Vegan cream cheese is growing rapidly in popularity. As more brands arrive in grocery stores, Einstein Bros Bagels has also added a “Vegan Cream-Cheese Schmear” at many of their locations. But is vegan cream cheese actually a healthy option?
Vegan cream cheese is typically a bit healthier than regular cream cheese, as it has fewer calories and it is cholesterol-free. However, store-bought vegan cream cheese is still highly processed. It has no fiber and similar amounts of saturated fat as regular cream cheese. Therefore, it is still relatively unhealthy.
Below, we’ll take a detailed look at the ingredients and nutrition facts for 3 leading brands of vegan cream cheese. Then we’ll compare those to leading brands of regular cream cheese. Finally, I’ll share 5 actually healthy vegan alternatives to cream cheese!
What Is Vegan Cream Cheese Made Of?
Let’s start by looking at the ingredients of 3 leading brands of vegan cream cheese. Are they made from highly processed ingredients, or relatively healthy? I’ll share my observations below, but first, I’ll just list the ingredients.
Let’s start with a Daiya vegan cream cheese:
Daiya Cream Cheeze Style Spread (Plain) Ingredients: Filtered Water, Coconut Oil, Tapioca Starch, Coconut Cream, Expeller Pressed: Canola and/or Safflower Oil, Vegan Natural Flavors, Pea Protein, Salt, Cane Sugar, Xanthan Gum, Potato Protein, Lactic Acid (Vegan), Vegan Enzyme, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Guar Gum, Locust Bean Gum.
Here’s a Violife vegan cream cheese, with fewer ingredients:
Violife Just Like Cream Cheese Original Ingredients: Filtered Water, Coconut Oil, Potato Starch, Salt (Sea Salt), Glucono-Delta-Lactone, Flavor (vegan sources), Olive Extract, Vitamin B12.
And our third example is a classic, Tofutti vegan cream cheese:
Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese Ingredients: Water, expeller processed natural oil blend (soybean, palm fruit and olive), maltodextrin, soy protein, tofu, non-dairy lactic acid, blend of natural gums (locust bean, guar, cellulose, xanthan and carrageenan), organic sugar, vegan mono and diglycerides, salt.
Here’s what I’m noticing from these ingredients:
- The top 2 ingredients after water, in all cases, are processed oil and starch. For the oil, Daiya and Violife use coconut oil, while Tofutti uses a blend. But in all cases, it’s refined oil, not a whole-food source of fat like whole coconut or avocado. Similarly, the starch varies between tapioca, potato, and maltodextrin—but it’s processed starch in any case.
- Two of the brands have added sugar. Daiya has cane sugar, while Tofutti has organic sugar. (“Organic” does not mean healthy.) So the sugar is another processed ingredient that 2 of the 3 brands have. That said, it is a very small amount of sugar, as the nutrition facts below reveal.
- The Tofutti ingredients are possibly the worst. The Tofutti has soybean oil, which is one of the worst high omega-6 vegetable oils. It also has maltodextrin, which is known for being highly processed. And it has carrageenan, which is a controversial ingredient—some research suggests it may cause inflammation and could lead to leaky gut. (source)
So, vegan cream cheese doesn’t look too healthy based on the ingredients. It’s definitely processed food. But let’s look at the nutrition facts to see how much saturated fat, calories, and other nutrients it actually has.
Vegan Cream Cheese: Nutrition Facts
Below, we can see the nutrition facts for those same 3 leading brands of vegan cream creese. And I’ll share my observations below the table:
|Serving Size||2 Tbsp (30g)||2 Tbsp (30g)||2 Tbsp (30g)|
Here’s what I’m seeing:
- All three products are have 0g of fiber. This is typical of processed food. It means you’re getting concentrated carbs and/or fat, without the fiber that would naturally slow down consumption and digestion. Not the healthiest.
- All three products contain saturated fat, which is generally understood to raise LDL cholesterol and heart disease risk (source), even when coming from coconut oil. Violife has the most saturated fat, at 6g per serving—that’s about 3/4 of its calories coming from saturated fat.
- There is only 0g or 1g of protein in each product. Protein helps satiate you, and real cream cheese typically has a bit more (see below).
- All three products have 0g of trans fat (the most dangerous kind of fat). This is good, but as I covered in my post on “6 Reasons Why Oil Is Bad for You,” there is still a small amount of trans fat found in most refined oils. (It can legally be labeled as “0g” as long as it’s under 0.5g per serving.)
So, vegan cream cheese isn’t looking like a health food. But we still have an incomplete picture. The real comparison is to put it side-by-side with real dairy cream cheese. So let’s do that next.
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Is Vegan Cream Cheese Healthier Than Regular?
We’ve established that vegan cream cheese isn’t the healthiest food… But is it still an improvement over dairy cream cheese? Or not really?
Here I’ve made a table showing the nutrition facts for 2 regular (dairy) cream cheese brands, next to 2 vegan cream cheese brands. I’ll share my observations below the table:
|Nutrition Facts||Daiya (Vegan)||Violife (Vegan)||Philadelphia (Dairy)||Organic Valley (Dairy)|
|Serving Size||2 Tbsp (30g)||2 Tbsp (30g)||2 Tbsp (31g)||2 Tbsp (30g)|
Here are my takeaways from the comparison:
- Vegan cream cheese seems to have fewer calories on average. This is more apparent when you remember the Tofutti brand above only had 60 calories per serving (that’s only 55% of the calories of Organic Valley). That said, it varies by brand. Philadelphia and Daiya are equal in calories.
- Vegan cream cheese is cholesterol-free, while dairy cream cheese is not. There’s debate over whether this matters. Sites like Healthline now say dietary cholesterol doesn’t matter for most people. But not everyone agrees. There is still data showing potential connections between dietary cholesterol and heart disease, as well as cancer.
- Vegan cream cheese has a bit less sugar. That said, none of the products I checked were very high in sugar overall.
- Vegan cream cheese is lower in protein. This may have pros and cons. On one hand, protein is satiating and has important functions in the body. However, some research shows dairy protein to promote the growth of prostate cancer cells. So cream cheese may not be the best place to get your protein anyway.
Notably, vegan and dairy cream cheese are equal in saturated fat and dietary fiber. Both are sub-par, that is. So, what does this all add up to?
Overall, vegan cream cheese appears to be marginally healthier than regular cream cheese. This is mainly due to having fewer calories and being cholesterol-free. However, neither kind of cream cheese is very healthy.
It’s possible that some other healthy brands of vegan cream cheese or regular cream cheese would be substantially healthier. But of the 5 leading brands analyzed for this post, none of them are particularly good for you.
5 Healthy Vegan Alternatives to Cream Cheese
If you want to replace cream cheese with something actually healthy, what are your options? Here are some quick ideas:
- Hummus: Since hummus contains whole plant foods like chickpeas and tahini, it’s generally much healthier than cream cheese (real or vegan). It’s especially healthy if you get it made without processed oils (or with only the healthiest oils, like extra virgin olive oil).
- Avocado: You can mash avocado or just use slices. Add some salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, or other seasonings. It’s a whole-food source of fat that’s much better for you than cream cheese.
- Nut Butters: This is a bit of a different taste profile, but for some cases, it just might do the trick. If you choose a natural nut butter without added oils and sugar, it’s quite healthy.
- Homemade vegan cheese (including vegan cream cheese): Just because store-bought vegan cheese isn’t very healthy, that doesn’t mean every recipe is unhealthy! Find one that focuses on whole foods, like a cashew cheese.
- Unsweetened vegan yogurt: There are some store-bought vegan yogurts that come without added sugars and without many processed ingredients overall. Just pay close attention to the ingredients list!
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