What you need to know about ingredient substitutions for cheese

What you need to know about ingredient substitutions for cheese

When I started eating plant-strong, one of my biggest hurdles was learning how to substitute one ingredient for the other, to transform my favorite recipes into plant-powered, nutritious meals. I already knew which foods were not on my shopping list, but had to figure out which ones to eat in their place.

It got me thinking that perhaps you, as well, have been struggling to make the same changes, and since there are so many choices for healthier ingredients, I thought I would put together a few posts with ingredient substitutions that every plant-strong eater should know — starting with ingredient substitutions for cheese.

I love cheese. 

Let me get right to the point here and say that most of the cheese substitutions I have tried really, really suck. Let’s face it.

When you are a cheese-lover, like myself, and you try to find an exact plant-strong duplicate for a soft brie or a sharp cheddar — well, it can be pretty frustrating. I know what you’ve read and what you’ve heard, that such-and-such a brand is “like the real thing”.


If I had to choose, I would say that Nutritional Yeast is my favorite cheese substitution. It has the cheesiest flavor and is also the healthiest, with a good dose of vitamin B12, which is lacking in plant-strong diets. It is the only vitamin that cannot be sourced from plants. I will be talking about that in another post, so stay tuned. Nutritional yeast can be sprinkled over salads, in soups, and over popcorn.

Be careful about the cheese substitutes you use. Many of them lack fiber and are heavily processed with long lists of ingredients, which makes them poor nutrient choices.

Some of them contain the milk proteins casein and whey. If you must, just use them sparingly while you transition to a non-dairy-based cheese.

Lots of cheeses on the market are now made with cashews, but if you are consuming a low-fat diet, be aware that cashews are pretty high in fat.

I’m also amazed at the amount of recipes out there to “make your own cheese”.  Does anyone have the time? If we can’t find one already made by the professionals that works for us, then how can we possibly make something better?

I have been all over the internet trying to find the perfect recipe that is tasty and easy, and it’s just not there. Can you help me find one?

The largest source of saturated fat

cheeseIn America, the largest source of saturated fat consumption comes from cheese. No wonder we have an obesity epidemic here.

Every restaurant I know, and just about every food manufacturer and fast food joint puts cheese on everything. 

As if that’s not enough, most cheeses are made with rennet, which is an enzyme that comes from calves’ stomach linings. Sounds appealing, no?

The Vegetarian Society says, “The traditional source of rennet is the stomach of slaughtered newly-born calves. Vegetarian cheeses are manufactured using rennet from either fungal/bacterial sources or genetically modified micro-organisms.” I kinda just lost my appetite.

What about calcium?

Our bodies take small amounts of calcium from our bones and replaces it with new calcium, so it is really important to have enough calcium so that our bodies don’t decrease bone density in this daily process. Yes, calcium is necessary for bone health, but only to a point.

Once you have consumed more than 600 milligrams per day, you’ve passed the threshold and it does nothing to improve bone density at those levels. In other words, dairy has little or no benefit for bones. Check this out for plant-based calcium substitutions.

The magazine, Pediatrics, showed that milk consumption does not improve bone density in children. There was a study done by Harvard Nurses’ Health Study which followed more than 72,000 women for 18 years, and it showed that there was no protective effect of increased dairy or milk consumption, and that consuming dairy did not improve fracture risk.

Cheese contains mold?

Doesn’t that sound appetizing? Manufacturers spray mold onto the surface or the rind to encourage the growth of white rinds, especially on cheeses such as brie.

Cheese can also contain pus from cow’s bladder infections. So the poor manufacturing processes make cheese a really unhealthy choice. The cows are treated poorly, like milk-producing machines, and are pumped full of antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones which cause them to produce more milk.

Cows suffer, and in turn, humans suffer because of increased chances of developing cancer, diabetes and heart disease. 

My suggestion is to read Dr. Barnard’s new book “The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy — available on Amazon.

Dr. Barnard talks about how cheese triggers the same brain receptors as heroin and morphine, and he presents a program to help break the cheese addiction, which ultimately leads to better health, weight loss and more energy.

What about my kids?

It’s pretty simple. Saturated fat, milk proteins, milk sugar and fat in dairy products all have potential health risks for kids, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Of course, low-fat or non-fat milk products are recommended, but a study published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, indicated that there was no difference in the rates of obesity for kids who drank skim milk or 1%, versus those who drank full-fat milk products. 

Babies digest formula or breast milk much easier than cow’s milk. The high concentration of protein and minerals can stress a babies kidneys, and has the potential to cause fever or diarrhea.

Think about it. Cow’s milk is for cows, to help a young calf grow really, really big, in a very short period of time. Human babies are not expected to weigh 800 to 12oo pounds in one year, are they?

I think you know by now that milk and dairy products really aren’t necessary, since there are so many plant-strong, nutrient-dense ways to meet your calcium, potassium, riboflavin, and vitamin B12 requirements. Don’t get tripped up by ingredient substitutions for cheese. There’s plenty of other plant-powered goodness to eat!

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “What you need to know about ingredient substitutions for cheese”

  • I basically have resorted to a vegan diet. I haven’t had any cheese for the past 5 years that I have converted. I focus on eating substitutes of soya chicken burgers,soya chunks etc.

  • Great information and well presented. I also loved cheese (from an animal) when I use to eat animals. I also found nutritional Yeast to be a great substitute. And yes who has the time to make cheese from substitute ingredients. I also like the Daiya Cheese (shredded) what do you think of that brand? Ultimately though I feel that we should not expect substitute or alternative cheese to taste like cow or goat cheese or even try to get it to taste like it. That cheese tastes the way it does because it has all these harmful ingredients like you mentioned. Taste can be very deceiving. We should strive for a new palate.

    • Totally agree and thanks for the comments. I have used Daiya and it’s okay. But like you said, we can’t expect the substitutes to taste like real cheese, because it’s not! That’s why I try not to eat cheese at all. Yes, taste is very deceiving for sure.

  • I found out that I have a milk allergy and have used Nutritional Yeast in a lot of my cooking. Great article.

  • Wow this post is God sent. Since I turned to a more plant based diet I had to leave cheese but I have also struggled to get a cheese substitute. I will definitely bookmark this site for such information. I helped me a lot. Thank you

  • Wow I had no idea that milk consumption does not improve the bone density in children and that the largest fat consumption comes from cheese. This article is packed with information and I am glad I came across it. I will be back to check this page out. Thank you for posting

  • This is an incredible blog!! Thank you! I heard that cheese has some serious addictive qualities but I had no idea it was such a big deal!! This really shines a light on some of my most difficulties when it comes to quantities of cheese I tend to overdo it and feel really uncomfortable with my digestion. I now know how to get super foods and nutrition with out those issues. I am going to check out the book!

    • Thank you for the kind words! So glad you found the post to be helpful. Yeah, cheese is a big deal — took me a long time to stop eating it. Not only does it cause digestion issues, but it is loaded with fat. Let me know what you think of the book! Thanks!

  • Wow, what an information packed post! I loooove cheese too, but sometimes dairy can bother me. This is really cool to learn about a cheese alternative, and how I can replace the ingredients with other things.
    That is so nasty about the pus from cow bladder infections too! Yuck!!! That alone makes me re-think eating cheese…

    This is really great info, thank you for such a great article!

    • Thanks for writing, and yes, it is pretty gross — people don’t realize how addicting cheese can be, and also how unhealthy. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. /a.

  • I have a love for nooch! Mostly on popcorn.

    Cheese is definitely easy to be addicted to. I haven’t had it in a long time, and I don’t really miss it now that I’m used to it, but every once in a while I do get a bit of a craving for parm. Or cheddar.

    I have found a couple of really good cheese recipes. There’s one in Dreena Burton’s cookbook called Ultimate Cashew Cheese (I think?) that’s AMAZING. And this nacho cheese recipe is one of my favorites –> https://www.pinterest.com/pin/92605336064441079/

    • WOW I have to try that Nacho Cheese recipe — looks amazing for sure…! I love nooch on popcorn too, but still struggling with amounts. Do you also add salt? My hankering for cheese is getting better now that I have started making substitutions — but it’s not easy, as you well know. I will check out that cookbook as well, and thanks for writing!

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