Everybody has his or her weakness when it comes to food. For many of us, that weakness is sweets (I, admittedly, am a sucker for a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie myself). Cheese is another biggie. So many kinds with so many flavors; you can put it on just about anything and you can never have enough it seems. “This pizza has way too much cheese!” said no one, ever. Stuff like that can be almost hauntingly irresistible, but it is all so full of empty calories and fat that eating it as often as you want is not worth the consequences.
The good news, though, is that you do not have to deprive yourself of tasty embellishments, like cheese, to be healthy and fit (or even if you are lactose intolerant!). All you need to do is fake it. There are tons of ready-made cheese and dairy substitutes out there as well as recipes to make your own.
Nutritional yeast is a weight-watching cheese-lover’s dream come true. Nutritional yeast flakes are easy to work with and incredibly versatile. You can use them in virtually any pasta dish that you want to have a cheesy, salty flavor (like macaroni and cheese). Stir them into mashed potatoes for the extra flavor without adding all the unwanted calories, cholesterol, and fat. Sprinkle them over all kinds of things like meats, popcorn, veggies, or anything else to which you normally like to add cheese. They can also be used to make one of the easiest cheese substitutes for parmesan. Just mix equal amounts of nutritional yeast flakes and either ground almonds or ground sesame seeds. Add in a little salt, pepper, garlic salt/powder, or onion salt/powder, to taste, and you have a much healthier cheese alternative that can be used to replace grated parmesan altogether.
To illustrate the nutritional benefits of nutritional yeast over regular cheese, here are some average nutritional fact comparisons. Two tablespoons of nutritional yeast flakes contains about 60 calories (7 from fat) and less than 1 gram of fat. It also has significant amounts of folic acid, niacin, and vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B12. Two tablespoons of gruyere contains about 46 calories (32 from fat), about 4 grams of fat, and 2 grams of saturated fat. Two tablespoons of parmesan cheese has about 44 calories, but 26 of them come from its fat content.
Whether you follow a strict vegan diet or not, vegan substitutes (which are available for literally everything you can think of) are generally more nutritious than the foods they imitate. Cheese substitutes for vegans are commonly made from different types of grains, rice, and/or soybeans. While they do have some fat content, they are usually lower in calories and fat than dairy cheeses and are free of cholesterol. The consistency of many cheese substitutes is a little different than what you may be used to and often takes some getting used to itself. They usually do not melt as well/as easily as dairy cheeses, so be sure to consider that when following recipes and such that call for dairy cheese.
Some recommended brands of cheese substitutes include Daiya (which is vegan), Galaxy Foods, Smart Beat (by Smart Balance), Soyco Rice Shreds, and Vegan Gourmet. These brands offer a wide variety of flavors and forms (i.e. blocks, grated, shreds, and slices). From cheddar, parmesan, and pepper jack, to cream cheese, mascarpone, mozzarella, and ricotta, these brands have got you covered (and smothered, like those Waffle House hash browns we all reluctantly avoid).
Daiya’s mozzarella shreds make one of the most popular cheese substitutes for pizza. It is even offered at some restaurant chains (Brixx and Mellow Mushroom, for example), often for no additional charge; you just have to request it. You use it just as you would regular mozzarella shreds when using it at home. Be warned, though, that it tends to melt faster in the microwave than it does in the oven, and that it does not quite get that uniform layer-look like dairy mozzarella. So, it may not look thoroughly melted, but, once you bite into it, it should be just as soft, gooey, and slightly stringy as you would expect from dairy mozzarella.
Finding cheese substitutes for gruyere may be a bit trickier than others. Gruyere is a type of Swiss cheese that is very creamy and rich with a slightly nutty flavor. It is one of the two main ingredients traditionally used in fondue. It is also fattening and rather expensive. Jarlsberg or Manchego can be used in place of gruyere for cost-reduction purposes. For nutritional purposes, it is probably easiest just to make your own.
The best thing you can do is just giving it a try. Experiment with different brands and types of cheese substitutions until you figure out the ones you like most and in what sort of dishes they work best. It will ultimately be one of the easiest ways to cut some calories out of your diet. It is hard to miss cheese when you always have “cheese” on hand.