Individuals may elect to adopt a vegan diet for health, moral or religious reasons. Living a vegan lifestyle is not without challenges, particularly in terms of finding healthy, flavorful alternatives to foods from the restricted categories, including dairy. Butter alternatives prepared specifically for vegans come in a range of flavors and textures, as well as degrees of healthfulness. Depending on the type of cooking you're doing, you can use a variety of healthful butter substitutes.
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Vegan Dietary Restrictions
A true vegan does not eat any dairy, meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. The vegan must, therefore, find healthy food replacements for these food groups to ensure adequate nutrition and a balanced diet. Fortunately, there are several healthy alternatives to butter or margarine. The option selected often depends on how the product will be used -- whether as a spread, in cooking, or as a baking ingredient, for example.
Commercially-Prepared Vegan Butter Alternatives
Several companies make very healthy, purely vegan alternatives to butter. While typically more expensive than their non-vegan counterparts, these butter substitutes are prepared without any of the ingredients on the vegan purist's taboo list: whey, lactose, casein and caseinate. They are heart-healthy, cholesterol-free and must be free of any traces of dairy products to be labeled "vegan." Avoid any products that contain trans or hydrogenated fats, because these threaten your cardiovascular health.
Another healthy, vegan alternative to butter is nut butter. To meet vegan dietary rules, the simplest version of nut butters are nuts pulverized to a smooth puree, with no other ingredients included. The most common among vegan purists are peanut butter, almond butter and soy butter. These do include some fat, naturally found in the nuts; some also are made with small amounts of oils, which increase the fat content. Nut butters can be purchased in health food stores or made at home.
Another choice, often recommended for use in vegan food preparation, is plant-based oils. Olive oil is flavorful, but fattier than flaxseed oil. The latter is routinely used by vegans in baking and cooking; it does add a slight amount of fat, but of the heart-healthy variety rather than the types that contribute to bad cholesterol. Oils may also be used for dipping breads or toast, a common practice even among non-vegans in many European and Middle Eastern countries.