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 started producing a wider variety of vegan cheeses – with some success replicating everything people love most about cheese, including its texture and taste. taste. However, not all vegan cheeses are created equal – and many have little nutritional value.

People who buy vegan cheese can to expect 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 of many vegan cheeses are starch and vegetable oils – usually coconut oil, or sometimes palm oil.

Starch and oil can give vegan cheeses their texture, but they have little nutritional value. For example, when we eat starch, it is broken down in our intestine into sugar. Over time, too much starch could 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 composed almost entirely of saturated fats. Certain types of saturated fat raise blood levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

This 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 significantly increase levels LDL cholesterol. This too increases the risk of coronary artery disease. Due to the high levels of coconut oil in some vegan cheeses, even a modest serving size (30g) is around one-third of the total recommended daily intake of saturated fat.

Palm oil, present in some vegan cheeses, is not much better as an alternative ingredient. About half of the fat in palm oil is saturated fat – primarily a type of saturated fat called palmitic acid. Like lauric acid, it also increases the risk of coronary disease. And although some manufacturers claim to use “sustainable” palm oil, it’s uncertain about durability these products really are.

While dairy cheeses are also high in saturated fat, there are good proof that their consumption is not linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It is not known why this is the case, but it may be that the saturated fats in dairy cheese are not absorbed by the body as much as those of 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 made from vegetable oils and starch have little or no protein.

Not all vegan cheeses are the same nutritionally.
Naty.M/ Shutterstock

The amounts and types of vitamins and minerals in vegan cheeses also vary widely, as it is up to the manufacturer to add them during production. Therefore, unlike dairy cheese, most vegan cheeses contain little or no calcium. They too often miss other important micronutrients found in dairy cheese, such as iodine, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

While the occasional slice of vegan cheese is unlikely to do any harm, using it as a dairy replacement could come at a cost to your health. In a clinical study, people who replaced dairy and animal-based eggs with vegan alternatives for 12 weeks had poorer bone health at the end of the study, compared to those who ate dairy and animal-based eggs animal origin. This was likely due to a decrease in vitamin D and calcium intake. However, more studies like this are needed to better establish the long-term health consequences of vegans not consuming dairy.

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

Of course, there are many reasons a person might want to adopt a vegan diet, including environmental reasons or to improve their health. But at the same time many studies found that vegan diets can be healthy, this is generally only true for people whose diets are rich in natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.

As such, it is important for vegans to monitor the number of ultra-processed food alternatives they eat (such as vegan cheese), as they may have many of the same negative health effects (such as heart disease and cancer) that ultra-processed foods have for non-vegans.

This means carefully checking the contents of vegan cheese products (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 such as vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D from vitamin supplements or whole foods.

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