Vegan cheese has exploded in popularity over the last few years. As more people adopt plant-based diets for health, environmental or ethical reasons, vegan cheese provides a tasty alternative to traditional dairy cheese. But how does vegan cheese stack up nutritionally compared to regular cheese? In this complete guide, we’ll explore the nutrition facts of vegan cheese, look at the health benefits and drawbacks of eating vegan cheese, compare vegan cheese to dairy cheese, and answer some frequently asked questions about vegan cheese nutrition.
An Overview of Vegan Cheese Nutrition
Vegan cheeses are made from plant-based ingredients like nuts, seeds, coconut oil, starches, and seasonings. The specific nutrition profile depends on the ingredients used, but most vegan cheeses are:
- Lower in saturated fat and cholesterol: Dairy cheese gets much of its fat from saturated animal sources. Vegan cheeses often use plant-based fats like olive oil or coconut oil, which are lower in saturated fat.
- Higher in fiber: Most vegan cheese brands contain 2-3 grams of fiber per serving compared to 0 grams of dairy cheese. The fiber comes from ingredients like nuts and whole grains.
- Higher in vitamin E: Vegan cheese made with sunflower seeds or almonds is higher in vitamin E compared to dairy cheese. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cells from damage.
- Packed with protein: Vegan cheeses made with soy or nuts contain comparable protein levels to dairy cheese. Two slices of soy-based vegan cheese provide 10-12 grams of protein.
- Lower in sodium: Many vegan cheese brands contain less sodium per serving compared to popular dairy cheeses like cheddar or mozzarella. Too much sodium can increase blood pressure.
- Fortified with calcium: Many vegan cheese brands are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to provide the same nutrients found in dairy cheese. Check the nutrition label to compare calcium content.
So in general, vegan cheeses are lower in saturated fat and sodium compared to dairy cheese, while providing valuable nutrients like fiber, vitamin E, and protein. Be sure to read labels, as nutrition can vary significantly between vegan cheese brands and flavors.
The Health Benefits of Eating Vegan Cheese
Switching from dairy cheese to vegan cheese offers several potential health upsides:
1. May reduce risk of heart disease
The saturated fat and cholesterol found in dairy cheeses raise LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels in some people. Replacing dairy cheese with vegan cheese eliminates this dietary cholesterol. Population studies show vegan diets reduce heart disease risk by 40% or more.
2. Helps control blood pressure
As mentioned earlier, vegan cheeses tend to be lower in sodium than dairy cheese. Consuming too much sodium can negatively impact blood pressure.
3. No exposure to lactose or dairy allergens
Vegan cheese avoids lactose, the natural sugar in dairy milk that many people have difficulty digesting. It also avoids casein and whey, two dairy proteins responsible for dairy allergies.
4. Can promote weight loss
Some studies show that vegetarian and vegan diets can promote weight loss better than non-vegetarian diets. This may be thanks to the higher fiber and lower fat contents of plant-based diets. Replacing high-fat dairy cheese with vegan cheese may support healthy weight management.
5. Ethical benefits for the environment & animal welfare
A vegan diet also has positive impacts on the environment and animal welfare. Vegan diets use fewer land, water, and energy resources than meat-based diets.
Of course, to experience the health advantages, vegan cheese should be consumed as part of an overall balanced vegan diet. It shouldn’t be treated as a free-for-all to consume unlimited amounts.
Potential Drawbacks of Vegan Cheese
Vegan cheese does come with a few potential downsides:
- Higher in sodium: While lower in sodium than dairy cheese, some vegan cheese brands can still be high in sodium. This is especially true of highly processed vegan cheeses. Check labels and choose lower sodium options.
- Allergies to ingredients: Tree nuts, soy, and coconut are common vegan cheese ingredients. Those with allergies to these foods should avoid related vegan cheeses.
- Less easily absorbed calcium: The calcium in fortified vegan cheeses may not be absorbed as efficiently as the calcium naturally found in dairy cheese. However, calcium absorption can vary dramatically between individuals based on overall diet.
- Contains more processed ingredients: Heavily processed vegan cheeses rely more on artificial binders, oils, and stabilizers compared to dairy cheese. Some natural brands use cultured cashew nuts or fermented ingredients for less processed options.
So those looking to avoid heavily processed foods may want to be selective when choosing vegan cheese brands. But overall, the potential benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks for most people.
Vegan Cheese vs. Dairy Cheese Nutrition
Let’s compare the nutrition facts of two popular cheese choices – cheddar dairy cheese versus cheddar-style vegan cheese:
|Nutrition Facts||Dairy Cheddar (28g)||Vegan Cheddar (28g)|
|Calcium||20% DV||10% DV|
|Vitamin A||6% DV||0% DV|
|Vitamin B12||15% DV||50% DV|
As you can see, the nutrition profiles are fairly comparable. Vegan cheddar contains less saturated fat, no cholesterol, and more vitamin B12 but less calcium than dairy cheddar. The vegan cheddar also has a bit more sodium.
So when it comes to nutrients, vegan cheese can stack up well against regular dairy cheese. Just be sure to compare brands and nutrition labels, as nutrients can range quite a bit. Some vegan cheeses even contain added omega-3s, vitamin D or probiotics not found in most dairy cheeses.
Frequently Asked Questions About Vegan Cheese Nutrition
Q: Is vegan cheese healthy?
Overall, vegan cheese can be part of a healthy diet, especially when consumed in moderation. It provides protein, calcium, and other nutrients from plant sources without the cholesterol or lactose of dairy cheese. Just beware of highly processed options high in sodium, oil, and artificial ingredients.
Q: Is vegan cheese as nutritious as dairy cheese?
The nutrition content of vegan cheese compared to dairy cheese depends on the specific brands. In general, vegan cheeses tend to be lower in saturated fat and sodium, and higher in fiber. But pay attention to portions and nutrition labels, as dairy cheese may have more calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin B12 naturally.
Q: Does vegan cheese have protein?
Yes, most vegan cheeses contain protein comparable to dairy cheese. For example, soy-based and nut-based vegan cheeses provide around 10-12 grams of protein per serving. Just check labels since protein content varies between vegan cheese brands.
Q: Is vegan cheese high in sodium?
Some types of vegan cheese can be high in sodium since salt is often added to improve flavor. But many natural, low-sodium options are available. Compare nutrition labels and choose options with less than 200-300 mg sodium per serving.
Q: Does vegan cheese have calcium?
Many vegan cheeses are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to provide the same nutrients as found in dairy. Again, check the nutrition label and aim for cheeses with at least 10% Daily Value for calcium. Higher fat vegan cheeses may improve calcium absorption.
Q: Can vegans eat cheese?
Yes, vegans can definitely eat vegan cheese as long as it’s made from plant-based ingredients like nuts, soy, coconut oil, starches, and seasonings. Many delicious vegan cheese options are available that allow vegans to still enjoy the flavor and texture of cheese.
So in summary, vegan cheese can be a nutritious alternative to dairy cheese when consumed in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet. Be sure to read nutrition labels to compare nutrient contents like fat, sodium, protein, and calcium. With some savvy label reading, it’s possible to enjoy vegan cheese and maintain good nutrition.