Vegetarian cheese: what you need to know

For many vegetarians, cheese is one of the hardest things to give up. Fortunately, thanks to the growing popularity of vegans, food manufacturers have begun to produce a larger selection of vegan cheeses – with some success replicating everything people love most about cheese, including its texture and taste. However, not all vegan cheeses are created equal – and many are of little nutritional value.

People who buy vegan cheese can expect it To be as nutritious as dairy cheese. But since many manufacturers focus on making cheese taste, look, and even melt like dairy cheese, this is rarely the case. The main ingredients in many vegan cheeses are Starch and vegetable oils Usually coconut oil or sometimes palm oil.

Starch and oil may give vegetable cheeses their texture, but they have little nutritional value. For example, when we eat starch, it breaks down in our intestines into sugar. Over time, excessive starch intake may lead to weight gain or diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The vegetable oils in vegan cheese are even worse. Coconut oil is made almost completely of saturated fat. Some types of saturated fats raise blood levels of bad LDL cholesterol, which can happen increased risk of heart disease.

Such is the case with lauric acid, the main type of saturated fat in coconut oil. Despite some claims online that coconut is healthy, lauric acid is significantly lower Increase levels of bad cholesterol. like that Increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Because of the high levels of coconut oil in some types of vegan cheese, even a small serving size (30 g) accounts for about a third of the total recommended daily amount of saturated fat.

Palm oil, which is found in some vegan cheeses, is a little better as an alternative ingredient. About half of the fat in palm oil is saturated fat – most of it is a type of saturated fat called palmitic acid. Like lauric acid, this also increases your risk coronary heart disease. And although some manufacturers claim to use “sustainable” palm oil, it is Uncertain how sustainable These products actually.

While dairy cheeses are also high in saturated fat, there are good guide Its intake is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s not clear why this happens, but it could be the saturated fat in dairy cheese does not absorb from the body as those found in other foods, such as meat or coconut oil.

Nutritional content

Many people might also expect vegan cheeses, such as dairy cheese, to be a good source of protein. But vegan cheeses made from vegetable oils and starch have Little or no protein.

Mother and daughter shopping in the refrigerated food section of a supermarket.
Not all vegan cheeses are nutritionally the same.
Naty.M / Shutterstock

The amounts and types of vitamins and minerals that vegan cheese contains also vary greatly, as it is up to the manufacturer to add them during production. As a result, unlike dairy cheese, most plant-based cheeses contain Little or no calcium. them too often lack Other important micronutrients found in dairy cheese, such as iodine, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

While an occasional slice of vegan cheese isn’t likely to do any harm, relying on it as a dairy substitute can have costs to your health. in 1 clinical studyFor 12 weeks, people who replaced animal dairy and eggs with plant-based alternatives had twice the bone health at the end of the study, compared to those who ate animal dairy and eggs. This was probably due to the low intake of vitamin D and calcium. However, more studies like this are needed to better define the long-term health consequences of vegetarians who do not consume dairy products.

However, not all news is bad. Some types of vegan cheese may be healthier than others depending on their ingredients – for example, those that use cashews. these products They usually have higher levels of protein and lower levels of sodium and saturated fat than other types of vegan cheese. However, they may also be more expensive than those other types.

Of course, there are many reasons why a person might want to follow a vegan diet – including for environmental reasons or to improve their health. but while many studies They discovered that plant-based diets can be healthy, and this is usually only true for people whose diets are high in natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.

As such, it is important for vegans to watch the number of highly processed food alternatives they eat (such as vegan cheese) as they can contain much of the same. Negative health effects (such as heart disease and cancer) in ultra-processed foods for non-vegetarians.

This means carefully examining the contents of vegan cheese products (and other vegan alternatives) to reduce the number of harmful ingredients, such as saturated fat, that vegans consume regularly. Vegetarians should also focus on getting essential micronutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin D from vitamin supplements or whole foods.