How To: Cut Back on Calories with These Easy, Tasty, & Healthy Cheese Alternatives

Cut Back on Calories with These Easy, Tasty, & Healthy Cheese Alternatives

Cheese might be one of the most satisfying snacks around, whether you prefer a slice of snappy Irish cheddar or a creamy, rich portion of Brie. It's been called "dairy crack" by a respected physician and for good reason: eating cheese produces casomorphins, which effect the human body like opiates. It also contains trace amounts of actual morphine.

Arguments go back and forth as to whether cheese is good for you or bad for you. Undoubtedly cheese is delicious, but it's also a calorie bomb (a high-fat cheese like Brie can have around 100 calories per ounce). Plus, cheese's addictive nature makes it hard to stop after a piece or two (there's a reason why the cheese plate is the usually the most crowded at a party).

Image by Chiot's Run/Flickr

Truthfully, most Americans consume more animal protein than they need. A recent study in Cell Metabolism points out that middle-aged Americans with diets high in dairy and meat tend to, well, die a lot earlier.

So while we celebrate eating cheese, we also say it's wise to do so in moderation. Fortunately, there are some really good plant-based recipes out there that replicate cheese's savory, umami nature, but won't expand your waistline and may actually keep your arteries healthier over time.

1. Cashew Cheese

This is a dish beloved by vegan cooks, and for good reason: the stuff is tasty and incredibly easy to make. You just need a little prep time and a food processor/blender. My favorite recipe comes from The Real Food Daily Cookbook:


  • 1½ cups raw cashews
  • 1/3 cup room-temperature water
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • Additionally, you can also add other nuts like pine or macadamia nuts for extra richness and flavor. Some people also like to add nutritional yeast (more on that below) or flavored salts, too.
Image via Robins Key

How to Make It:

  1. Soak the cashews in a large bowl of water for two hours. Drain well.
  2. Place drained cashews and the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and blend.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally to make sure you get a smooth, even texture.
  4. Place the cheese in container with a cover. Cover and let it stand outside for 1-2 days. This lets the flavors meld and develop.
  5. Cheese should be stored in the fridge. It'll last about five days.
Image via One Ingredient Chef

This cheese-like spread is rich, flavorful, and satisfying. It's great on vegetables, as a sandwich condiment, or mixed into pasta. Use it as you would any soft cheese like Brie or Camembert.

There are tons of variations on this basic recipe, too. They require more ingredients to get it to have specific flavors, like pepper jack, but they're worth the effort. Be sure to check out this recipe from Nutrition Stripped, which outlines classic cashew cheese and three good variations: truffle, olive, and sun-dried tomato.

From left to right: olive, sun-dried tomato, and truffle cashew cheese. Image via Nutrition Stripped

Side note: while nuts are also high in calories, they're generally considered pretty good for your overall health and may even help dieters maintain their weight goals.

2. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast, affectionately nicknamed "nooch" by many, is rich in B vitamins, fiber, and amino acids and is, in fact, a complete protein. Nutritional yeast's scientific name is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It's grown on sugarcane or beet molasses and then deactivated so it doesn't have leavening properties.

Nooch is not the same as brewer's or baking yeast, so be sure to double-check the label when you buy it. It's usually sold in flakes or powder form in plastic containers. Many health and natural food stores sell it in the bulk bin aisle, so it's even cheaper that way. You can also buy it online if you don't have a source nearby.

Image via One Green Planet

As for the taste? It's cheesy, nutty, and rich. I think it tastes like sharp cheddar cheese. You can sprinkle it on potatoes, pasta, bread, pizza dough, popcorn, and kale chips. It's incredibly satisfying and savory.

It can be used in place of cheese just about anywhere. The Huffington Post has several recipes where nooch happily takes the place of cheese, including lasagna, mac and cheese, gravy, and pesto.

This vegan pesto uses--you guessed it--nutritional yeast. Image by James Ransom/Food52

3. Olives & Miso

Thank J. Kenji López-Alt over at Serious Eats for this one. This magic mixture (via Lifehacker) of olives, miso, rosemary, and lemon zest all combine to create an ingredient that could one-up Parmesan.

Image by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt/Serious Eats

The taste is described as "salty, aromatic, and tangy/funky" and can be used exactly as Parm would: on pasta, pizzas, bread, and in soups and tapenades. López-Alt recommends dehydrating the mixture, which gives it a much longer shelf life and intensifies the flavor. Get the instructions here.

What other cheese substitutes do you recommend?

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