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For many a vegetarian, the switch to vegan eating may, at first, seem daunting due to an obsession with one particular dairy product: cheese. People can be passionate about their parmesan.
Despite its popularity, fatty, high-calorie dairy cheese is both artery-clogging and addictive — literally. According to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), as cheese digests it actually produces mild opiates known as casomorphins.
You might love cheese, but it definitely doesn’t love you back.
Luckily for cheese lovers, this is the age of innovation. Companies from Kite Hill, to Miyoko’s Creamery, to Treeline are making incredible non-dairy cheese options that are just as (if not more) delicious than those with dairy.
Here are six reasons why switching to vegan cheese will be your best decision ever:
It won’t give you heart disease or diabetes.
Dairy-base cheese is high in calories, fat, sodium, and cholesterol (no, not the good kind) — it’s actually the number-one source of saturated fat in the American diet, and this is a major contributor to the rise in obesity (and in turn, the rise in heart disease, cancer, and diabetes). Plant-based cheeses, however, are generally made with ingredients like nuts and nut milk — healthy sources of protein and fats. Ingredients vary by brand, of course, and some do use artificial ingredients, but overall, opting for animal-free cheese will be a kinder choice for your health as well as for animals.
It’s not made with an animal’s stomach.
Rennet is a real thing — and it’s pretty disgusting. Derived from an enzyme from the stomach lining of calves, rennet is commonly used to curdle dairy cheese. In other words, that block of cheddar made its way to your plate through a baby cow’s stomach. So. Gross. Vegan cheeses are made via much more pleasant processes, and with no animal ingredients whatsoever. Is mozzarella really worth killing a baby cow?
It can serve as a source of B-12.
B-12 is the one nutrient that can’t be derived from a natural plant-based diet — at least, not without eating fortified foods or taking a supplement. But there are plenty of other sources of B-12, including nutritional yeast (lovingly referred to by many a vegan as “nooch”) — which can serve as a flavor-packed cheese substitute. It’s similar to parmesan, and you can sprinkle it on soup, salads or pasta — or use it to make a mean Creamy Mac ‘n Cheese.
You can make your own.
No matter how how much you adore dairy cheese, can you see yourself whipping up a batch in your home kitchen? Not likely. Vegan cheese, however, is much easier to make on your own. One cup of cashews left to soak overnight and you’re already halfway to creamy cashew cheese. Or take this vegan parmesan recipe from Minimalist Baker: it uses just four ingredients and takes about two minutes to make. Cooking has never been so easy (or cheesy!).
It leaves room for more creativity.
Working within the plant kingdom means there are WAY more options for cheese experimentation than via the dairy variety. Non-dairy cheeses are made from ingredients as diverse as pea protein, almond milk, cashews, miso, and plenty of other interesting options. There are endless choices for dreaming up different flavors, textures, and varieties. And the vegan cheese industry is just getting started — who knows what wildly delicious options will be ready for you to buy up next?!
It tastes better.
No, we’re not crazy. If you’re still eating dairy cheese, you might believe nothing could ever beat the taste of a creamy Camembert or a sharp feta. But your body will overcome cheese’s addictive grasp. Once you kick the habit, you’ll realize how amazing many of today’s artisanal plant-based cheeses really are. They’re tasty, complex, and they offer nuances of flavor that wouldn’t be detectable in their fattier counterparts.
Need some dairy-free cheese suggestions to try for yourself? Look for options from Daiya or Follow Your Heart for basic shredded cheese. For fancier, artisanal cheeses, try Miyoko’s Kitchen. Not only do these companies make delicious dairy-free cheese, they’re also a few of our amazing VegWeek Partners – take the 7-Day VegPledge today and you’ll get exciting deals and offers from these compassionate cheese-makers!
Photo: Follow Your Heart