How many times have you struggled to say no to a delicious cheese pie or a piece of your favorite cheese after you are already full?
Have you noticed eating cheese regularly with your salad or as a side dish with many foods? Each year, our country consumes approximately 35 pounds of cheese per person.
Americans have tripled the cheese consumption from 1970 onwards. This is not only the cheddar we keep in our fridges, but it also includes our special melted cheese we eat on pizzas and quesadillas, the cheese we put in our omelets, pasta, veggies, or sandwiches, and many other foods.
Fast food restaurants such as Pizza Hut and Taco Bell love to put out new cheese specials every week, and the truth is – we adore these specials.
If your mouth is watering, you probably had the urge to go to the fridge and have some cheese snack. We know it is delicious, but, as it turns out, it may also be addictive. This somehow explains why some people are so weak when it comes to cheese and they become “cheese junkies”.
Why is cheese addictive?
Scientists say that cheese is addictive because of the chemical casein. Casein is a chemical found in all of the dairy products, and it triggers special parts of the brain – opioid receptors, which are responsible for addiction. You might have heard about casein in a vegan event or from your vegan friend.
It is a hot topic in the vegan world as it can be found in some dairy-free and vegan cheeses. What happens to casein is that it breaks apart in digestion and produces opiates, which are also known as casomorphins.
These casomorphins interact with opioid receptors, which are connected to addiction as we mentioned above. The University of Illinois Extension Program says that casein makes up 80% of cow milk’s proteins. Scientists even go as far as calling cheese a “dairy crack” because of its power as addictive food.
However, after these early results, scientists didn’t go further into the research, as it is not in the interest of the dairy industry to investigate this subject any further.
People from the University of Michigan set out to discover why some foods are more addictive than others and looked particularly at items which act as “drugs in the food world”.
The team found out pizza was number one from the addictive foods as it has a cheesy topping. During the study, 500 students were filling out questionnaires in order to label their cravings for food.
The study was divided into two parts: 120 undergraduates were asked to fill out questionnaires and choose between 35 food cravings with various nutritional values. The second part incorporated 384 people who had to choose again out of these 35 items of food, but they were presented to them in a hierarchical linear order.
Basically, fat was to blame for people having eating problems with all types of food, regardless of whether these people feel symptoms of addiction. It was all because of the casein and the creation of the above-mentioned opiates called casomorphins.
The study researchers, with the help of the Yale Food Addiction Scale, measuring a person’s cravings, discovered that cheese is the most addictive one. Because of casein, a feeling of euphoria is created, very similar to the one while the mind is on a hard drug addiction. The top list of addictive foods was basically made of cheese foods.
Milk contains casein in small dosages, but in order to produce cheese (1 pound of cheese), you need more milk (10 pounds of milk). In this way, casein coagulates the solid milk fats and separates them from the liquids.
When in solid dairy form, the chemical becomes strong and concentrated. It is also in a higher dosage, so it becomes addictive. No wonder you get addicted to that cheese topping in your sandwich or pizza, and you don’t get so addicted on your breakfast cereal with milk.
People should be alarmed when it comes to highly-processed cheese, including the so-called “plastic cheese”. Certain studies made to animals have proven that these highly-processed foods, foods with refined carbohydrates or fat could make you feel addictive and you might eat them in bigger amounts.
In this way, there are more people experiencing food addiction problems, and, consequently, have a higher body mass index and issues with highly-processed foods in general.
It isn’t all casein’s fault
Yes, casein may be addictive and that is why you couldn’t resist that new topping special at Pizza Hut, but that is not the whole story.
We already explained how opiates work, but there is another issue cheese has. It is the level of protein. A recent study discovered the bad influence of a diet that contains high levels of protein, such as eating a great amount of meat and cheese. The result is similar to the effect you get from smoking.
Thus, people with this type of food had a short lifespan and a greater risk of developing cancer than people who took protein in regular dosages.
Also, some scientists are doing research about linking cheese with the risk of heart disease, which is still debatable.
Whether you are craving for it or hate its smell, moderate intake of cheese is not causing you harm. But be careful of becoming a cheese junkie next time you order your favorite pizza.