So hey! Let's talk CHEESE. I’ve heard from so many people who want to go plant-based, “But cheese…!” And I totally get it, I was there! I held onto cheese for probably two years longer than anything else. But after I finally took the leap and tried not buying it again when it ran out, I can tell you how much easier it is to lose your taste for than you think! My only regret was not doing it sooner. Cheese adds a salty, cheesy flavor to any dish, but there are 1 million ways to add delicious flavor to top your dishes, that actually give you a variety of tastes so all your food doesn't have to taste the same! Here are some of the problems with cheese:
•Saturated Fat--The number one source of saturated fat in the American diet is cheese. Saturated fat not only increases our weight gain, contributing to higher risk of several chronic diseases, but also raises cholesterol levels, directly contributing to artery disease.
•Sodium--In just 2 ounces of cheese, you can be getting anywhere from 350 to 850mg of sodium! Remember DAILY max sodium should be 1500-2000mg. And 2 oz is just a whiff! It’s easy to have triple that at one meal, let alone several throughout the day where we use cheese as a topping over and over again.
•Hormones--To get milk from a cow, that cow has to have had a calf. Just like humans. So dairy farmers impregnate cows annually, and cow's pregnancies are about nine months. Just like humans. Meaning, 9 out of 12 months of the year they are pregnant. I'm sure cows wish they could start their own feminist movement just for this! <<insert heartbreak emoji>> But pregnancy elevates the levels of estrogen they have, and that gets into their plasma and milk levels. Concentrating their milk into cheese, passes that estrogen on to us, causing a host of problems. We don't need extra estrogens! Our bodies already work hard enough trying to get rid of the extra we make ourselves. Estrogens can promote cancer in males and females, and recent research has even found higher cheese intake being associated with infertility in men (lower sperm count, worse morphology, low motility). More research needs to be done here, but researchers are suspect of the estrogens in the cheese causing that result! Also, think about this--the thought of drinking human milk after weaning age makes us cringe, but for some reason the milk of a different mammal well into our adult years is totally normal? Hmmm...
•Casein--many studies have shown that casein (the primary protein from cow's milk) can promote cancer growth. When researchers increased casein in rat studies above 5% they could essentially turn "ON" cancer, and below 5% they could turn it "OFF." And the specific pathway in rats that allowed for this is the identical pathway we have in humans, so we can assume similar results. Also, casein produces compounds called "casomorphins" that act just like an OPIATE in our brain (yes, you read that right. Opiate. Like addictive pain-killers...). Making us want to come back for more, making us miss it when we don't have it. But if we skip cheese for about 3 weeks, we can get eliminate those casomorphins, and those cravings go away completely! (Think you might be addicted? Check out some tips for Breaking the Addiction from PCRM.)
So what alternatives are there?
Spices! Getting riddy of the salty flavor on top actually brings out the flavors of the foods themselves, and adding spices just enhances that! If you haven't heard of nutritional yeast, it is a great little topper to sprinkle like cheese on things, or add to a dish for a cheesy, salty flavor, but without the sodium, and with some great nutritional benefits!
Cashews! Cashews are a staple in my diet, because I can turn them into sour cream, sweet cream, nacho cheese, parmesan cheese,* and more! Once you start playing around with cashews (and even other nuts and seeds!) you'll find all your cheese-quitting fears alleviated. *My Fave Vegan Parm recipe below!
Tofu! Using tofu to make a ricotta copy-cat, or layering in lasagna (where it absorbs all the other flavors there, but adds a yummy cheese-like texture) is so easy! Drain, press, and crumble! There are even fancy books like Miyoko's and Julie Piatt to make every kind of vegan cheese you can imagine!
Sauces! Since going plant-based, I can't imagine my life without sauces. They make my world go round! Adding texture, depth of flavor, and visual appeal, there are so many delicious sauces awaiting you! You will NEVER miss cheese when you have a delicious sauce.
And remember, the phrase "You Can Do Hard Things," isn't just a reminder that you can train for that marathon or be nice to your family members, it can help you past the cheese addiction too! ;)
Easy Vegan Parmesan
Makes 1 heaping cup
1/2 C nutritional yeast
1/2 C raw cashews
1/4 C pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Throw in a food processor and pulse until you have a course crumble!