Profile of a Dairy-Free Cook and Mama Extraordinaire, Suzanne Kirklin

Suzanne is my oldest friend.  I’ve known her for over twenty-five years.  In addition to being an extraordinary mama, friend and person, she is a really good cook.  She recently discovered that she is allergic to dairy and had to make some dramatic changes in her diet and the way that she cooks.  Read on for her story and for a delicious recipe for Dairy-Free, Whole-Grain Banana Nut Muffins.

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Name:  Suzanne Kirklin

Occupation:  Mama, Diving Coach

Location:  Chicago, IL



How did you discover that you were allergic to dairy?

I’ve never really liked milk and I thought that I might be lactose intolerant.  I also never thought you could be allergic to milk.  Then, when my daughter was born, I thought that she might be allergic to milk so I began researching milk allergies.  I realized that I had the symptoms (more about this below).  I experimented by cutting dairy out of my diet for a week to see how I would feel and all the symptoms disappeared.  I then tried adding in different kinds of dairy, one at a time, to see what would happen.  I ate a grilled cheese and had a sinus headache, watery eyes and runny nose immediately.

What is the difference between being allergic to dairy and being lactose intolerant?

The symptoms are totally different.  I found a list that compared the symptoms for lactose intolerance and for dairy allergies.  The symptoms for lactose intolerance are mostly digestive like stomach pains, gas, etc.  The symptoms for a dairy allergy are like those of any other allergy.  My symptoms are like those of seasonal allergies; I get itchy-watery eyes, a runny nose and sinus congestion.

How did this change the way that you eat and cook?

No more pizza or grilled cheese!  Instead of butter, I use coconut oil or olive oil.  I use soymilk, coconut milk or almond milk instead of regular milk.  No cheese.  No yogurt.  Snacks changed to things like toast with nut butter or coconut oil.  Also most chocolate has milk in it so that was out.  I’ve also become an avid label reader because you never know when something contains dairy!

Did you notice a difference in how you felt as soon as you made the change?

Yes!  I noticed a difference instantly and when I eat dairy (especially butter or cheese) I feel the effects within half an hour.  Sometimes I even feel immediately congested.  However, I’m not a purist since it’s not life threatening allergy.  It’s just uncomfortable.  When I eat at people’s houses I try to avoid dairy but I won’t pass on a meal because of dairy.  I don’t make a big deal about it.  However in my own house everything I make is dairy free.  This year I made gingerbread cookies for the holiday with no butter!  I didn’t tell anyone they were butter-free until after they tasted them and enjoyed them.  I also lost 5-10lbs. within a month of quitting dairy.

What are some the challenges of eating dairy free?  Is there any food you particularly miss?

Cheese and more cheese!  I really miss cheese.  There’s just no substitute.  You can substitute milk and butter but not cheese.  Also, I’ve had a hypothyroid since giving birth and soy aggravates that so I can’t really substitute with soy products.  Also, it’s hard to find soy products without additives.

Price is a challenge too.  Good coconut oil is a lot more expensive than butter, although prices have gotten better as it has been more popular.  In the beginning I would have to pay twice as much for coconut oil.  Now even Costco stocks it!  Also, when I refer to good coconut oil, I mean coconut oil that is organic, unrefined, extra-virgin and cold-pressed.  I like Nutiva and Carrington Farms.

Coconut oil has a higher melting point and can be hard when at room temperature so when you bake with it you have to warm it up first.  Also coconut milk has a higher fat content so sometimes you can substitute it for the milk and the oil in a recipe.  I do this with multigrain pancakes and they are so delicious!  One of the things that made this change easier is that I was already trying to incorporate more coconut oil in my diet for the health benefits it provides.

Do you worry about a lack of calcium in your diet?  How do you make sure you get the nutrients you need without dairy?

I do worry about it.  I started taking a calcium supplement so that I wouldn’t have to worry about having to force dairy into my diet.  I take a supplement with each meal since your body is better able to absorb it in small doses with meals.

Banana Muffin

Dairy-Free Whole-Grain Banana Nut Muffins

-1 ¼ Cup Ground or Quick-Cooking Oats

-1 Cup Flour (I use ¼ cup ground flaxseed and ¾ whole wheat flour)

-1 Tbsp Baking Powder

-Dash of Salt

-1 Cup Coconut Milk*

-2 Eggs

-1/3 Cup Honey

-2 Tbsp Coconut Oil*

-1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts or Pecans

-2 Mashed Ripe Bananas

Makes 12 muffins.

1.  Preheat oven to 425 F.

2.  Heat up coconut oil in the microwave or over warm water in a large bowl.

3.  Add oats, flour, baking powder, salt, coconut milk, eggs and honey.  Mix well.

4.  Then add nuts and mashed bananas and mix just until blended.

5.  Pour into greased muffin pan.

6.  Bake for 5 minutes at 425 F.

7.  Reduce heat to 350 F and bake approximately 7 or 8 minutes until done.

*You can also make this with soy milk.  You will need 1 cup of soy milk and 1/3 cup of coconut oil.

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