I love cheese. I mean, really love cheese. Gouda, Brie, Parmesan, Mozzarella, Feta, the list goes on. Whether an adornment to an appetizer, salad or quick dish, or as the main ingredient in my grilled cheese or pizza, I can honestly say that I have cheese at just about every meal. I’ll sometimes even pop a few cubes into my mouth as a mid-afternoon snack. You could say I’m addicted.
A team of researchers from the University of Michigan set out to better understand why certain foods were more addictive than others. They had participants eat 35 different foods and rank them according to their level of addiction. Erica Schulte, one of the authors of the research, said that fat content was a clear indicator of problematic eating. In particular, processed foods that had cheese in them (e.g. pizza) consistently ranked at the top of the rankings.
So this cheese addiction is apparently a real thing. Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, calls cheese “dairy crack” in his conversations with Thrillist.
But How And Why?
One of the dairy proteins of cheese is casein, which when broken down during the digestive process, turns into casomorphins.
If the “morphin” part of “casomorphins” reminds you of morphine, you’ve got one heck of an eye for letter similarity. Dr. Barnard says, “These protein fragments can attach to the opiate receptors in your brain. As the name implies, casomorphins are casein-derived morphine-like compounds.”
So What Does That Mean?
Our bodies and minds have evolved to enjoy cheese, as it is highly concentrated with fat and salt. Combined with, “the opioid-like casomorphins, and cheese suddenly goes from ‘very delicious’ to ‘obscenely tempting.'”
Is Cheese Bad?
Does this mean you need to steer clear of the dairy aisle when shopping? No. In fact, there are several studies out there that say cheese is good for your health. Just be aware that next time you can’t seem to stop eating cheese, it could be because of your brain. And, as always, consume in moderation.