. If it's a health thing, do the same but also consume dairy from grass fed cows.
posted by bedhead at 10:50 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Milk spoils too quickly to keep in the work fridge.

for this one only I would suggest lactose-free regular dairy milk (either lactaid or organic valley) which lasts pretty much forever.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:50 AM on November 5, 2014

Best answer: 2. Boil cauliflower florets in just enough veggie or chicken stock to cover. Cook until tender. Pour the whole mess into a blender or food processor. Season with salt, pepper, whatever other spices go with your soup. Surprisingly delicious and not at all cauliflower-tasting. Plus, you're using the liquid the cauliflower was cooked in, so minimal nutrient loss.

Also, you could stir in potato starch, which is a good source of resistant starch.
posted by Barnifer at 10:51 AM on November 5, 2014

My overall comment is that you should really take a look at a nutritarian diet and the books (Eat to Live, Eat to Live cookbook) and website ( Meanwhile:

Which options will give me the most amounts of micro+macro nutrients with the least calories/fat/weird things that will contribute to health problems?

1. Yogurt: Not really such a great option, and organic or not the nonfat stuff tends to be loaded with sugar.

2. What are the best options to enrich/thicken creamy soups besides just pureeing whatever the soup is made of? Adding nuts to the puree. Loaded with micronutrients. Unsalted cashews are a great option. And bring on the root veggies like parsnips.

3. What is the best creamy cheesy spread? There are actually a lot of tasty ones. Try this: dump all the following in a food processor and whiz until smooth: 1 cup cooked or canned great northern beans, low-sodium or no-salt-added, drained,
1/4 cup Pine Nuts, 2 tablespoons unsulfured, unsalted dried tomatoes, minced, 1 clove garlic, 1 teaspoon no-salt seasoning blend, adjusted to taste, 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary

4. What is the best mayonnaise/sour cream substitute for stuff like chickpea "tuna" salad, topping baked potatos, and dips? One option might be cashew "mayonnaise": whiz together 2 cups raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours, 6 dates, pitted, 4 cloves garlic, 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 lemon, juiced

5. Milk for use in drinks: hot chocolate, tea, etc: Almond milk. News to me that it is a problem for beekeepers.

6. Milk for cooking: Almond or soy works fine

7. Cream for coffee: Almond milk is delish in coffee.

8. Fresh non-melting cheeses like ricotta or queso fresco: Soy cheese does great.

9. What else does tofu substitute well for and how do you prepare it? Among other things, scrambled eggs. Here's one of the most delicious breakfast recipes from Fuhrman:

Madison Tofu Scramble
Howard (modified Dr. Fuhrman's Delux Tofu Scramble)

Serves: 3
Preparation Time: 25 minutes

3 whole scallions, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 small stalks celery, diced
1 1/2 cups mushrooms, small slices or diced
14 ounces firm tofu, drained and crumbled
1/2 teaspoon Mrs. Dash no salt seasoning
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
5 ounces baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon Bragg Liquid Aminos

In a large skillet, over medium/high heat, sauté scallions, red pepper, tomato, garlic and celery in 1/4 cup water for 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and cook for another 5 to 8 minutes.
posted by bearwife at 10:52 AM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Hi, I recently went back to veganism after a long hiatus and I can answer some of these questions (and I can do so from the perspective of someone who remembers what actual dairy tastes like).

2. Creamy soups: I use xanthan gum (and have since long before going back to being vegan. A very tiny amount will thicken both hot and cold things (so it's a great addition to smoothies as well). I like it in particular because it doesn't do anything to the flavor profile of the soup, so you season it to what you want and then add the xanthan gum to adjust the texture. Cornstarch, dissolved in a bit of water and then added back to the soup (prevents clumps) will also thicken soup, but requires heat to work.

3. Treeline nut cheeses. I don't know if you can find them in your area, but dear lord they are delicious. I've also experimented with making stuff like this at home, but unless trying home fermentation sounds fun to you, that may be more than you're willing to do. I've made the cashew chevre in this book and it's very tasty.

7. Cream for coffee: soy creamer! I've always prefered soy milk in my coffee over dairy milk, but recently switched to soy creamer. Trader Joes has both soy and coconut creamer options, but IMHO the best is Organic Valley's soy creamer.

8. For lasagna I get extra firm tofu, crumble it, and season it with a combination of salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast. Sometimes herbs as well. Done!

9. Dude, lots and lots of things-- experiment and find out! If you're thinking of making a recipe, trying googling vegan or vegetarian [recipe name] and see what comes up. I've made everything from a peanut butter chocolate pie to tacos to a lime-flecked crema substitute. The one thing tofu does a crap job for (and some folks may disagree) is in vegan cheesecake. Tofu cheesecake sounds exactly like what it says on the tin, I'm sorry to say, and that's after trying myself many times and trying my friends' versions. Other than that, go nuts!

(Also, seconding whoever said to reconsider equating low fat with healthy! Unless you have specific doctor's orders that say to avoid fat, you should definitely be including it in your diet).
posted by shaka_lulu at 10:56 AM on November 5, 2014

There's no such thing as "healthier" as an absolute quantifiable thing.

You've got a few things you could focus on:

- Calories. For example, if you cook with 2% milk, that will always be lower in calories than if you cook with whole milk or heavy cream. There are also some lower calorie tricks, for example low fat or nonfat yogurt can taste richer than cooking with milk, despite being relatively low-calorie.

- Satiation. There's something to be said for eating smaller amounts of fattier things, as opposed to going for the lowest calorie count and stuffing your face. A lot of people advocate cooking with real cream, butter, etc. for this reason. If you want to avoid animal products, avocado is good for this.

- Low Carb. Obviously pureeing a potato is going to lend a creamy smoothness to your soups, but if you're avoiding carbs, well, potatoes are a carb.

- No Dairy. If you want to avoid dairy, well, don't eat dairy I guess. Again, this is not an "absolute" in terms of healthiness, just some people's preference. Dairy products tend to be fat and calorie intensive, though, so sometimes avoiding dairy goes hand in hand with the above.

- Avoiding certain ingredients that concern you. Some people like to avoid too much soy, for example.

There's no absolute way to be "healthier". You sort of have to decide what your priorities are. Or you could be one of those people who just doesn't eat anything, but IMO a radical elimination diet is much closer to an eating disorder than a way to become "healthy".
posted by Sara C. at 10:58 AM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: When you say "healthy", what do you mean by that and what are you trying to accomplish?

I would like to maintain my weight and get a lot of vitamins and nutrients and fiber and stuff while still eating a varied diet that isn't totally alien to the way I'm used to eating.

Yes, cream cheese and beans are equally non-poisonous to humans, but the beans have way more fiber and micronutrients and way less fat. I know everything is fine in moderation; you guys are helping me figure out how to moderate.

Are you trying to almost entirely eliminate dairy, or are you trying to decide between whether the dairy is worth replacing?

The second, for sure.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:59 AM on November 5, 2014

Also, for a non dairy milk that lasts longer than regular milk in the fridge -- we are all about almond milk in my office lately. However YMMV on different brands. Some are definitely gross. I like Califia, which in my area is only available at whole foods and is of course the most expensive.
posted by Sara C. at 11:03 AM on November 5, 2014

My father, a definite non-vegan, loves Veganaise. He, a mayo connoisseur (I guess), loves it for the taste and that is has no cholesterol. It's crazy expensive, though.
posted by atomicstone at 11:07 AM on November 5, 2014

For the coffee at work, I would bring powdered milk and keep it in my desk and also whatever picky, high standard sweetener I preferred -- organic sugar, organic brown sugar, honey, whatever. And if that didn't make it palatable, I would give up the coffee and consume other drinks that provide adequate caffeine. (Yes, I know I would do this from firsthand experience. Like you, I will drink good coffee but not crap coffee. I mostly drank diet coke when I had a corporate job.)

Also: Soy is the most heavily genetically modified food in the ... U.S.

I used to use tofu and eat soy nuts. I read once that it is contraindicated for people with my genetic disorder. I have also had discussions with folks I trust who speculate that maybe it isn't the soy per se, but the fact that it is so commonly genetically modified. I feel a lot better since mostly giving up soy.

FWIW: I have a metric crap-ton of issues with regards to "I will not eat X because of my serious health problems and I will only eat Y because of those same problems." And some of the stuff you list as "bad" are things on my "safe/preferred over other alternatives because they are good for me" list and some of the stuff you list as "healthy alternatives" are on my "I would rather go hungry" list.

I would like to maintain my weight and get a lot of vitamins and nutrients and fiber and stuff while still eating a varied diet that isn't totally alien to the way I'm used to eating.

I will reiterate this piece of the first answer you got:
I found it easier for me to replace a lot of dairy by working on building my cooking up to include a lot of naturally vegan recipes, rather than trying to sub out dairy for other things.
I grew up in a meat and potatoes kind of household. I will suggest you start trying ethnic dishes from cultures where the diet is more plant-centered than the stereotypical American diet. Once you stop thinking of plant-based foods as some kind of meat or dairy substitute, things get a whole, whole lot easier. It is not a substitute. It is a glorious, wonderful, tasty, interesting food in its own right and there is a huge variety of options out there and it is not some second-rate alternative to The Real Thing. It is a A Real Thing in its own right and life got so much more interesting and fulfilling once I escaped that mental model of "A proper meal involves a serving of meat, potatoes, two veggies, gravy and homemade bread (and a partridge in a pear tree!)." And it's probably those concepts you have about what qualifies as "proper" food that are likely tripping you up. There are plenty of things to consume that do not contain dairy and that did not substitute anything for dairy.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 11:11 AM on November 5, 2014

1. I would switch to organic pasture whole milk plain yogurt. And I wouldn't consider it marvelously healthy compared to other diary products just because it has probiotics in it, but if you're going to eat it at least get pasture raised organic whole milk that doesn't have added suger.
5. Organic soy milk and rice milk are great ( or hemp milk though I hate the taste of it). The thing you have to consider is finding a non-dairy milk without carrageenan in it which will likely decide your option. I don't think there are many without it except Trader Joe's makes one organic soy milk ( non-refrigerated section), and I heard Silk will be eliminating carrageenan in two years or something. Unfortunately, it's still being added to more and more things. The other day I came across some gluten free tortillas with it in it.
posted by Blitz at 11:14 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. The best option for yogurt (IMHO) is homemade. Use full fat milk. Organic if you desire. (I don't do organic milk for various reasons.) No sugar needed. Add fruit if desired. Or honey. It's healthy, filling, doesn't end up with whey as a waste product like greek yogurt does, tastes way better and creamier than nonfat.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 11:14 AM on November 5, 2014

4. The aforementioned homemade yogurt if you really want that flavor. Or mustard in things like egg salad because honestly I think mayo is nasty.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 11:15 AM on November 5, 2014

My SO is moderately intolerant of lactose, so she avoids it when it makes sense.

1. Yogurt: Eat limited amounts of real yogurt (I try to get maximum milkfat, but right now we're on 1% because that's what's available).

3. What is the best creamy cheesy spread? We eat goat cheese. Yum. Also "Brummel and Brown" is a yogurt/vegetable oil spread alternative for butter.

5. Milk for use in drinks: usually nothing, but soy when needed

7. Cream for coffee: Don't drink lousy coffee.

8. Fresh non-melting cheeses like ricotta or queso fresco: Eat those cheeses.

9. What else does tofu substitute well for and how do you prepare it? We buy flavored deli "meats". Marinated tofu replaces chicken most things where chicken is less than 1/3 of the dish.
posted by flimflam at 11:21 AM on November 5, 2014

Everyone has opinions on this kind of thing and here is mine, which is sort of a non-opinion: it's all good. Just eat everything. Sometimes use milk, sometimes use almond milk. Sometimes eat cow's milk yogurt and sometimes try coconut milk. Sometimes use cashews to thicken soup, sometimes use cream. Our bodies are well adjusted to eat all sorts of things, and unless you have a moral objection to a certain food group or a medical condition that keeps you from eating something for health reasons, just eat all of it. Change it up. Try new stuff. Don't limit yourself. I understand wanting to be healthy, but if your interest is to maintain your weight, just focus on eating things with good nutritional content (vitamins, minerals, what have you) and watch your overall calorie intake.
posted by something something at 11:22 AM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Why do you feel you must cut back on animal products? Did someone tell you this? Did you come to this conclusion yourself?

I'm someone who does not believe mainstream culture's claim that humans should be cutting back on their meat, butter, etc. In fact you can actually harm yourself this way if you take it to extremes. If you are open to an alternative perspective about whether you even need to do this in the first place, I'd be happy to write more.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 12:30 PM on November 5, 2014

Best answer: As a general rule, I would say that replacing dairy with whole foods (beans, nuts, vegetables) is a net good, and replacing dairy with processed food is either neutral (things like tofu or almond milk) or a net harm (highly processed soy alternatives).
posted by insectosaurus at 12:36 PM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

None of those dairy choices are "unhealthy", other than the possibility of eating so much of them that you eat too many calories and gain weight. Which exists for most foods, really.

If you want more useful answers you really need to make your goals more clear, because there isn't really a direct substitution for any of those dairy products that is "healthier", even for a very general definition of the word. And most dairy substitutions sacrifice taste and/or texture in a major way, so you stand to lose a lot without gaining much.

I mean, you can "substitute" in the sense of eating less cheese and eating more vegetables, and that will certainly be an improvement health-wise. But if you're looking for something closer to substituting almond milk in all the places you'd use regular milk, that's a lot more ambiguous in terms of "health". Lots of so-called "health foods" are really not great for you. If you just want lower-calorie options, that's relatively easy, although again it might involve just eating entirely different foods more often rather than a direct substitution of crumbled tofu for delicious goat cheese or something (blegh, and I love tofu).

In fact if you don't have specific health goals, I'd suggest just adding more unambiguously healthy food to your diet, and cutting back a bit on everything else in your diet to accommodate that. I don't see the point in focusing on the dairy in your diet - if you do, maybe you could elaborate more on why you're worried about dairy, in particular?
posted by randomnity at 12:45 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't eat dairy because I'm allergic to it so I know all about this stuff.

Dairy typically has more protein than all of the substitutes, with soy coming closest. Dairy has much fewer carbohydrates than soy, although unsweetened soy products aren't as carb-heavy. Unsweetened soy milk is not tasty.

Chickpeas and other legumes, like soy, have some protein and a relatively high amount of carbohydrates. They are also typically prepared with added fats. They have insoluble fiber, which dairy doesn't have.

Low-fat or skim milk typically has less fat than nut products. Nut products are typically very high in fat. Nut milks have almost no protein; their fat and carb contents vary based on the recipe. They have a lot of added water for obvious reasons, and frequently added sugars as well.

Coconut is pretty much just fat. Tasty, tasty fat. I'd avoid it completely if fat is a concern for you.

A lot depends on your nutritional goals, but it's hard to beat dairy for a vegetarian whole food that is high-protein, low- or no-fat, and low-carb.

Fat helps you absorb vitamins, especially D vitamins (which are added to milk), and is generally good for you, though!

If you're fine with carbs, there are plenty of foods with decent amounts of protein besides dairy, so it really does depend on your nutritional goals.

Personally, I eat a lot of soy isolate and other kinds of science proteins, but if I could eat dairy it would be a staple for me.

Hope this helps!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:09 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

for this one only I would suggest lactose-free regular dairy milk (either lactaid or organic valley) which lasts pretty much forever.

In my experience Lactaid lasts much longer unopened than regular milk, but once opened it has a similar refrigerator shelf life (perhaps a tad longer) than regular milk, on the order of one to two weeks before it starts smelling bad.
posted by andrewesque at 1:27 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love beans (and lots of other animal-product-free food), but some of it ends up having a ratio of carbohydrates and fat that doesn't work for me (carbs without fat/enough protein make me feel like crap). Be aware of this (and how your body feels) as you seek to replace things. For me, for example, ground cashews would probably be better than potato flakes as a thickener in a soup.

You can whiten coffee with *whole* dried powdered milk. I have no qualms saying that that's healthier than artificial creamer. It's hard to find whole-fat though - most is nonfat. I think I read somewhere on MeFi that Nestle makes this, marketed toward Latino folks, though I've never used Nestle's version.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:43 PM on November 5, 2014

Seconding Veganaise (I think the grapeseed oil version is best). It's great in this Tofuna Salad. Frozen tofu gives it a chewy texture that chickpea versions lack.

Puréed beans are great for thickening soups. Here's one of my concoctions: Summer Squash and Oyster Mushroom Soup.

The main page of my recipe site has links to other good vegan cooks. Here's a working link to my favorite author, Bryanna Clark Grogan.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:53 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To everyone who is confused about why I am focusing on dairy: it is because I have the rest of it more or less sorted out. I know that for me, personally, if I don't bring butter or meat home unless I'm cooking something special and specific, I eat so much more vegetables and olive oil and fruits and beans just because I gotta eat something. I'd rather save my grease intake for Kuma's burgers.

I know there are as many pictures of what healthy food intake looks like out there as there are people and no matter what food is food. The foods I've described here aren't everything I eat; they're the dairy-ish things I prepare for myself that I don't feel like giving up but am willing to make adujustments to if they're worth it. Notice I didn't even ask about ice cream; I'm not going without occasional Jeni's and concretes and Original Rainbow Cone.

I just want to have some data in hand for when I'm adapting a particular recipe for my pantry and tastes and kitchen and personal hungers.

I think the rule I'm going to adopt was most succintly said by insectosaurus:
As a general rule, I would say that replacing dairy with whole foods (beans, nuts, vegetables) is a net good, and replacing dairy with processed food is either neutral (things like tofu or almond milk) or a net harm (highly processed soy alternatives).

Thank you to everyone else! I'll be thinking of you when I mix tons of spinach with the ricotta going into my manicotti, or whiz soaked raw cashews into a creamy paste.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:16 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. Yogurt: How much yogurt are you eating? If you're eating a lot of it in one sitting, you might be better off switching to natural (ie. no sugar added), full fat yogurt and eating less of it. Full cream yogurt tastes better and is less likely to have sugar added to make up for the taste.

4. Avocado!

5. I don't add milk to tea. I use full-fat milk in coffee and hot chocolate. The hot chocolate then counts as a snack and not just a drink. The sugar is more concerning than a bit of full cream dairy.

7. Coffee: buy an Aeropress, find somewhere decent to get beans that are suitable for filter coffee, drink without milk.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:21 PM on November 5, 2014

I actually avoid most lowfat and nonfat products because they often have additives that are unnecessary to improve color, flavor, and texture. I'd rather just eat less of something that is made of awesome ingredients than eat more of something that has added salts and natural sugars or sugar substitutes, thickeners, or dyes. For example, I'll take a full fat organic Greek yogurt from my grocery store over a "Light & Fit" Greek yogurt any day of the week. (My organic yogurt has whole milk, cream, honey or fruit, and probiotic cultures in it. L&F Greek yogurt has milk, water, fruit puree, fructose, corn starch, "natural flavor," sucralose, malic acid, ... and more.) Vitamin D improves calcium absorption, but fat is needed to improve Vitamin D absorption because it is a fat-soluble vitamin. So I've covered the yogurt question, I think. :) I recently had to have an education on this because my Vitamin D levels were the lowest my GP had ever seen in an actual person.

2. What are the best options to enrich/thicken creamy soups besides just pureeing whatever the soup is made of?

Unflavored yogurt is often good for this. Are you opposed to a roux? Rice can be a decent thickener, too, if you let it cook too long. :)

3. What is the best creamy cheesy spread?

Do you like hummus? Hummus is awesome. It's certainly not cheesy, but it's definitely thick and delicious and dippable. I use it as an alternative to mayonnaise on sandwiches, as a dip, and have even put it on plain toasted bagels. I've also seen whipped tofu (drained, added salt) suggested in various vegan cookbooks, but I've never tried it.

4. What is the best mayonnaise/sour cream substitute for stuff like chickpea "tuna" salad, topping baked potatos, and dips?

Try tzatziki sauce.

5. Milk for use in drinks: hot chocolate, tea, etc:

I use fortified full fat organic soy milk for cereal, drinking, etc. Never, ever for stovetop cooking or in hot beverages (except for hot chocolate, which I've made with soy milk) because I can't stand the way it tastes.

6. Milk for cooking:

I've had pretty bad luck using just fat free milk for cooking, but I have successfully used soy milk in baking. Usually I buy 1% at the skinniest and add something to thicken if I'm looking for texture or a small amount of extra fat if I'm looking for flavor.

7. Cream for coffee:

I cannot deal with soy/almond/rice anything in tea or coffee, as I mentioned earlier. I usually buy half-and-half and just use it judiciously. Non-dairy creamer is usually corn syrup and/or sugar, milk derivatives, and soy, so might as well just use actual milk products if you aren't fond of soy milk or soy creamer in coffee.

8. Tofu

One of my favorite breakfast things ever is "scrambled" tofu with vegetables (onions, peppers, mushrooms) and nutritional yeast, which has a cheesy, savory flavor to it.
posted by xyzzy at 11:10 PM on November 5, 2014

You might want to try making cashew yoghurt. It is really, really tasty.
posted by Acheman at 1:39 AM on November 6, 2014

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