When you're trying to cut out meat and dairy, one easy way is to find plant-based swaps for some of your favorite items like Ricotta cheese. We asked Sheri Vettel, a Registered Dietician at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, to explain the benefits of making these strategic swaps, then recommend plant-based choices for your long-term health goals.

“The more plants that you eat, the more disease-fighting phytonutrients you’ll consume as well," Vettel explained. In fact, it’s estimated that there are over 100 phytonutrients in one serving of vegetables, so while you're seeking out vegan cheese dip, be sure to load up on the fresh crudité to use for dipping. The phytonutrients in fruit and vegetables have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, better digestive health, and reduced cancer risk. They even support hormonal health, as well as the body’s natural detoxification process.

Vettel adds that eating a diet rich in a variety of plant foods also supports microbial diversity in the gut—an important factor for optimal immune health and maintaining a healthy weight, to name a few benefits. “It’s been found that individuals eating more than 30 different types of plants weekly have a much more diverse gut microbiome than those eating 10 different types of plants or fewer.”, stated Vettel.  Additionally, aside from the physical benefits, plant-forward diets affect mental and emotional health as well. Plant foods may help decrease inflammation in the brain and can affect neurotransmitters—such as serotonin and dopamine--that regulate mood.

Vettel summarized that it’s clear that no matter what your dietary approach, from a full-on vegan to a simple meatless Monday enthusiast, every single plant-based shift counts! Consider it an opportunity to boost the nutrient density of your diet and support all aspects of your health—physical, mental, and emotional.

These approachable products and plant-based swaps make it easy to embrace the magic of plant-powered eating. Check out some of our favorites to enhance your plant-based journey.

Try These 11 Plant-Based Product Swaps for Meat and Dairy

1. SwapKite Hill Almond Milk Ricotta Alternative instead of ricotta

You’ll hardly believe this Ricotta stand-in is actually a dairy-free product. Kite Hill is a favorite brand among plant-based eaters because it is so close to the real thing. Spread this Ricatta alternative on seedy whole wheat high-fiber toast and eat it with arugula and artisan preserves for an elevated and plant-forward breakfast or snack.

2. Swap: Watermelon or Mushroom jerky instead of beef jerky

When you're craving something savory and have to get over that hump, reach for plant-based jerky. You can even use it on a lon drive the way you once used beef jerky for steady energy. Watermelon jerky allows for the glorious texture of jerky without the harmful effects, on both our planet and our bodies, of red meat. Mushroom jerky is another great plant-based alternative that packs a magnificent umami flavor.

3. Swap: Lifeway Plantiful probiotics instead of traditional kefir made with dairy

Kefir is a thin yogurt-like fermented product that is known to have digestive benefits and supplies a healthy dose of probiotics. Just as with similar immune-boosting probiotics, this plant-based approach to kefir removes the milk but still packs all that powerful probiotic punch. Try recipes like this Immunity Smoothie to add Lifeway Plantiful to your diet.

4. SwapSo Delicious Oh-So Strawberry Coconut Milk Ice Cream (dairy-free) instead of regular strawberry ice cream

So Delicious makes a full lineup of plant-based flavors so whether you like cookies and cream or vanilla or chocolate, this brand was the overall winner of our Vegan and Dairy Free Ice Cream Taste Test. If you're concerned about heart health you may want to stick with the almond cream version and skip the coconut cream base. Either way, this smooth and creamy alternative makes for an easy dessert swap and everyone at the table will love it.

5. SwapForager Organic Dairy-Free Sour Cream instead of regular sour cream

Forager calls this product an organic, plant-based sour cream alternative. It is perfect on vegan tacos, or in this comfort food classic Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff. Try it on a baked potato and serve it up to friends and family and they will swear it is the traditional dairy kind.

6. SwapViolife Epic Mature Cheddar Flavor Block instead of regular cheddar

The first thing anyone asks when you tell them you are plant-based is: Where do you get your protein? And the second is: But what about cheese? The truth is there are dozens of delicious cheeses that are made with cashew nuts and taste like the real thing, from parmesan to single slices to cheddar from companies such as Follow Your Heart to Miyokos and Chao. This Violife one tastes just like traditional cheddar and even melts well for the best vegan nachos, or try it on a vegan charcuterie-type spread.

7. Swap: BBQ Jackfruit instead of BBQ pulled pork

Even the most ardent meat lover will enjoy jackfruit as a pulled pork alternative since the fruit has a texture that looks and feels just like pork. When you add your favorite BBQ sauce, It highlights the flavor of tangy barbecue excellently. Plus, jackfruit shreds for a similar texture to the traditional meat option.

8. SwapFollow Your Heart Parmesan Style Grated Cheese instead of Parmesan Cheese

Follow Your Heart is already a stellar company in terms of sustainability initiatives. What makes them even better? They’ve crafted a beautiful version of the best cooking cheeses, including their parmesan Reggiano, for those living a plant-based lifestyle. Try it in our Vegan Pasta Primavera or Zucchini and Barley Salad.

9. SwapMiyoko’s Creamery vegan butter instead of dairy butter

This Sonoma-based company does vegan butter better than anyone else. Don’t believe us? Try it in our vegan version of Carbone’s Signature Spicy Rigatoni, or simply enjoy it on a piece of toast in the morning.

10. SwapTofutti Better Than Cream Cheese instead of regular cream cheese

Tofutti’s offering allows for a healthy, dairy-free alternative to the popular culinary ingredient of cream cheese. There are even multiple flavors to top your favorite bagels with plant-based schmear. Use it in our Banana Bread with Savory Topping.

11. Swap: Earth Balance Butter Spread instead of spreadable dairy butter

This was a favorite spreadable option for an office-wide vegan butter tasting challenge. The olive oil base option was the lightest and healthiest choice with a pleasing and mild after taste.

As you can see, it's as easy as one-two-three to add plant-based goodies to your pantry and fridge rotation. Start with some of these winners and consider even more plant-based swaps in the future!

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