Most people have heard a vegan diet is healthy. And so, they assume “vegan cheese” must be healthy, too. But what is vegan cheese actually made of? Today, we’re looking at one of the leading brands and asking: Is Follow Your Heart cheese good for you?
Follow Your Heart cheese is not very healthy. Its main ingredients are processed oil and starch, and it has as much saturated fat and sodium as dairy cheese. Some Follow Your Heart cheese products also contain the controversial ingredient carrageenan, which may cause leaky gut.
Below, I’ll compare the nutrition facts between Follow Your Heart and Kraft dairy cheese. Then I’ll also compare Follow Your Heart with Daiya (the leading vegan brand). I’ll answer the question of whether Follow Your Heart is “highly processed”—and more!
What Is Follow Your Heart Vegan Cheese Made Of?
Let’s start by looking at the exact ingredients in Follow Your Heart’s vegan cheese. Here are the ingredients for their mozzarella shreds:
Follow Your Heart Shredded Mozzarella Ingredients: “Filtered Water, Organic Palm Fruit Oil†, Modified Corn and Potato Starches, Natural Flavors, Less than 2% of: Bamboo Fiber, Organic Vegetable Glycerin, Cellulose, Calcium Phosphate, Rice Flour, Sea Salt, Lactic Acid, Pea Fiber, Pea Starch, Sunflower Lecithin, Carrageenan, Calcium Sulfate, Citric Acid, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Citrate.” († = Rainforest Alliance Certified)
Now, some other Follow Your Heart cheeses have coconut oil rather than palm oil. Here’s an example of one of those:
Follow Your Heart American Slices Ingredients: “Filtered Water, Coconut Oil, Modified Potato and Corn Starches, Potato Starch, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor, Olive Extract, Paprika Extract and Beta Carotene for Color.”
So, as you can see, the main ingredients in pretty much all Follow Your Heart cheeses are:
- Oil (coconut or palm oil)
- Modified Potato Starch (and usually modified corn starch).
- Potato Starch
- Natural Flavors
We’ll discuss ingredients more below, but for now, I’ll just also point out the carrageenan in the mozzarella shreds. Carrageenan is a controversial ingredient that some people avoid. (But more on that below…)
Now let’s look at the nutrition facts quickly.
Follow Your Heart Cheese Nutrition
In one serving of Follow Your Heart Shredded Mozzarella (1 oz), you get:
- Calories: 80
- Total Fat: 6g
- Saturated Fat: 3.5g
- Trans Fat: 0g
- Cholesterol: 0mg
- Sodium: 260mg
- Total Carbs: 7g
- Dietary Fiber: 0g
- Sugars: 0g
- Protein: 0g
If you want to look at the macronutrient ratio, it’s 6g fat, 7g carbs, and 0g protein. That means it’s about 54 calories from fat and 28 from carbs. That’s about 66% fat, 34% carbs, 0% protein.
Also, keep in mind that some recipes use two or more servings of Follow Your Heart—so these numbers could be multiplied in many dishes.
But what does this mean? Well, let’s answer a series of questions about how Follow Your Heart looks from a health perspective.
Is Follow Your Heart Cheese Highly Processed?
The main ingredients in Follow Your Heart cheese are processed: Palm oil or coconut oil, modified potato and corn starch, and potato starch. Follow Your Heart cheese has 0 grams of fiber. It also has 260mg of sodium per serving from added salt. Follow Your heart is processed food.
However, that doesn’t mean Follow Your Heart cheese is as bad as Twinkies. All foods exist on a spectrum. Follow Your Heart is not as highly processed as many of today’s junk foods.
Thankfully, Follow Your Heart doesn’t have any trans fat. And more remarkably, it doesn’t contain any sugar. (It seems like all processed foods contain sugar nowadays.)
Carrageenan in Follow Your Heart
I mentioned above that some Follow Your Heart products contains a controversial ingredient called “carrageenan.” Let’s talk a bit more about that.
First off, carrageenan is an emulsifier, so it’s added to products to improve the texture. It’s actually included in a bunch of vegan and vegetarian products. It sometimes replaces gelatin.
Carrageenan comes from red moss originally. There is some research showing that carrageenan may cause inflammation and damage to the GI tract (source).
In fact, there is even data showing that degraded carrageenan is a carcinogen, and that even food-grade carrageenan contains at least 5% degraded carrageenan. (source)
The biggest and most practical concern may be for those with gut issues, as carrageenan may cause leaky gut. However, the quality of evidence is pretty weak at this point. It’s really just a possible problem—not proven.
Here’s a quick breakdown of which Follow Your Heart cheese products contain Carrageenan—in case you want to steer away from those options.
- All Shredded Cheese Flavors Except for “Finely Shredded” Options
- Dairy-Free Parmesan (Shredded or Grated)
Does Not Contain Carrageenan:
- Both the Cheddar and Mozzarrella “Finely Shredded” Cheese
- All Flavors of the Dairy-Free Cheese Slices
- Dairy-Free Feta Crumbles
Is Follow Your Heart Healthier Than Real Cheese?
In order to really judge how healthy or unhealthy Follow Your Heart cheese is, we need to compare it to the alternative—real cheese! Let’s compare about 1/4 cup of shredded Follow Your Heart cheese with Kraft mozzarella:
|Nutrition Facts||Follow Your Heart Mozzarella||Kraft Mozzarella|
Here’s what I’m noticing when I compare these cheeses:
- Follow Your Heart is equal to Kraft in calories and fat. And that includes saturated fat. Usually, vegan products are lower in saturated fat compared to animal products, but Follow Your Heart contains palm oil, which is one of the rare plant sources of saturated fat.
- Follow Your Heart is higher in sodium (260mg vs 150mg). High sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is considered a risk factor for heart disease and stroke over the long run. So it’s best to limit sodium, and Follow Your Heart is worse than real Kraft cheese in this area.
- Follow Your Heart is much lower in protein (0g vs 7g). Most people consider “more protein” a good thing—it’s satiating and helps build muscle. But there’s also research showing milk protein can feed cancer growth and other issues. So, it’s up for debate which “cheese” wins here.
As you can see, there is no area where Follow Your Heart was the clear winner. Some people would argue that being cholesterol-free is a win for Follow Your Heart. But it’s really not clear that dietary cholesterol is as unhealthy as we once believed. (source)
So, depending on your views on animal protein and some other issues, Follow Your Heart is probably not any healthier than Kraft cheese.
Follow Your Heart vs Daiya: Which Is Healthier?
What if you compare Follow Your Heart with another leading brand of vegan cheese, Daiya? How do they stack up against each other?
|Nutrition Facts||Follow Your Heart Mozzarella||Daiya Mozzarella|
When I compare these numbers, here’s what I see: Daiya and Follow Your Heart are basically the same, nutritionally.
The main difference is just that Follow Your Heart contains slightly more fat, while Daiya contains slightly more carbs. Follow Your Heart also has slightly more sodium. But the numbers are very close.
What if we look at the ingredients? Well, the top ingredients in Daiya are tapioca starch and coconut oil. That’s very similar to the palm oil and potato starch in Follow Your Heart.
Another difference is that, when it comes to the mozzarella shreds, Daiya doesn’t have carrageenan, while Follow Your Heart does. So if you’re worried about carrageenan, then Daiya may be the better choice.
Ultimately, I’d say there is no meaningful nutritional difference between Follow Your Heart and Daiya. They’re both made of similar processed oils and starches, and they have very similar nutrition facts.
Is Follow Your Heart Cheese Gluten-Free?
Follow Your Heart cheese is confirmed gluten-free. It is also confirmed soy-free and dairy-free. This is one of the areas where vegan cheese companies have really done well. Daiya also has an extensive list of allergens it’s free of.
What Is the Healthiest Dairy-Free Cheese?
If Follow Your Heart cheese doesn’t appear to be much healthier than real cheese—and if Daiya isn’t too healthy, either—then what about other dairy-free cheeses?
There are healthy vegan cheese options! Unfortunately, however, I think most of the healthy options are either (1) homemade recipes, or (2) less “realistic.”
For example, nutritional yeast has a bit of a “cheesy” taste… but it doesn’t really mimic real cheese at all. Texture-wise, it’s completely different.
There are many recipes out there for cashew cheese, along with others for almond cheese, pistachio cheese, and more. Nuts have healthy, unsaturated fat, so this is a great base for non-dairy cheese.
I’ve even had great home-made vegan cheese sauces made from carrots and potatoes, believe it or not. Check out the following vegan cheese recipe books for some great options:
- Vegan Cheese: Simple, Delicious Plant-Based Recipes
- Artisan Vegan Cheese
- This Cheese is Nuts!: Delicious Vegan Cheese at Home
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