Vegan Cheese: What You Need to Know

Vegan Cheese: What You Need to Know

For many people who go vegan, one of the hardest things to give up is cheese. Fortunately, thanks to the growing popularity of veganism, food manufacturers have begun to produce a greater variety of vegan cheeses, with some success in replicating everything people love most about cheese, including its texture and flavor. However, not all vegan cheeses are the same, and many have little nutritional value.

People who buy vegan cheese can expect it to be as nutritious as dairy cheese. But because 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 can give texture to vegan cheeses, but they have little nutritional value. For example, when we eat starch, it breaks down in our gut into sugar. Over time, excess starch could lead to weight gain or diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Vegetable oils from vegan cheese are even worse. Coconut oil is made up almost entirely of saturated fats. Some types of saturated fats increase blood levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease.

This is the case with lauric acid, the main type of saturated fat in coconut oil. Despite some online claims that coconut is healthy, lauric acid significantly raises LDL cholesterol levels. It also increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Due to the high levels of coconut oil in some vegan cheeses, even a modest-sized serving (30 g) is about a third of a person’s recommended daily amount for saturated fats.

Palm oil, found in some vegan cheeses, comes out little better as an alternative ingredient. About half of the fat in palm oil is saturated fat, mostly a type of saturated fat called palmitic acid. Like lauric acid, this also increases the risk of coronary heart disease. And while some manufacturers claim that they use “sustainable” palm oil, it is not known to what extent these products are truly sustainable.

Although dairy cheeses are also high in saturated fat, there is good evidence that their consumption is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s not clear why, but saturated fats in dairy cheese may not be absorbed by the body as much as other foods, such as meat or coconut oil.

Nutritional content

Many people might also expect vegan cheese, like dairy cheese, to be a good source of protein. But vegan cheeses that consist of vegetable oils and starch have little or no protein.

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

The amounts and types of vitamins and minerals contained in vegan cheeses also vary significantly, as it is up to the manufacturer to add them during production. As a result, unlike dairy cheeses, most vegan cheeses contain little or no calcium. Other important micronutrients found in dairy cheeses, such as iodine, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, are often lacking.

While an occasional slice of vegan cheese is unlikely to do any harm, relying on it as a dairy substitute could have costs to your health. In one clinical study, people who replaced dairy and eggs of animal origin with vegan alternatives for 12 weeks had worse bone health at the end of the study, compared to those who ate eggs and dairy products of animal origin. . This was probably due to lower vitamin D and calcium intake. However, more studies like this are needed to better establish the long-term health consequences of non-dairy vegans.

Not all bad news, though. Some vegan cheeses may be healthier than others depending on their ingredients, such as those that use cashew nuts. These products tend to have higher levels of protein and lower levels of sodium and saturated fats than other types of vegan cheese. However, they can also be more expensive than other types.

Of course, there are many reasons why a person may want to adopt a vegan diet, even for environmental reasons or to improve their health. But while many studies have found that vegan diets can be healthy, this is usually only true for people who are on a diet rich in natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes.

Therefore, it’s important for vegans to look at the number of ultra-processed food alternatives they eat (such as vegan cheese), as they can have many of the same negative health effects (such as heart disease and cancer) that they have ultra-processed foods. for non-vegans.

This means carefully checking the contents of vegan cheeses (and other vegan alternatives) to minimize the number of harmful ingredients, such as saturated fats, that vegans regularly consume. Vegans should also focus on getting essential micronutrients like vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D from vitamin supplements or whole foods.

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