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Cheese is often considered an integral part of a balanced diet. The art of cheese-making itself goes back at least 4,000 years, with some of the earliest versions surfacing in the Asia and the Middle East. Despite the popularity of traditional cheese, the fact is that it doesn’t fit all lifestyles. Aside from a saturated fat content, regular dairy cheese is not acceptable in diets based on plant foods. Still, this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy cheese as a 3>vegan. The key is finding the right cheese that fits to your dietary goals and overall healthy lifestyle.
Facts About Dairy Cheese
From a nutritional standpoint, dairy cheese is best-known for its calcium content. The precise amount of calcium depends on the type of cheese. According to the Dairy Council of California, this may range from 18 to 22-percent of the recommended daily value of calcium, per one-ounce serving.
However, dairy cheese comes with a cost. Saturated fat is among the most prominent nutritional concerns since it is made from milk. The Dairy Council of California ranks cheddar cheese at the top, with an estimated 6 g saturated fat in a one-ounce serving. The fact that dairy cheese comes from animals is also a reason vegans abstain from this food.
What to Look for in Vegan Cheese
The term “vegan cheese” can seem like an oxymoron because it is anything but the conventional dairy cheese. By definition, vegan cheese is not really cheese at all because it isn’t made from milk. Instead, this far-healthier version is made from plant-based ingredients, such as nuts, grains and tofu. Vegan cheese is nutritionally dense with antioxidants from the plant-based ingredients. It even contains fiber, which is an important heart-healthy nutrient not found in traditional dairy cheese. Some versions are even fortified with just as much calcium as cheese from cow’s milk. Depending on the type, vegan cheese may also contain a thickening agent such as organic flour.
There are a growing number of vegan food companies making cheeses available for easy purchase at the grocery store. However, it’s important to make sure that the cheese you choose is actually vegan. Some misleading companies actually use casein to improve the texture, an ingredient contained in cow’s milk. So while the whole product might not come from milk, there are still related ingredients. This is why it is important to read all food labels carefully.
Another problem with store-bought vegan cheese is that many of the products are overly processed. You may find a great deal of preservatives, as well as salt to help make the cheese last longer. This is certainly beneficial in terms of shelf-life, but not so great when considering your overall health.
Cheesing it Out Yourself
Perhaps an even better solution to packaged vegan cheese is to make it yourself. This way, you can be sure the cheese is purely vegan, and you don’t have to worry about added salt, sugar and preservatives. Almonds, soy and cashews are great sources for creating vegan cheese—the key is to make sure the consistency stays creamy. Soak the nuts overnight in cold water, and then rinse before use (this is the same technique as using dried beans). A food processor works best to achieve the right texture, but a blender will work, too.
Making your own vegan cheese also doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the same recipe all of the time. Spruce up your everyday cheese by experimenting with finely cut peppers, seasonings and herbs. Overtime, you’ll find that vegan cheese has far more variety and you won’t likely crave the conventional versions ever again.
- History of Cheese. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.idfa.org/news-views/media-kits/cheese/history-of-cheese
- Mangels, Reed. (2000, December). Guide to Vegan Cheese, Yogurt, and Other Non-Dairy Product Alternatives. Retrieved from https://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2000nov/2000novnondairy.htm
- Nutrients in Cheese. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.healthyeating.org/Milk-Dairy/Nutrients-in-Milk-Cheese-Yogurt/Nutrients-in-Cheese.aspx
- Palermo, Rochelle. (n.d.). Say Cheese! Retrieved from http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/say-cheese-2/
Author Bio: Kristeen Cherney is a freelance health and lifestyle writer who also has a certificate in nutrition. Her work has been published on numerous health-related websites. Previously, she worked as a communications and marketing professional. Kristeen holds a BA in Communication from Florida Gulf Coast University, and is currently pursuing an MA in English. When she's not writing or studying, she enjoys walking, kick-boxing, yoga, and traveling.