Last week, I ran a free interactive email training called Cheese-Free in 7 Days and, might I say, we covered a lot of information! So much so that I wanted to make the highlights available to everyone, so that you too can be a #cheesefree badass.
Cheese is almost always one of the LAST items to go when we make the decision to move toward a plant-based lifestyle. Cheese tastes good, goes well with everything (pretty sure they’re selling it grilled on donuts now), and let’s just take a step back and notice that… Cheese. Is. Everywhere.
So, if you’re looking to reduce the amount of cheese you’re consuming – or eliminate it completely – but not quite sure how to make this decision stick, the easy steps below are for you. Scroll all the way down for my personal recommendations on some fantastic dairy-free cheese alternatives that can replace any cheese item currently in your home.
(1) Become aware of your cheese habits.
Literally. Write it all down. Outline your entire day, yesterday, today, or tomorrow, and actually SEE how much cheese is showing up in your life, in shreds, in slices, in sauces, in snack foods. Only after we know where we’re starting from, can we make a clear path forward to where we want to be.
After you write it all out, identify a couple of areas where you could make potential changes. Where is your starting place? Do you always have a cheese-heavy dinner? Are you just habitually throwing shredded cheese on everything all day erryday? Are you handing out cheese sticks to your kids (and gnawing on them yourself) as if it were Halloween candy?
Did you know that in 1909, the average American consumed less than 4 pounds of cheese per year? By 2013, we were eating over 33 pounds per year. That’s 55,000 extra calories a year just in cheese. Let’s ponder all of the other more delicious dairy-free things we could be spending those extra calories on.
(2) Educate yourself regarding the honest truths about where cheese comes from.
And once you have the information, figure out what resonates with you. Make a personal connection with where your food comes from, and have this drive your motivation for long-term change.
This is a heavy topic when you get down to it, but let’s have some real talk here for a second, because one thing I never do it sugar-coat or beat around the bush when it comes to nourishing ourselves and ethically living on this planet.
On dairy farms, cows are raised for one reason: to feed people (read: not to feed their own babies, but to feed us and ours). Female cows are artificially inseminated approximately once per year, so that they will have babies. When the baby is born, it is taken away within a matter of hours to days, before it even has a chance to fully bond with (or naturally wean from) its mother. If it is a female baby, she too becomes groomed for dairy. If it is a male baby, he is destined for the veal industry – chained up for the purpose of minimal movement (so that his flesh stays soft and the muscles don’t become tough). The babies are typically fed some sort of fortifier or milk replacement, since they are unable to nurse from their mother. The mother will actually bellow with heartbreak for days when her baby is taken away, something inconceivable for us as humans. The mother cow is then milked on a schedule, by a machine, producing more milk than she would have for her own baby. She will often develop painful mastitis. The mother cow will continue the cycle of recurrent, forced pregnancy and milking year after year until she reaches around four years old, when she is typically considered too old for the dairy industry and at which point she is sent to slaughter – never to see her babies again.
Read my personal connection with dairy, what pushed me over the edge to stop letting cheese back into my life, and why I think mothers should be first in line to ditch dairy here.
For more information on dairy industry cruelty, check out Mercy for Animals’ undercover dairy investigations.
(3) Recognize if you have a cheese addiction.
Ever heard of someone being addicted to sugar? Cheese addiction may also be a real thing.
As we digest cheese, it produces mild opiates called casomorphins, that have an addictive effect on our brains. Humans are wired to crave things like salt, which is why it’s nearly impossible to eat ONE potato chip (I know it can’t just be me).
Casomorphins are found in casein, a milk protein in cheese. The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine explains that, “casomorphins attach to the same opiate receptors in the brain as heroin and other narcotics. Presumably, casomorphins trigger the brain to release do- pamine, which oods the body with feelings of reward and pleasure. It’s this dopamine release and the warm, fuzzy feelings people get afterward that keep them hooked on cheese.”
Why is this a thing, you ask? No, the dairy industry didn’t strategically inject casomorphins into our cheese to make it addictive to us (although they probably aren’t too upset about it) — there’s actually an evolutionary reason that it’s in there. So that babies will continue nursing from their mothers, and receive adequate nutrition!
So, if you think you have a cheese addiction – the first step is to admit there’s a problem. 😉
The good news is that there are plenty of things that we can substitute to slowly remove that addiction from our lives.
(4) Replace the nutrients from cheese with plant-based alternatives.
One of the most common things I hear from people is that they snack on cheese, or feed their kids string cheese sticks or cheese & crackers because it’s an easy way for them to get calcium and protein.
But, as much as we get this message from advertisements and free cheese samples at the grocery store, there are actually plenty of other ways to get calcium and protein from plant-based foods.
So if nutrition is the main reason that you’ve been holding onto cheese, listen up.
Plant-based protein sources:
- Whole grains, whole wheat bread, quinoa
- Nuts and seeds, nut butters
- Whole soy foods, like tofu, tempeh, soy milk
- Hemp, hemp hearts and hemp milk
- Chia and flax seeds
- Even vegetables like spinach and broccoli have a small amount of protein in them
Bottom line? Protein is everywhere. The idea that we need animal products to get enough protein is a myth.
Check out this post for more information on plant protein for kids.
Plant-based calcium sources:
There are more non-dairy milks on the market now than I can probably even name, but some of them are really kicking ass in the calcium department. Yet, you’ll probably read some articles comparing dairy to non-dairy milk that say one of the biggest downfalls of the non-dairy versions is that they are fortified with nutrients and therefore need to be shaken before drinking — heaven forbid that extra labor, but the nutrition is there.
Almond and cashew milk are high on the list for calcium content.
Other foods include:
- Soy yogurt
- Fortified orange juice
- Bok choy
I’ve created some free resources for you that list protein and calcium content of some plant foods, the RDA or recommended daily allowance of these two nutrients, and give some ideas for meals and snacks to make with them. I’ve even divided them out by age group- there’s one for infants/toddlers, one for kids, and one for adults. Check them out here.
(5) Understand the forces behind cheese marketing.
Bias (typically driven by money) runs rampant in the food and nutrition space, and it’s important to be aware of this so that we can better understand why certain foods are constantly marketed at us.
Case in point:
As a dietitian, I receive a free “gift” from the local dairy association every year, that contains at least 100 pamphlets, flyers, and/or coupons to “give away to my clients” — with the message that they need to be eating more dairy. The box usually also contains some sort of kitchen utensil that has a message about drinking more milk stamped on it. The contents of this box end up in my recycling bin or donation pile every year. #sorrynotsorry
I tell you this because it’s a perfect example of marketing — the dairy industry gifts dietitians (the world’s leading nutrition experts) free educational materials to promote dairy to their clients, on behalf of the dairy industry. Why do I care? I am being used as a vehicle to encourage consumers to keep pumping their money into dairy products, like cheese, solely because of the professional credential that I have. No thank you.
This happens all the time. Peruse the Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) website, an organization funded by US dairy farmers and importers with the sole purpose of getting consumers to spend more money on dairy products. They are constantly funding ads from fast food companies to promote items with cheese and dairy on them. One example? The Wendy’s Cheddar Lover’s Bacon Cheeseburger, marketing funded by DMI .
Watch TV for 20 minutes and pay attention to the commercials you see. My guess is: a few for medications for conditions like heart disease, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and irritable bowel syndrome, and then at least two for animal products in the form of a fast food chain or a happy cow talking about sour cream, cheese or milk she’s made just for you.
Do you see any for The National Broccoli Association?
No – because it doesn’t exist.
The broccoli industry doesn’t have x millions of dollars to spend on marketing to get us to eat more broccoli. And furthermore, there’s literally no argument against eating more broccoli – everybody knows eating vegetables is good for you, and there’s nobody out there with any credible leg to stand on arguing otherwise. So, broccoli is pretty safe just chillin over there with their little green trees. They don’t need to advertise their wholesome goodness to us 24/7.
(6) Take your new #cheesefree lifestyle out for a spin in public.
Eat out! You still can, so don’t be sitting over there pretending you can’t. Going cheeseless is actually not that big of a deal, and there are plenty of ways around it.
Some tips for going out:
- Check out the menu beforehand. I like to get to places already having a few options (or questions) in mind that will suit my dietary needs.
- Avoid cream based soups and sauces, as these tend to contain a dairy base and often cheese.
- Choose light dressings or vinaigrettes, and avoid options like Ranch or Bleu Cheese.
- Go ethnic. Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Ethiopian — these tend to be less cheese-heavy and should have options that are vegan without even having to ask to make them a special way. But still, do ask.
- Talk to the server. They know the menu! They should also be familiar (or can find out for you) with dairy-free options or requests that can be made to alter certain recipes.
- Ask specifically if they have nondairy cheese available. I’ve noticed that several pizza restaurants in my area have started carrying Daiya as an option. Even if it’s not listed as a specific vegan pizza, they may still have it available if you ask.
- Ask for meals to be prepared without cheese, plain and simple. This means you, Romano cheese grater guy at all Italian restaurants.
Personal Recommendations for Products & Recipes to Replace Cheese (not sponsored!)
Lastly, I also wanted to share some of my personal favorites when it comes to products that can replace cheese items in the home. These are becoming more widely available at regular old grocery stores (woot woot consumer demand), though some of them you will need to seek out a specialty foods store. I recommend calling ahead and confirming if they carry something specific if you’re unsure.
For sandwiches and spreads:
For soups, bakes, or sauces:
Daiya (I recommend hand-grating the block form, but they also sell pre-shredded)
For sprinkling on pastas, salads, or casseroles:
Yep, you can make cheese too. Cashews are an excellent base for homemade cheese and, if you have a high powered blender like a Vitamix, you can skip the overnight soak step and just throw it all in there and blend. Voila.
For drizzling or dolloping on pizza, spreading on sandwiches, throwing into casseroles, or dipping soft pretzels in:
Tell me… who needs cheese now? Bye, Felicia.
P.S. Want to participate in future free trainings and challenges with me? Or maybe just looking for some support as you transition to a plant-based lifestyle? Awesome! Head over to my private group, Plant-Powered World Changers, and join us on Facebook!