A considerable part of the world population is allergic to milk proteins. Others suffer from autoimmune diseases that are improved by excluding or decreasing milk products in their daily diet and a significant part of the modern population cannot tolerate lactose, aka the sugars in milk.
In order for us to digest lactose correctly, we need a digestive enzyme called lactase. Without lactase in the digestive system, lactose is not processed and causes intestinal pain and other problems. Around 75% of the world’s inhabitants, are not able to properly digest cow’s milk or milk from other species after 3 years of age, which is typically when introducing lactase in the body decreases or ceases to exist due to a lack of consuming milk.
Ana María Torres, a Spanish nutritionist, who has an office in the city of Valencia, Spain says: “When a person who no longer ingests lactase, or does so in very low amounts, drinks milk or eats cheese which contains lactose, the intestinal bacteria convert it into hydrogen or fermentation products and toxic agents such as acetaldehyde, ethanol, formic acid and methane. ” She adds: “These toxins can affect the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the muscles and the immune system.”
As a result, if you have digestive problems, headaches or discomfort shortly after drinking milk, it is likely that you do not digest lactose well, which is why it is best to find milk, yogurt and cheese substitutes.
Cheese is one of the most popular foods in various diets around the world and is considered an essential part of the basic food groups. In countries such as France, Holland or Spain, hundreds of different varieties of cheese are produced. However, many people have had to stop eating cheese due to problems of lactose intolerance or allergies to milk proteins. In the case of cheese, casein, a milk protein that is present during the preparation process, causes the lactose intolerant very serious health problems.
Vegans and cheese
Due to all of these drawbacks, there is a large number of people who have opted for a lifestyle without dairy products. Many of them are vegans, which is a practice that rejects the use and consumption of all kinds of animal products.
In the United States, according to data collected in 2016 by the website The Raw Food World, the number of vegans and vegetarians reached 16 million people which is equivalent to 5% of the total population of the country. This figure is even more relevant if one takes into account that in 2008, only 0.5% of the population defined themselves as vegan or vegetarian, according to data from Imaner Consultants.
Both for vegans and for those who are lactose intolerant, there is an option that is safe for them to consume, thanks to vegetable cheeses, also known as vegan cheeses. For some, these cheeses represent a healthy option, since only vegetables, vegetable oils and natural emulsifiers such as tapioca, cereals or nuts are used to prepare these products.
Andrés Recaredo, originally from Argentina but has lived in Spain for 17 years, has been vegan for eight years and together with his wife Elisa makes vegan cheeses in their own home “I think it’s a very healthy option, because the taste is very good, and does not contain products derived from animals, which decreases the risk of obesity, heart problems, diabetes and high blood pressure.”
Is everything that looks like cheese, cheese?
Not everyone agrees with vegan cheeses and their supposed health benefits. Dietitian-nutritionist Lucia Martinez, in her blog ‘CuerpoMente’ believes that, “vegan cheeses that are for sale are usually a conglomerate of bad quality fat, starch and dye.” She also said that, “they are sold in specialized stores, with a high price and often with a Vegan stamp, which gives us the feeling of buying something healthy.”
Mayte Rambla, owner of the TOTDEPOBLE artisanal cheese factory, located in Castellón, Spain, which produces award-winning cheeses made with sheep’s milk, believes that vegan cheeses do not contribute any of the vitamins and proteins that artisan cheeses offer. “I do not think these vegan substitutes should be called cheese, because I think cheese is a food that is made with milk from different animals,” she said.
It can be said then that vegan cheeses are a safe option for those who suffer from some type of allergy or food intolerance or for those who have decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle, as long as they look for a quality product. Another tricky question in the vegan cheese debate is whether or not this type of food can be defined as cheese. What do you think? Is vegan cheese, “real cheese?” The answer is completely up to you. ■