Top Five Vegan Cheeses
But in case you haven't noticed, cheese is far from a health food. Most varieties are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and since the average American eats more than 30 pounds of cheese a year - up nearly three-fold from just 11 in 1970, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest -- the Center figures it is the nation's number one source of artery-clogging saturated fat.
"What about the calcium? Isn't that a good thing?" some might ask. Yes, calcium is a necessary nutrient. And yet the countries that have the highest dairy consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fracture. So while calcium itself may be important for bone health, calcium in dairy products is not helping us to maintain strong bones as we've been led to believe. Experts at the Center for Science in the Public Interest say that excess dairy and meat consumption causes an acidic environment in the bloodstream. Calcium stores are then leached from the bone (and muscle is broken down, too) in order to bring the pH to a neutral level. In short, most would be better off getting calcium from plant sources like kale, edamame, almonds, sesame seeds, oranges, beans, broccoli, and cannellini beans. Just make sure to get vitamin D as well, from sunlight or supplements, which allows for the absorption of calcium.
But hey, this article is about vegan cheeses, not non-vegan cheeses. And there are a bunch of tasty ones out there. Here are five of them, just in time for your holiday "cheese" plates and recipes, and the low down on what they're made of, their flavor, how good or bad they are for your health, whether they melt like the real thing.
Of all the vegan cheeses on the market, I give popular vegan cream cheeses fifth place because, on the positive side, some of them taste remarkably like the real thing. Galaxy Foods Vegan Chive and Garlic is the best faux cream cheese I've tasted; it's so creamy and flavorful, you won't miss dairy one bit when you bite into a whole grain bagel slathered with the stuff. The plain variety makes a great base for a vegan cheesecake. On the negative side, though, these cheeses aren't much better for you than the "real" cream cheeses out there. They are high in fat (Galaxy Foods' variety delivers 4.5 grams of saturated fat - a quarter of your recommended daily allowance - in two tablespoons) and are generally made with a bunch of oils and fillers, including partially hydrogenated soybean oil in Tofutti's version and cornstarch, xanthan gum, and guar gum in Galaxy Foods' products. When you want to splurge on a vegan cream cheese, I recommend Galaxy Foods' products because they don't contain the partially hydrogenated oil and the preservative that Tofutti, the original faux cream cheese maker, stuffs in their not-really-cream-cheeses.