Do vegans eat cheese? No. Cheese comes from a cow, and vegans do not eat animals or products derived from animals.
Why is there confusion? And what about about vegan “cheese?”
Find out in this post written by a credentialed food and nutrition expert (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)! I also happen to be an ethical vegan, so if you want insight from someone who has both expertise and experience- keep reading!
Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for medical or dietary advice. Always talk to your doctor about any health concerns, if you want to make major dietary changes, or take a supplement. See our Disclaimers for more details.
*Consumer Notice: This post contains affiliate links that are marked in this manner: (affiliate link*)”. If you click on these links and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Want a quick summary? Check out my ‘dairy free’ (see what I did there?) YouTube Short below (and keep reading for the details)!
Do Vegans Eat Cheese?
Vegans do not eat cheese. That is-they don’t eat dairy cheese.
In summary, vegans avoid eating:
- Sea creatures (including fish and crustaceans )
- Dairy (including cheese, yogurt, milk, and cream)
- Any other food that is made partially from animals (learn more in this article about grocery shopping as a vegan).
Cheese falls under the dairy category. It is made by coagulating (and sometimes) fermenting the breastmilk from cows- making it it non vegan (1).
Why Vegans Avoid Cheese
Vegans typically avoid cheese for the following reasons:
- Ethical concerns from the exploration of cows (Likely, the most common reason)
- As a part of their religion
- Concerns for the environment
Finally, some individuals follow a vegan diet because they think it is healthier. They may avoid cheese because they don’t think it is healthy for example.
I did not include that reason in the list above because these individuals may or may not consider themselves vegan for reasons beyond diet.
With that being said, lets dive more into the reasons why vegans might avoid cheese!
Most vegans avoid cheese out of concern for the animals that were exploited to make that cheese.
Standard practice in the dairy industry involves artificial insemination of cows and the separation of calves from mothers soon after birth (2).
In this system, female cows are utilized for their reporductive system until they are deemed “not useable” anymore. Male babies are often used for meat, while the females will likely suffer the same fate as their mothers.
Since vegans seek to reduce the suffering and exploitation of animals(3), they do not consume dairy products.
In fact, learning about the dairy industry was what finally started my journey to veganism. If you want to read my story, you can check it out here!
Some individuals hold a the vegan philosophy and lifestyle to try to reduce non harm toward animals and because their religion endorses it.
As you just learned above, much distress can occur in the dairy industry, including premature death to cows and their children.
So those who are vegan for animals and their religion avoid dairy as a way to reduce harm and be keep in alignment with their religious beliefs.
Some vegans choose to cut the cheese (pun intended) out of concern for the environment.
Amongst the farming sector, dairy and beef are associated with having higher green house gas emissions than plant proteins (4).
Considering how much land, food, and water cows need, it’s no wonder that eco friendly vegans would be on board giving up cheese.
Vegan Cheese Alternatives
Plant based milks aren’t dairy milk. Likewise, vegan cheese isn’t dairy cheese!
Instead of dairy, it’s vegan cheese is usually made with a combination of nuts, oil, and/or flavorings.
Common ingredients in vegan cheese alternatives may include:
- tapioca starch
- canola oil
- avocado oil
- coconut oil
- nutritional yeast
- lactic acid (vegan)
- Vegan flavorings and seasonings
- Gums (such as guar gum)
- Added vitamins (like vitamin A) and minerals (like calcium)
What can vegans eat instead of cheese? There are many types of vegan and non dairy cheeses including:
- Vegan cheddar
- vegan mozzarella
- vegan cream cheese
- vegan swiss cheese
- vegan American style cheese
- vegan cheese sauce
As a vegan I really miss cheesy sticks! You know- the rubbery kind you can peel?
Luckily, Daiya’s mozzarella style cheese sticks do the trick when I have that craving (P.S.: I’m still waiting on a cottage cheese substitute Daiya! ) !
You can check them out below (affiliate link*):
Another vegan cheese that I’m super happy to have discovered are Plant Based Babybel! They’re even fortified with a bit of vitamin B12!
Vegan Cheese Brands
Vegan cheese brands are becoming more common!
Here’s a list of some exclusively vegan food brands available in the US (please note, brands my change):
Here’s a list of cheese brands but carry vegan cheese alternatives even though they aren’t exclusively vegan, (as a vegan, I’m all for brands providing plant based options!):
Nutrition: Vegan Cheese Alternatives Vs. Dairy Cheese
Nutrition wise, vegan cheese is quite different than cheese made from cows milk.
Just as some plant based milks are fortified with calcium, vegan cheese might be as well, but still, there are many differences between them and the dairy version.
Lets compare cheddar cheese to the the popular vegan brand- Daiya’s cheddar slices (FYI: nutrient values have been rounded up).
|Calories||Saturated fat (grams)||Sodium (milligrams)||Protein (grams)||Calcium (milligrams)||Vitamin B12 (micrograms)|
|Sharp Cheddar, sliced (21 grams) (5)||86||4||135||5||149||0.2|
|Daiya sliced cheddar (22 grams) (6)||60||4||170||0||140||1|
While there are some similarities, in this example, the dairy cheese has more calories and less vitamin B12 and sodium.
The Daiya cheese example has considerably less protein than the dairy cheese. However, if you make your own vegan cheese with nuts or soy for example, you can increase the protein content.
While these examples are not nutritionally equivalent, it but that doesn’t mean vegan’s aren’t healthy!
Remember, vegan cheese is just one food. There are several other ways to get the nutrients you need on a vegan diet.
Finally, it’s important to note that many vegan cheeses are not fortified with vitamin B12 or calcium. You really have to read the nutrition facts.
As a vegan- at the end of the day, vegan cheese is just a fun food for me when I’m craving a cheese like flavor. I don’t rely on them to provide substantial nutritional value.
Homemade Vegan Cheese Recipes
There are several ways you can make your own vegan cheese!
Most recipes are made using a base of tofu or nuts. Nutritional yeast helps to add a “cheezy” flavor.
Vegan Mozzarella Cheese
This vegan mozzarella cheese recipe I found from Avocados and Ales is so good! My dairy loving husband even likes it!
Its got a cheesy flavor that reminds me of mozzarella, and makes for a tasty topping on vegan pizza.
And if you don’t have the lactic acid it calls for, the lemon juice substitution worked just fine when I made this recipe. 👌You can check it out here.
Baked Vegan Ricotta Cheese
The tofu and nutritional yeast bump up the protein content in a plant powered way!
If you miss ricotta cheese as a vegan, check out this nutrient dense recipe from a fellow dietitian.
Vegan Parmesan Cheese
Pass the vegan parm please!
If you need something vegan to sprinkle on pasta or whole food plant based snacks for a bit of unami, you’ve got it in this!
Is Cheese Vegetarian Diet Friendly?
While vegans do not eat cheese, some types of vegetarians – called lacto-vegetarians do eat it. If these vegetarians include eggs as well (very common in the vegetarian community) they are called “lacto-ovo vegetarians.”
“Lacto” refers to milk, and “ovo” refers to eggs.
These vegetarians allow cheese, but they might avoid certain certain cheeses that are made with animal based rennet. These rennet’s come from the stomach lining of cows, and are used as a coagulant in cheese making.
Cheeses with these rennet’s are technically not vegetarian, as the only animal products some vegetarians allow are dairy and/or eggs.
Still, there are vegetarian rennet’s that are derived from plants or fungi, making it a lacto-vegetarian cheese product (1).
However, as someone who was lacto-ovo vegetarian and surrounded by others like me growing up, many vegetarians might not look at the ingredient list that closely.
Some simply don’t know what rennet is and still call themselves vegetarian whether or not the rennet is animal or vegetarian based.
Vegans, on the the other hand, avoid all dairy, so any type of cheese is a no-go!
Final Words: Is Cheese Vegan? + Do Vegans Eat Cheese?
Vegans do not consume animals or products made with animals, and therefore- they don’t eat cheese. Cheese is not vegan as it comes from an animal.
Reasons can include the exploitation of cows in the dairy industry, religious beliefs, and/or the heavy environmental impact of cheese production.
While vegans do not eat dairy cheese, they may choose to eat vegan cheese alternatives made from plant based ingredients like nuts and nutritional yeast.
I hope you found this article helpful!
Let me know in the comments: what’s your favorite store bought or home made vegan cheese? Do you enjoy these foods or not? Let me know in the comments below!
If you liked this article, I’ve got more where that comes from via the Vegan Nutrition Library!
I discuss other topics like,
–Can a Vegan Eat Bread?
-Is Chocolate Vegan?
-Is Peanut Butter Vegan (and Does it Have Dairy)?
-What Cereals are Vegan?
-Is Oatmeal Vegan?
-Can Vegans Drink Coffee?
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