A plant-based diet can transform your health when it’s done correctly. But that doesn’t mean every “vegan” alternative food is healthy. Today, let’s look at the popular vegan cheese brand Daiya… Is Daiya cheese healthy?
Daiya cheese is not very healthy. It’s made mainly of processed starch and refined oil, and it has a similar amount of saturated fat and sodium as real cheese. For a healthier option, look for a plant-based “cheese” made of whole foods, such as a healthy cashew cheese.
Below, I’ll compare the nutrition facts between Daiya Shreds vs Kraft shredded cheese. I’ll also look at the specific ingredients in Daiya cheese and whether you should be concerned about them. I’ll also look specifically at whether Daiya is good for diabetics.
What Is Daiya Cheese Made Out Of?
Let’s start by looking at the actual ingredients for Daiya cheese shreds. Here’s the mozzarella flavor:
Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds Ingredients: “Filtered Water, Tapioca Starch, Coconut Oil, Expeller Pressed: Canola and/or Safflower Oil, Vegan Natural Flavors, Chickpea Protein, Salt, Potato Protein, Tricalcium Phosphate, Lactic Acid (Vegan), Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum, Yeast Extract, Fruit and/or Vegetable Juice Color.” (source)
So the main ingredients here are tapioca starch, oil, chickpea and potato protein, and salt. But before we get into analyzing those ingredients… Are these the main ingredients in all Daiya cheese products?
For the most part, yes. But there are some ways the ingredients do vary between Daiya cheeses:
- Some Daiya cheese products, like the Cheeze Sticks and Slices, use potato starch (alone or together with tapioca starch).
- Daiya Cream Cheeze contains a significant amount of coconut cream along with the coconut oil.
- Some Daiya cheese products, like the Cheeze Sauce and Cream Cheeze, contain a small amount of cane sugar.
- The old recipe of Daiya Shreds used pea protein instead of chickpea protein.
We will analyze these ingredients in-depth in just a moment—but first, let’s look at the rest of the Nutrition Facts label.
Daiya Cheese Nutrition
In one serving of Daiya Mozzarella Shreds (1/4 cup), you get:
- 80 calories
- 5g total fat
- 3g saturated fat
- 0g trans fat
- 0mg cholesterol
- 230mg sodium
- 8g total carbohydrates
- 0g dietary fiber
- 0g sugar
- 0g protein
- 152mg calcium (10% daily value)
If you want to look at the macronutrient ratio, it’s 5g fat, 8g carbs, and 0g protein. That means it’s about 45 calories from fat and 32 from carbs. That’s 58% fat, 42% carbs, 0% protein.
Also, keep in mind that some recipes may use two or more servings of Daiya Shreds—so these numbers could be multiplied a few times if you’re not measuring and limiting your serving size.
So what does all this really mean? Let’s dig into a series of questions about how Daiya stacks up from a health perspective.
Is Daiya Cheese Highly Processed?
The top ingredients in Daiya cheese are all processed: Tapioca starch, coconut oil, canola oil, safflower oil. These are not whole foods, but isolated components of foods, and as a result, Daiya cheese has 0 grams of fiber. Daiya also has added salt. Daiya Shreds are processed food.
However, that doesn’t mean Daiya cheese is just as bad as Twinkies. All foods exist on a spectrum. Daiya cheese is certainly not as highly processed as many of today’s junk foods.
Daiya doesn’t contain any trans fat. And most flavors and varieties contain no added sugar (or just a very small amount). So these are redeeming qualities.
In order to really judge how healthy or unhealthy Daiya cheese is, we need to compare it to the alternative—real cheese!
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Is Daiya Healthier Than Dairy Cheese?
For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to choose just one of the leading brands of shredded cheese to compare Daiya to: Kraft Mozarella Shredded Cheese.
Now, here are the nutrition facts for one serving (1/4 cup) of each shredded “cheese,” Daiya vs Kraft:
|Product||Daiya Mozzarella Shreds||Kraft Mozarella Shredded Cheese|
Okay, so, which “cheese” is healthier? Well, each one has pros and cons:
- Daiya is lower in saturated fat (3.0g vs 3.5g). Most credible health organizations recommend limiting saturated fat, due to its effect on blood cholesterol and heart disease risk. Daiya wins here—but only by 0.5 grams, so not by much.
- Daiya is higher in sodium (230mg vs 150mg). High sodium levels can lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke in the long run. So it’s best to limit sodium, and Daiya is a bit worse than real cheese in this category.
- Daiya is much lower in protein (0g vs 7g). Most people consider “more protein” a good thing—protein is satiating and can help with muscle synthesis. But there’s also data showing that dairy protein can feed cancer growth and other problems. So, it’s up for debate which “cheese” wins here.
- Daiya has less calcium (152mg vs 200mg). We all know calcium helps promote strong bones, and it has other important uses in the body, too. Daiya comes out a bit behind in this category.
Looking at this breakdown, I’d say there is no clear and decisive winner. Honestly, neither “cheese” is very healthy.
Both Daiya and Kraft have a fair amount of saturated fat and sodium, which are considered bad for your heart health. Daiya has less saturated fat, but more sodium. It’s just not clear that either food is measurably better for you.
Is Daiya Cheese Good For Diabetics?
Daiya touts that many of their cheese products have been “vetted by the American Diabetes Association” (source). However, there is no explanation given on that page for what this actually means.
Elsewhere, I found a video where a Daiya rep was interviewed for Diabetes Health TV at the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) conference.
Again, however, there is no explanation given as to why Daiya is actually better for diabetics. He just explains how it’s “completely dairy free” and why it’s so delicious.
Personally, I don’t see any reason why Daiya would be better than normal cheese for diabetics. As covered above, Daiya has almost as much saturated fat as real cheese. Daiya also has more total carbs (if you’re counting carbs).
Daiya cheese is probably not the absolute worst food for diabetics—it doesn’t contain any added sugar, after all. But saturated fat is thought to be a cause of insulin resistance. And Daiya contains almost as much saturated fat as real cheese.
So, I would not say that Daiya is particularly “good for diabetics.” It’s a processed food that could contribute to weight gain, higher sodium intake, and higher saturated fat intake if you’re not careful.
Based on everything I’ve studied about nutrition over the years, I’d say that real cheese and Daiya cheese are both pretty bad choices for diabetics.
Personally, I’d look at an ingredient like nutritional yeast to add a cheesy flavor in a healthier way. You could combine it with a plant-based unsaturated fat like avocado or olive oil. More tips below.
With all that said, please take into account that I’m not a diabetes health professional, and I could be wrong. You should consult your physician, dietitian, or other health professional for personalized medical and nutrition advice.
Is Daiya Cheese Gluten-Free?
Daiya cheese is gluten-free. In fact, all the Daiya packages I’ve checked clearly specify that they are gluten free. Impressively, even the Daiya products like burritos and pizzas that I’ve checked have been gluten-free.
Note: I don’t consider “gluten-free” to equate whatsoever to “healthy” in general. Many people are completely fine with gluten in their diets—it causes no problems. It’s just for certain people that gluten causes food intolerance, poor digestion, and other issues.
Healthy Alternatives to Daiya
So, if Daiya cheese isn’t particularly healthy—and if real cheese isn’t either—then how can you fulfill your desire for cheesy goodness? I have a few suggestions.
I haven’t been able to fully review all the plant-based cheese products on the market yet. I suspect some of them may legitimately be much healthier than Daiya, but I haven’t been able to do the research yet. I’ll update this post if I do.
For now, I’d give these tips:
- Nutritional yeast is a healthy source of “cheesy” flavor, but not everyone loves it. It also lacks the texture of cheese entirely. So usually, you’ll want to add nutritional yeast to a larger recipe for a cheesy sauce or something. (I like combining nutritional yeast with avocado.)
- Nut-based cheese is a good starting point. There are many, many recipes out there for cashew cheese (the best)—along with a few for almond cheese, pistachio cheese, and so on. Nuts provide healthy, unsaturated fat, so this is a great base for vegan cheese.
- Be mindful of your oils. Most “vegan cheese” products heavily rely on refined oils. Some oils are worse than others. I’d try to avoid soybean oil, for example. See my post “6 Reasons Why Oil Is Bad for You (And Which Ones Are Worst)” for more details.
- Be mindful of sodium content. If you’re making homemade vegan cheese, be careful not to over-do it on salt. Real cheese is a big source of sodium, and so is Daiya. Ideally, look for cheeses that do at least a bit better in this area.
Personally, I’ve had home-made plant-based cheese sauces that were made of carrots and potatoes, and others made of cashews and nutritional yeast. There are tons out there, and many are quite good.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a go-to recipe to recommend off the top of my head. But look around—you can find a whole-food cheese that’s much healthier than Daiya. You may even find a packaged “cheese” that fits the bill.
So, Is Daiya Cheese Good For You?
Daiya cheese is not particularly good for you. The main ingredients are all processed, contributing mostly empty calories. Daiya cheese is relatively high in sodium and saturated fat, both of which may contribute to long-term heart disease risk.
Daiya cheese may be healthier than real dairy cheese, depending on your perspective and your goals—but neither food is particularly healthy in my view.
If you want some kind of healthy “cheese,” I’d look at making a home-made vegan cheese from whole foods, such as a healthy cashew cheese.
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