Recently I came across a busy thread in a vegan Facebook community. There were hundreds of comments to one question … “what food do you miss the most?”
After flicking through the feedback, it was pretty obvious that the most mourned food in a plant-based life is cheese.
The yellow, melty gooeyness has become America’s love child and largest source of saturated fat. The average American consumer eats approximately 33 pounds of cheese each year. That’s over 60 thousand calories that never needed to be eaten!
Our lizard brain LOVES it because humans evolved from a time when food was scarce and high-calorie morsels were to be savored for energy and survival. But evolution is a slow process. Our brains need to catch up with modern times of food abundance so that diets are more focussed on obtaining key nutrients from food instead of calories.
A further reason why cheese-lovers are adoring fans is largely due to the opioid-like effect on the brain that is similar to taking drugs. Cheese contains casein. It also contains casein fragments called casomorphins, a casein-derived morphine-like compound. Basically, dairy protein has opiates that attach to the same brain receptors that heroin and other narcotics attach. It makes the desire to eat it again a powerful urge to deny.
The cold truth is that cheese (and dairy) is responsible for a range of common health issues – from asthma and acne to ear infections and period pain. In my work with people to help them quit dairy (some are diagnosed as lactose intolerant), they’re always surprised to heal other complaints that they had come to accept as having to live with forever.
Sometimes it’s not until we stop a eating something noxious that we make the connection.
I think cheese would be easier to deny if people knew how a lot of it is made. This information not only helped me to never eat cheese again, but never want to. A subtle but important distincion.
Here’s the deal …
Calf rennet is extracted from the fourth stomach of young, nursing calves as part of livestock butchering. These stomachs are a byproduct of veal production. Rennet contains enzymes that helps the baby animal digest the protein from the mother’s milk. Humans have found it to also help in cheesemaking by separating it into the solid curds and the liquid whey.
My own stomach is curdling right now …
If you’re ready to kick the stuff, it takes at least one full month for cheese cravings to die off. Sometimes it’s longer but when you consider the effects on human health, it’s short-term pain for a long-term reward.
Women who eat cheese at least once a day put themselves at a 49% higher risk of death. According to Dr Neil Barnard this is because of the hormones in cow’s milk (from which cheese is made) that causes cancer to grow.
Science also indicates a strong correlation between cheese consumption and Alzheimer’s disease. The higher the consumption, the higher the risk.
The best approach to breaking up with cheese is firstly accepting that there really is no substitute that will give you the same “fix”. There are some highly processed alternatives like Daiya, and Miyoko brands, but these lack the dopamine hit and are devoid of any real nutritional value.
Rather than looking to substitute, it’s better to look for non-dairy alternatives that also taste great where cheese would have had a place too.
Here are five of my favourite foods that you can use in the places where cheese might have lived:
ONE: Almond meal
Ground, sifted whole almond have a similar texture to Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top of dishes like pasta, soups and pizza where you’d usually use it. You can also mix the almond meal with some dried herbs and a little salt for more flavour.
TWO: Nutritional Yeast (aka ‘nooch’)
‘Nooch’ is a heavily used ingredient in a cheese-free kitchen because of it’s cheese-like qualities. It’s also an umami bomb! Sprinkle it on popcorn, pasta, pizza, and soups. Add it into sauces and fillings. Nutritional yeast is also a source of Vitamin B12, folic acid, selenium, zinc and protein making it a great addition to any recipe.
The humble avo is versatile in a dairy-free kitchen. Use it in sweet or savoury dishes – in sandwiches, on pizzas, inside burritos and quesadillas. It can also be used to replace butter in cakes and makes a mean chocolate pudding! It’s rich and creamy texture satisfies the senses. Just be mindful that it is also high in calories so limit intake to a quarter avocado per day if weight-loss is a goal.
Another staple in the pantry is the humble cashew. These are usually mistaken for nuts but are seeds because they grow inside the cashew fruit (aka drupe).
Just one of the many ways to use them is to soak cashews for a few hours, drain and then puree with a little garlic and nutritional yeast to make a kind of spreadable cheese. You can also use cashews to make cheesecake, and cheese-like sauces and dressings.
FIVE: Miso Paste
If you’re a lover of older and stronger cheese, this is likely due to its umami taste. Miso paste, made from fermented soybeans, has a rich umami flavour. A little goes a long way so just a tablespoon of miso paste can add serious flavour to sauces, dressing, marinades and soups.
There you have it. Five awesome new things to try in the kitchen instead of reaching for the cheese.
So … enough of the “I could never …” statements. If you’re scared of kicking it to the kerb because it brings you comfort and pleasure, then that’s the truth.
You CAN give up cheese and the great news is that when you’re ready to quit the excuses, face the fear and step into action, you’ll kick it forever. I know you will.
What’s something you’ve given up in the past that you never thought you could? Please let us know in the comments below.
Veggie Based ‘Cheese’ Sauce
Veggie Based 'Cheese' Sauce
- 2 cups sweet potato, diced approximately 2 small sized sweet potatos
- 1 cup carrot, diced
- 1 brown onion, quartered
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon miso paste
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon chickenless chicken stock I use Massel brand
- In a large pot, boil the sweet potato, carrot and onion until tender.
- Transfer vegetables to a high powered blender and blend until smooth.
- Drizzle over nachos, steamed veg, or gluten-free pasta. Serve immediately.
Here’s to a happy week ahead filled with honesty and action.