Trying to eat vegan but can’t curb your cheese addiction? Here’s how to give up cheese
Cheese addiction is very real, and you may not realise just how addicted you are until you try giving it up. You might even find that when you try ditching cheese, your cravings intensify. You might even start daydreaming about cheese.
You’re not alone! For many people going dairy-free and switching from veggie to vegan, cheese presents a challenge. Some meals just don’t feel complete without it – from mozzarella melted on pizza to Parmesan-topped pasta dishes. And if you’re from a cheese-loving culture, going without it seems impossible.
We’ve heard countless people say, “I could never go vegan because I can’t live without cheese.” But people do get there in the end. And you can, too. Here’s our honest guide to giving up cheese for good.
Why is cheese so addictive?
“But why am I craving cheese?” we hear you ask. Cheese and other dairy products contain a protein called casein, which breaks down into compounds called casomorphins when digested.
Casomorphins can attach themselves to dopamine receptors in the brain, which then releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in feelings of pleasure and reward.
When we eat cheese and experience this release of dopamine, it causes us to crave it again in the future. You can read more about this in The Cheese Trap by plant-based physician, Dr Neal Barnard.
How to stop craving cheese
1. Quit cold turkey?
Our community has two different stances on this one. Some advise that if you’re constantly craving cheese, it’s best to wean yourself off it instead of trying to quit overnight. Start by making small replacements, taking it one day (or even one meal) at a time. You may find it useful to have one cheese-free day a week, then two, then three and so on. Meat Free Monday is a thing, so why not start Cheese Free Tuesday?
However, others suggest taking the plunge and going cold turkey is the only way to stop eating cheese for good. After a month or two, exploring vegan cheese is a lot tastier.
Trying to go cheese-free overnight may make your cravings worse, which can leave you feeling like it’s impossible so you may as well just stick to your normal habits. Making gradual changes and allowing your body to adjust to meals that don’t involve cheese could work better for you than quitting overnight.
2. Avoid vegan cheese…for now
When people transition from vegetarian to vegan or try vegan for the first time, they often realise that vegan cheese doesn’t measure up to the real thing. Although vegan cheese has come a long way, it’s not a like-for-like replacement. If you buy vegan cheese expecting it to taste the same, you’ll probably be disappointed.
Avoid vegan cheeses until you’ve mastered eating meals that aren’t cheese-based. Most people find that their tastebuds adapt over time, so when you try vegan cheese in the future, it might not be a shock to the system.
Top tip: Spreadable vegan cheeses tend to be similar to their dairy counterparts, so why not experiment with these to begin with?
3. Replace cheese with something else
Think about the dishes you typically enjoy with cheese and the attributes that make it particularly tasty. Is it the gooey texture of melted cheese? Or is it the thick, creamy quality it gives to a dish? You can recreate your favourite cheesy qualities with alternative foods that still hit the spot.
Consider which meals or snacks it would be easy to remove cheese from and start experimenting with those. Then work your way up to replacing the foods you feel you can’t live without.
Here are some alternatives to mimic the texture that cheese offers in different dishes:
- Nutritional yeast – This magical ingredient is a saviour for countless cheese-loving vegans. It has a tangy taste and it’s versatile. Sprinkle it on jacket potatoes and chilli, or even make a cheesy sauce with it.
- Nut butters
- Vegan pesto
- Tinned coconut milk
These can help replace the creaminess of cheese that you find yourself craving. However, if you’re just not ready to incorporate alternatives into your home cooking yet, explore vegan menus in restaurants. Adding new flavours and textures into your life can help you realise you’re not taking anything away. And if there’s a cheesy dish on the menu, give it a try, because it might be tastier than something you could make at home!
4. Find your ‘why’
Having a strong motivator for giving up cheese can help you when those cravings come knocking. We’ve spent our lives being told that happy cows make milk for us, that dairy is an important source of calcium and we need it for strong bones.
However, when you discover the cruel reality of the dairy industry, you may feel differently about cheese after all. Educate yourself about where dairy comes from, the environmental impact of dairy farming and vegan calcium sources to reframe how you think about cheese.
Some of the things you find out may be enough to put you off cheese for good. This way, cheese isn’t something you’re giving up; it’s something you’re choosing to leave behind.
5. Explore vegan cheese when you’re ready
The demand for vegan cheese has skyrocketed in recent years and the market has responded. Companies are investing in plant-based cheeses that are worthy enough to replace dairy.
Keep an open mind and explore the options in your local supermarkets and independent health stores. Visit vegan markets and check out online retailers for nut-based and artisan cheeses if you don’t like the commercial options.
Some vegan cheeses are better than others. Some will melt perfectly on a pizza, while others will be ideal for mac and cheese. It will take time and patience to find products you like, but it’s an area that’s improving and new options are being launched all the time.
If you simply can’t get on board with vegan cheese, revisit step three. Learn to cook without cheese and replace the textures with other plant-based foods instead of seeking alternatives.
What if I still can’t give up cheese?
We’re only human and sometimes cravings get the better of us at social events, when we’re travelling or when we get an irresistible late-night urge to scoff some cheddar. Setbacks will happen.
The important thing is not to beat yourself up or see craving cheese as a reason to stop trying to be vegan. If you’re 99% vegan apart from the occasional cheese binge, it’s still better for animals and the planet than not being vegan at all!
Cheese is not the gateway to veganism – if anything, it’s the last door you close.