Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Vegan Cheese Bad For You?

Also Known As: Plant-based cheese, non-dairy cheese



Short answer

Vegan cheese, being plant-based, is not bad for you and can be a good alternative for those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies. It often has less saturated fat but may contain processed ingredients and additives. Vegan cheese's protein and calcium content are generally lower than dairy cheese unless fortified. It can also be high in sodium, so moderation and reading labels is essential. Vegan cheese serves ethical and environmental benefits, but it's important to choose quality products for nutritional value.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content of Vegan Cheese vs. Dairy Cheese

When considering vegan cheese versus dairy cheese, it's important to look closely at their nutritional profiles. Both types of cheese can play a role in your diet, depending on your nutritional needs and personal health goals. Let's dive into the specifics:

Protein Content:

Traditional dairy cheese is a significant source of high-quality protein complete with essential amino acids. The protein content in dairy cheese varies depending on the type, but it generally ranges from 20-30 grams per 100 grams. Vegan cheeses, made from plant-based ingredients like nuts, soy, and root vegetables, often have less protein. The protein content in vegan cheeses can range from 0-10 grams per 100 grams, and since they are derived from plants, the protein may be less bioavailable and complete.

Fat Content:

Dairy cheeses are known for their saturated fat content, which ranges from moderate to high. Consuming high amounts of saturated fats can be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Vegan cheeses may have less saturated fat, primarily if made from nuts or seeds high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are considered more heart-healthy. However, some vegan cheeses contain coconut oil or hydrogenated oils, both high in saturated fat.

Calcium Content:

Dairy cheese is a well-known source of calcium, crucial for bone health, with anywhere from 400 to 1300 milligrams per 100 grams. Vegan cheeses may not naturally contain significant amounts of calcium unless they are fortified. It's essential to check the label of vegan cheese products for added calcium to ensure you are meeting your dietary needs.

Vitamin B12 Content:

Dairy cheese provides a natural source of Vitamin B12, an essential nutrient for nerve function and blood cell formation. Vegan cheeses typically lack B12 unless they are fortified. Plant-based eaters need to pay particular attention to B12 and may require supplements or fortified foods to meet their requirements.

Sodium Content:

Both dairy and vegan cheeses can be high in sodium, which is added for flavor and preservation. Watching your sodium intake is essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.

It's imperative to read nutritional labels carefully. Vegan cheeses can vary widely in their ingredient lists and nutritional benefits, and some may contain artificial preservatives, flavorings, and colorings.

The following table summarizes the average nutritional differences between dairy and vegan cheese:

Nutrient Dairy Cheese (per 100g) Vegan Cheese (per 100g, varies by type)
Protein 20-30g 0-10g
Fat (Saturated) Varies (High in Saturated Fat) Varies (May contain less Sat. Fat)
Calcium 400-1300mg Varies (Often Fortified)
Vitamin B12 Naturally Present Often Fortified
Sodium Varies (Often High) Varies (Often High)

Ultimately, the decision to choose vegan cheese over dairy cheese should be based on a combination of dietary restrictions, ethical considerations, and nutritional needs. For those with lactose intolerance, allergies, or vegan lifestyles, vegan cheese offers an alternative. It's crucial, however, to select high-quality vegan cheese products that match your nutritional needs, and to integrate them into a balanced diet rich in whole foods. Consulting a dietitian can also help tailor choices to individual health objectives.

Processed Ingredients and Additives in Vegan Cheese

When it comes to evaluating the health implications of vegan cheese, one must meticulously consider the presence of processed ingredients and additives. Vegan cheeses are often created to mimic the texture, taste, and melting properties of dairy cheeses, which can lead to the inclusion of various non-dairy alternatives and chemical additives. Here's a breakdown of common processed ingredients and their potential impacts on health:

  • Vegetable Oils: Many vegan cheeses contain vegetable oils, such as coconut, palm, canola, or sunflower oil. While some of these oils provide essential fatty acids, overly processed versions may contain trans fats, known to increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Starches: Starches like potato, tapioca, or cornstarch, help achieve the desired consistency in vegan cheese. Excessive consumption of refined starches can spike blood sugar levels, potentially leading to weight gain or exacerbating diabetic conditions.
  • Thickeners: Thickeners such as carrageenan, agar-agar, or xanthan gum are used to create texture. Carrageenan has been scrutinized for potential gastrointestinal inflammation, though it's generally considered safe for consumption in moderate amounts.
  • Artificial Flavors: To emulate the taste of dairy cheese, manufacturers might add artificial flavors. The long-term effects of synthetic flavoring consumption are not yet fully understood, and individuals with sensitivities may opt to avoid them where possible.
  • Preservatives: Preservatives are used to extend shelf life. Some preservatives, like sorbic acid, are generally recognized as safe (GRAS), but overconsumption can lead to allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
  • Nutritional Yeast: This ingredient adds a cheese-like flavor and contains vitamins and minerals. Although beneficial, nutritional yeast can trigger reactions in people with yeast allergies.
  • Colorants: Natural colorants such as annatto, turmeric, or paprika extract are frequently used in vegan cheese to mimic the color of dairy cheese. These are generally considered safe, although some synthetic dyes can pose health risks and should be consumed with caution.

While individual ingredients in vegan cheese may not pose significant risks, the cumulative effect of consuming a variety of processed additives regularly can lead to health concerns. It is vital to review the ingredient list and nutritional information closely when selecting a vegan cheese. Opt for brands that use minimal and whole food-based ingredients or consider preparing homemade versions to have greater control over what you consume.

Professionals in the field of nutrition stress the importance of moderation and variety in any diet. Registered dietitians often recommend that if one chooses to include vegan cheese in their diet, it should be part of a balanced diet rich in whole, unprocessed plant foods.

Research on the health effects of specific additives in vegan cheese is ongoing, and consumers are encouraged to stay informed. For those with dietary restrictions or allergies, consulting with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance on incorporating vegan cheese into a healthy eating pattern.

Saturated Fats and Sodium Levels in Vegan Cheese

When we transition from traditional dairy cheese to vegan alternatives, we're often motivated by health concerns or ethical considerations. However, not all vegan cheeses are created equal, particularly regarding their saturated fat and sodium content. Let's dissect these two critical components to understand how they might impact your health when consuming vegan cheese.

Saturated Fats in Vegan Cheese

  • Source of Fats: Unlike dairy cheese, which contains saturated fats from animal milk, vegan cheeses often derive fats from plant-based oils like coconut, palm, or canola. These could be healthier, depending on the source and processing method.
  • Coconut Oil Prevalence: Many vegan cheeses use coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat. Studies show that, while plant-based saturated fats can be healthier than those from animal products, overconsumption can still increase LDL cholesterol, potentially leading to heart disease. This suggests moderation is key, as with dairy cheese.
  • Brands Matter: Some vegan cheese brands focus on whole-food ingredients and lower saturated fat content, highlighting the importance of reading labels to make informed choices.

Sodium Levels in Vegan Cheese

  • Importance of Flavor: Sodium is a critical component in vegan cheese for flavor, preservation, and texture. It's often added in significant amounts to match the taste profile of its dairy counterpart.
  • Health Implications: High sodium intake can lead to hypertension and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day, moving toward an ideal limit of 1,500 mg per day for most adults.
  • Comparison to Dairy Cheese: Vegan cheeses can be just as high, if not higher, in sodium than dairy cheeses. It's essential to check the nutrition label for sodium content per serving.

In conclusion, while choosing vegan cheese over dairy can be part of a healthier and more ethical lifestyle, it doesn't automatically mean you're choosing a product with a better nutrition profile. As with many foods, the key to enjoying vegan cheese while taking care of your health lies in moderation and being a savvy consumer—always read the nutrition label!

Potential Benefits of Plant-Based Cheese for Lactose Intolerance and Allergies

Lactose intolerance and dairy allergies present significant dietary challenges for a large portion of the population. Plant-based cheeses offer a viable alternative that can mitigate some of the health issues associated with consuming traditional dairy products. Here, we delve into the specific benefits that vegan cheese may have for individuals with these conditions.

Lactose Intolerance Accommodation

For those who are lactose intolerant, consuming dairy products can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. Vegan cheeses, which are made from plant sources like nuts, soy, or root vegetables, contain no lactose, making them a safe option for people with this condition. Supporting this, a study in the National Institute of Health's database highlights the advantage of lactose-free alternatives in improving gastrointestinal symptoms in lactose intolerant individuals.

Dairy Allergy Management

Milk allergies are another concern, as they trigger an immune response that can lead to hives, digestive distress, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Plant-based cheeses eliminate the allergens found in cow's milk, such as casein and whey, providing a safe alternative for those with milk allergies. Research from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology indicates that milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies in children, giving weight to the importance of non-dairy alternatives.

Nutritional Aspect

Another benefit of plant-based cheeses is their potential to provide nutritional value, especially for those who might otherwise miss out on the protein and fats provided by regular cheese. Some vegan cheeses are fortified with vitamins and minerals, including calcium and vitamin B12, which are commonly found in dairy products. A table comparing nutrients in different types of plant-based cheeses can be valuable for individuals looking to maximize their dietary benefits:

Plant-Based Cheese Type Protein Calcium Vitamin B12
Almond-based Good Varies (often fortified) Varies (often fortified)
Soy-based Excellent Varies (often fortified) Varies (often fortified)
Coconut-based Adequate Varies (often fortified) None
Cashew-based Good Low None

Psychosocial Impact

Lastly, the availability of plant-based cheese alternatives can positively impact the psychosocial well-being of those with lactose intolerance and dairy allergies. Being able to enjoy a wider range of foods without experiencing adverse health effects can improve quality of life and social interactions, as supported by a publication focusing on the psychosocial aspects of food allergies.

In summary, plant-based cheeses offer not just a culinary alternative but also an array of health advantages for those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies, contributing to better gastrointestinal health, allergy management, and overall quality of life.

Environmental Impact of Vegan Cheese Production

When discussing the healthiness of any food, we should not overlook the environmental aspect of its production. With vegan cheese, the environmental considerations are an integral part of the conversation. Here, we explore the ecological footprint of vegan cheese production and how it compares to that of traditional dairy cheese.

Resource Usage

  • Water: Producing vegan cheese generally requires less water than dairy cheese production. A study conducted by the Water Footprint Network indicates that the water footprint of cow's milk is significantly larger than that of plant-based alternatives from which vegan cheeses are made.
  • Land: Vegan cheese production tends to use less land, as cultivating plants for milk alternatives, such as almonds, soy, or oats, occupies less space than raising cattle for milk.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane, which is far more potent than carbon dioxide. Vegan cheese, made from plant-based materials, offers a reduced carbon footprint. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has reported that plant-based products, in general, contribute to fewer emissions relative to dairy products.


The expansion of agricultural land for cattle can lead to deforestation and loss of habitats, adversely affecting biodiversity. Vegan cheeses, conversely, are often created from agricultural systems with a lower impact on natural habitats, helping to preserve species diversity to some degree.

Chemical Use

  • Fertilizers: The plants used in vegan cheese alternatives require fertilization, which can contribute to nitrous oxide emissions and water pollution if not managed responsibly. However, the impact is typically less severe than that associated with feed production for dairy cows.
  • Pesticides: Non-organic ingredients in vegan cheeses may be sourced from crops treated with pesticides, which can have environmental and health impacts. It's important to consider organic options where possible to mitigate these effects.

Energy Consumption

Energy use during production varies greatly depending on the processing methods and scale of the facility. Plant-based cheese often requires less energy in the production phase compared to the energy needs of dairy farms and processing plants for conventional cheese.

It's clear that vegan cheese has certain environmental advantages over dairy cheese, particularly in the areas of water use, land occupancy, and greenhouse gas emissions. However, the degree of these benefits can vary widely based on factors such as the type of plant milk used, farming and production practices, and transportation logistics. By choosing vegan cheeses with a focus on sustainability, consumers can make choices that are better for the planet, aligning with the ethos of a plant-based diet.

As an informed consumer, it is beneficial to look for certifications and brand practices that prioritize ecological sustainability to make the most environmentally conscious decision regarding vegan cheese consumption. Always remember to consider the full lifecycle of the products you consume, from farm to fridge to fork.

Frequently asked questions

Choosing vegan cheese over dairy cheese may offer health benefits for people with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies by avoiding gastrointestinal discomfort and allergic reactions. For those looking to reduce saturated fat intake, especially from animal sources, some vegan cheeses made from nuts and seeds can be lower in saturated fat. As with all foods, moderation and the choice of high-quality products with minimal processed ingredients are key.

Yes, there are vegan cheese options available that do not contain coconut or palm oil. These alternatives may use other plant-based oils, nuts, or seed butters to achieve the desired texture and flavor. It's important to read the ingredient labels to find a vegan cheese that meets your dietary preferences.

Vegan cheese is not typically a complete source of protein because it lacks one or more of the essential amino acids found in dairy cheese. Most plant-based proteins are incomplete, which means they must be combined with other protein sources to form a complete protein profile. However, some vegan cheeses made from soy can provide a more complete protein, similar to dairy.

To ensure adequate calcium intake while consuming vegan cheese, look for products that are fortified with calcium. Additionally, include other calcium-rich plant-based foods in your diet, such as fortified plant milks, tofu, leafy greens, and almonds. A balanced diet with a variety of sources can help meet your calcium needs.

Ask a question about Vegan Cheese and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • gas
  • abdominal pain (if lactose intolerant consuming dairy)
  • allergic reactions (if sensitive to additives or have a milk allergy)
  • spike in blood sugar levels (if consuming excess refined starches)
  • gastrointestinal inflammation (if sensitive to carrageenan)

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased ldl cholesterol (if consuming high amounts of saturated fats, e.g., from coconut oil)
  • hypertension and heart disease (if consuming high levels of sodium)
  • increased risk of heart disease (if overconsuming processed oils with trans fats)

Ingredients to be aware of


  • nutritional supplementation (for those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance)
  • ethical considerations
  • environmental sustainability (lower water and land use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions)

Healthier alternatives

  • whole-food based vegan cheeses
  • nutritional yeast (unless allergic)
  • homemade vegan cheese
  • unprocessed plant foods

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Daiya Mozzarella Shreds

  • Dairy-free alternative
  • 5 lb bulk package
  • Melts and stretches
  • Plant-based
  • Cholesterol-free
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-30-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-30-2024

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