Transitioning to a plant-based diet can be very beneficial for your health as well as the planet, and for those with applicable allergies or dietary restrictions, it can be necessary. But that doesn’t make it any less of a bummer to give up certain animal foods. For some, that means meaty slabs of bacon and juicy burgers; for others, ice cream (not that there is any shortage of delicious vegan options).
For me, it was cream cheese. While I don’t miss dairy milk at all, the thought of a blueberry bagel slathered with cream cheese still makes me salivate—yes, even after years of dairy-free living.
Thankfully, it is easier than ever to find delicious plant-based alternatives to cheese, cream cheese included. The texture and flavor of high-quality vegan cream cheeses resembles the real deal so closely—feelings of deprivation, completely gone. But how do they stack up nutritionally? To find the healthiest options, I turned to Whitney English Tabaie, MS, RDN, CPT, creator of Plant-Based Juniors and Whitney E. RD.
“I prefer vegan cream cheeses made with minimal ingredients. I also like nut-based cream cheeses versus those derived from oil and starch,” says English. “Nut-based vegan cream cheeses offer benefits to your heart, metabolic, and cognitive health due to their high content of nutrient-packed unsaturated fatty acids.” English adds that swapping out dairy-based cream cheese for this type of vegan cream cheese will also lower the amount of saturated fat in your meal.
The obvious way to use vegan cream cheese is on a bagel, but English also uses it as a sandwich spread, in baking (we meet again, cheesecake), a base layer for vegan pizzas, and even in plant-based quesadillas. “The sticky cheese keeps your quesadilla together and adds a burst of creamy, cheesy flavor,” she emphasizes.
Hungry now? Shop English’s best vegan cream cheese picks below.
The 3 best vegan cream cheese options, according to an RD
“This spread has a great neutral flavor that works really well on pizzas or quesadillas, in addition to any and every type of toasted bagel,” says English. “It helps to keep your toppings and fillings in place and is made with minimal, whole-food ingredients.” Kite Hill’s vegan cream cheese is made from a base of almond milk and has a scarily similar consistency to cow’s milk-based cream cheese. Go ahead, serve it to brunch guests and see if they can even tell the difference.
Sometimes, the standard stuff just won’t do it—you need to dial the cheese up a notch. That’s where this rich, sharp, and tangy vegan cheddar spread comes in. “This spread is an awesome stand-in for traditional cheddar in grilled cheese sandwiches,” says English. “My 3-year-old son gobbles it up!” You can also use it for spreading on warm soft pretzels, crackers, and cut veggies.
“This spread is made with heart-healthy almonds and is an excellent addition to everything bagels,” says English. The mellow chive flavor further masks the fact that it isn’t ‘real’ cream cheese. Use it as a sandwich spread or stir into a springy asparagus pasta, too.
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