You are not alone in thinking this!
Scientists have actually found a chemical in cheese that triggers the brain’s opioid receptors which are linked to addiction.1
The addictive effects of cheese are due to it containing large amounts of casein, a protein that is present in milk and found in much higher concentrations in cheese due to how it’s made. Casein activates the opioid system, inducing pleasure. It makes evolutionary sense when you think about it: the whole point of the reward system is to encourage positive, helpful behaviors and deter unhelpful ones. And when we’re newborns, we survive solely on a diet of milk. If you didn’t like drinking milk, that would be problematic, but if milk gets you ‘high’ in some way, that’s less likely to happen, you’re more likely to drink it and survive.
So, our brains reward us for drinking our mother’s milk. So far so wholesome! But then, after we were weaned and no longer needed it, we were given more milk, and not even human milk! We started drinking the milk of other species, which is, to say the least, odd behavior. And then when we hit the cheese, oh my! The brain went into overdrive.
But it’s time to quit. Cheese contains high levels of fat and salt, and so weaning yourself off it is a good idea for lots of reasons.
The good news is that, if you crave the feel and flavor of cheese, there are vegan cheeses available. They don’t taste exactly like dairy cheese because they are not dairy cheese, but they’re pretty good and may just scratch that ‘I need cheese’ itch.
And if you really truly cannot give up cheese, don’t even try. Instead, focus on quitting meat, fish and eggs. You will be doing a great service to your health, to the environment and to animals, even if you’re not yet ready to break the cheese habit.
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