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Plant-Based Cheese: Is It Healthy?

UPDATE: This article has been edited with more up-to-date information about different vegan cheese brands, specifically regarding the fat and protein contents of vegan cheeses.

Depending on whether you want to go vegetarian or completely vegan sans animal meats or products, plant-based cheese may just be the alternative to regular dairy cheese you were searching for. 

Vegan or plant-based cheese is made from a variety of vegetables such as soy, peas, tapioca starch, potato starch, carrots and arrowroot. Otherwise, nuts, mostly cashews and seeds, are some of the prime ingredients chosen to produce plant-based cheese. 

Surprisingly, certain unhealthy preservatives such as carrageenan, are added to emulsify the cheese. Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide gum that is used as a stabilizer to keep the ingredients mashed together. Vegetable oils such as coconut oil can also be used for the same purpose. While the health conscious may not be happy with these additions, these ingredients are needed to develop consistency and thickness. 

Initially, when the concept of plant-based cheese was thought of, home cooks and chefs aimed to make it look identical to the usual cheese made from dairy. This did not feel and taste as authentic, so they decided to make vegan cheese through a similar process. How does this process work? Plant proteins are extracted with the help of bacteria. The two don’t easily bond together and break down further, resulting in complex tastes that differ from diary-made cheese. But some people choose ethics over taste and are happy with their choice. 

As a solution to the unusual taste, almond milk can be used to provide some silky texture. “To make cheese, one of the first things we needed to tackle was to form a curd. Once the almond milk is made, we inoculate the recipe with proprietary enzymes and cultures,” explained Tal Ronnen, co-founder and culinary chef at Kite Hill, a startup based in California that specializes in making plant-based products without hurting animals.

Here are some of the benefits of consuming plant-based cheese:

Fortified Vitamins

Depending on the brand and the nutrients added, plant-based cheese can offer fiber, magnesium and vitamins B or C. For example: Treeline Cheese has a variety of flavors, from herbs, garlic, and scallion, to cashew cream cheeses, all of which are fortified with acidophilus, an important probiotic bacteria. 

Digestion

Vegan cheese does not come with digestive issues that accompany lactose and its intolerance experienced by roughly 65 percent of human beings. Constipation, letting out gas and indigestion will not be a problem for people who consume this cheese without dairy in it. 

Low Fat

Research indicates that plant-based cheese improves your overall health due to its low fat and gluten-free content. It may bring down risk of diabetes and heart disease. Be careful to read the product packaging though, as many brands also include a high level of saturated fat.

No Protein

Vegetarians sometimes turn to dairy products for protein, but some vegan cheeses cannot provide protein. That said, there are brands, like Treeline, that do include the essential nutrient. Make sure you read the product packaging to see if there is any protein included. 

cheese Cheese. Pixabay

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