Healthy Alternatives to Cheese

 

I remember craving cheese pretty often after I started eating plant-based. Man, that was hard. Not only did I crave it when I saw it, but I actually thought about it. I didn’t think that feeling would go away, but thankfully it did. It would have made a plant-based diet difficult! Now, when I make pizzas or want a creamy pasta dish, I’m happy I’ve found a healthy alternative to cheese.

Here is what I learned as I weaned myself off of dairy cheeses, and how I make cheese-based dishes while eating plant-based.

Cheesy Foods Triggers

When I first started cooking plant-based, there were times when I wanted cheese for common eats such as pizza, mac n’ cheese, nachos, and for snacking with bread and crackers. You don’t have to avoid these foods once you eat plant-based. You just need a few tips and recipes to customize these common meals to include non-dairy cheese. You’ll know these  like the back of your hand in no time.

It’s not the cheese, it’s the salt

  • The salt and additives in cheese, not the actual lump of lard, is what we all crave. I love salt and I now know this is one of the reasons it took me a while to stop eating cheese. 
  • Our tastebuds change when we eat plant based. We naturally remove foods that contain a lot of added salt and sugar by eliminating processed foods. Over time, once I changed my eating habits, my tastebuds changed, I stopped craving salt as much, and therefore cheese.
  • It’s true that cheese contains calcium and protein, BUT, saturated and trans fats come along for the ride when we eat cheese. That’s the kicker! This is really unhealthy for our bodies and can lead to diseases.
  • Be patient with yourself. We are conditioned to eat dairy cheese, so you might still eat it from time to time. It’s all around us. When I was transitioning my palate and habits to eating plant-based, I had cheese from time to time because it was in everything. Eventually, you become comfortable not eating cheese. Your family and friends become used to it and put cheese on the side for you. Or, you can bring your own healthy cheese alternative (see the how-to below). I have not missed cheese or felt it has been a burden not eating it.

The healthy cheese alternatives

There are many ways to substitute all dairy products now, and especially cheese. There are vegan and processed cheese alternatives everywhere, but I prefer natural and healthy cheese sources. Luckily, there are many options in this category.

  1. Nutritional Yeast
    • Nutritional Yeast, or ‘nooch’, is an ingredient with a nutty, almost cheesy flavor. You can make so many cheesy-tasting meals and snacks with it! I’d say this is the easiest and most common way to replace cheese. You can find a ton of recipes and ideas.
    • Check out this post for more information on Nutritional Yeast and some of my FAVORITE recipes. I like to use nooch most often for pasta sauces, or sprinkled on top of avocado on toast, over salads or even on popcorn. It’s very versatile!
    • In Western countries and especially in cities, this is pretty easy to find. However, in rural areas, or in places like Taiwan where I’m living now, I have to order Nutritional Yeast online. It’s totally worth it though, because I use it every day!
    • Note: It does not taste JUST LIKE the dairy cheese you are used to, but eventually this will be what you think of when you think of cheese.
  2. Homemade Nut-Based Cheese
    • Nut Based cheeses are really easy to make, and what I use the most as a cheese replacement for pizzas, dips, to spread on sandwiches, and more.
    • Cashew cheese is a popular one and easy to make at home if you have cashews, nutritional yeast, a few other simple ingredients, and a blender. You can also make this type of cheese out of almonds, walnuts, etc. There are a ton of resources online for nut-based cheeses.
    • I haven’t made any recipes from her book yet, but Julie Piatt has an amazing nut-based cheese book out. Julie is incredible and is married to ultra-athlete Rich Roll. They are a power team. My friend recenlty made the mozzarella cheese from her book and said it was incredible and not difficult to do! Note, this might be a step up from making the basic cashew cheese above.
  3. Store-bought Nut-Based and Soy-Based Cheese
    • Many grocery stores, both artisan and big name, also carry packaged nut-based cheeses now. If you live near a location that supplies these, this may be a good option if you need to grab-and-go.
    • These are usually the kind you can use as appetizers on crackers, but there are some you can melt down to use on pizza.
      • You can always start making your own to sell and package as well! My friends here in Taipei make a soy-based cheese, which they now sell in stores in Taiwan. Pretty cool stuff.
    • I also enjoy cream cheese and have found Kite Hill brands to have a very low amount of preservatives. So, when I want a bagel sandwich with cream cheese, I reach for this. I also sometimes put it on a rice cracker with avocado, which is delicious.

I hope this gives you some ideas to begin using healthy alternatives to cheese in your meals. Over time, you will find that you enjoy the light and delicious flavors of these plant-based cheeses, more than the dairy cheeses. Let me know if you have any questions!