Must. Have. Cheese.
Cheese addiction is a common phenomenon.
Cheese on your burger. Cheese on your turkey sandwich. Cheese on your pizza. Cheese in your omelet. Cheese with your wine. Cheese as a snack. Cheese melted on your veggies. Cheese quesadillas. Cheese-flavored crackers.
Some people just can’t get enough cheese. And, there’s a reason why: Cheese is addicting to both your brain and gut.
Confessions of a Cheese Addict
Cheese was a staple food in my diet growing up.
Most days, I didn’t go without some form of cheese, and even in my eating disorder days, I turned to fat-free string cheese, shredded cheese and cheese substitutes to fill my need for the gooey, savory, creamy deliciousness of cheese (even plastic-textured fake fat-free cheese).
Long story short: I was addicted.
Along with the deliciousness of my addiction though, my cheese addiction was also coupled with some pretty odd side effects:
- IBS and loose stools
- Stomach cramps
- Skin breakouts
- Brain fog
And, often times, simply not feeling “100-percent”
However, in my mind, I justified— It couldn’t be the cheese. After all, cheese was so delicious, made everything taste better and it was…addicting.
The Science Behind Cheese Addition
Turns out there’s a reason behind our cravings.
Cheese contains casein (a protein from milk), as well as casein fragments called “casomorphins”—a morphine-like compound from the casein itself.
If you know anything about morphines (i.e pain killing drugs), you know they are addicting to the brain.
In short: dairy protein has opiate-like molecules (drug like molecules) built in. When we eat them, these fragments attach to the same brain receptors that other drugs, like heroin and narcotics attach to.
Enter: Your brain on cheese.
“(Casomorphins) are not strong enough to get you arrested, but they are just strong enough to keep you coming back for more…” Dr. Neal Barnard, author of The Cheese Trap, writes.
While all dairy products we consume contain casein, cheese is arguably the most addicting because it contains the highest amount.
For context, a cup of milk or plain yogurt contains about 8 grams of protein, and 80-percent of that protein from casein.
When converted to cheese, however (with the liquid removed and strained entirely), the protein content multiplies 7-fold, to 56 grams for a cup of cheese.
In other words: It’s the most concentrated form of casein of any dairy food in the grocery store.
(If milk is the “gateway drug”—like tobacco or weed, then cheese is cocaine or heroine).
Hello cheese addiction!
The Cheese-Gut Connection
In addition to the opiate-like addictive nature of cheese, (some) cheese is also addicting to your gut microbiome—specifically unhealthy gut bacteria.
Studies have shown that diets heavy in (processed) and highly-pasteurized (heated and denured) dairy products alter gut microbiota—and not in a good way. (Think: fat-free shredded mozzarella, vegan cheese, Kraft Singles, Baby Bella, Laughing Cow cheese, Pizza Hut these pizza)
*[Noticed I said processed and highly-pasteurized cheese (i.e. fake cheese)].
Our gut bugs eat what we eat, and when we consume diets rich in artificial flavors, synthesized lab chemicals, and downgraded food-like products of the original (real) food, our gut bugs have a hey day! The rotting, fermenting, feasting, unhealthy gut bacteria goes to town on anything it can get its hands on that is otherwise gut-irritating, processed or rich in chemicals, sugars and artificial sweeteners because these food sources help keep this type of bacteria alive and well.
If we eat foods—consistently—that our body doesn’t recognize as real food is when we run into the “side effects” many people may experience with processed dairy sources, such as:
- Brain fog
- Skin breakouts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased bloating, constipation or digestive disturbances
However, when we eat real foods—as close as they are to nature (like the real fermented cheese our friends across the pond eat with their home-baked Bruschetta at lunch time)—our body (and gut bacteria) have a different experience. Although some people will STILL be gut-sensitive to the lactose in dairy, this is often in conjunction with an accumulation of other gut imbalances, pathologies and/or food intolerances that may be correctable with a little bit of gut love support and gut healing.
In fact, scientists (Zheng et al, 2015) have found that many (real, raw, grass-fed) cheeses actually have anti-inflammatory and gut-boosting properties. The same cannot be said about our deli-counter cheese slices or Home Slice Pizza though.
The bottom line: Your body recognizes real food.
Just like your body took to (and loved) the real milk your mom gave you when you nursed as an infant, your body (and gut) equally LOVES it when you eat foods that it was wired and designed to eat (cheese included).
Cheese Shopping 101: All-You-Need-to-Know
- Check out your local farmer’s market or local natural grocer for first dibs on “real cheese.”
- Look for “raw cheese” from grass-fed cows (producing milk high in A2 beta casein and relatively low in A1 beta casein)— specifically cheese derived from Jerseys, Guernseys, and other traditional cattle breeds rather than newer Holsteins.
- Raw goat’s milk and sheep’s milk cheese is also a good bet since it has less casein overall than cow’s milk anyway.
- Ask your deli counter if they have any raw-grass-fed versions, or visit a local artisan shop to find imported cheeses.
- Steer clear of ziplock enclosed shredded cheese and pre-packaged single slices.
- The next best bets? Try Kerrygold Cheese —known for its grass-fed cow standards—and available at Whole Foods Market and other grocery suppliers.
- Try nutritional yeast seasoning —nutritional yeast is a non-active form of yeast that’s packed with Vitamin B, selenium and zinc, and contains a cheese-like flavor (without actually being cheese). Sprinkle it on veggies, steamed greens, casserole dishes or meats for a little “zest” to your meal.