Posted October 24, 2015

Courtesy of Organic Connections

Cheese is a glorious food. It's rich, salty, tangy . . . and deeply satisfying to taste buds. However, as tasty as it can be, ethical or health issues may have you limiting your dairy cheese intake. Luckily, vegan cheeses have come a long way, even at big-box grocery stores. Spendy alternatives aren't your only option though. Simply stocking your kitchen with certain foods can give you more choices when the need for cheese hits. (Note: If you're concerned about sodium intake, be sure to opt for low-sodium varieties.)

1. Roasted and salted almonds. Almonds are chock-full of good fats that satiate cravings plus help keep your heart healthy. They also have ample amounts of magnesium, calcium and iron. Roasting brings out their sweet, rich, nutty flavor for a more satisfying taste.

2. Nutritional yeast. A common ingredient in vegan cheese alternatives for its strong and slightly nutty qualities, nutritional yeast can be used to pump up the flavor of dips or cheesy vegan sauces. Or simply sprinkle on popcorn.

3. Tahini-rich hummus or dip. Tahini, a thick and creamy paste made from roasted sesame seeds, traditionally lends its full-bodied flavor to hummus, but it's excellent mixed with other bean dips or on its own.

4. Miso. This salty, fermented food from Asia has potent flavor, used to permeate soups, stews or dips. Stir a tablespoon into a mug of hot water for instant gratification. (Note: Buy the unpasteurized fermented variety for probiotic benefits.)

5. Roasted seaweed. Both crunchy and chewy, seaweed snacks satisfy that urge for something a bit chewy and salty. Seaweed contains lots of trace minerals and iodine, important to thyroid health.

6. Chewy vegan proteins, such as organic tempeh or seitan. Sometimes a cheese craving masks a need for the chewy textures and satiating quality of proteins. If you're watching saturated fat intake, seitan wins out, with less than half a gram per serving. But tempeh (whole soybean-based) has a more robust nutrient profile. Broil or lightly saut� for a satisfying top to either salad greens or whole-grain bread.

7. Cashews. These nuts have a magical ability to transform into cream when soaked for several hours and pureed for a few minutes in the blender. Substitute for creme fraiche or sour cream. Or blend soaked cashews with fruit and natural sweetener, and freeze in mini muffin tins as "cheesecakes." Make no mistake: cashews' creaminess doesn't come low-cal. However, you'll certainly cut down on animal fats -- and you won't miss dairy one bit.

© 2015 Natural Vitality