We hear it all the time. “I want to be vegan, but I just can’t give up cheese!”
Cheddar. Mozzarella. Gruyere. Brie. Whatever your favorite, cheese is one food that you can find almost anywhere in the world. Us humans love the stuff.
But what is it that makes us crave it?
Even the most casual pizza-eater out there knows that it’s tough to just eat one slice, and now scientists have figured out why:
Cheese is addictive!
It tastes good and eating it makes us feel good. But is it good for you?
You don’t have to look hard to find plenty of reasons to ditch dairy for the sake of the animals. Experts around the globe have begun to caution against eating meat and dairy for the good of the planet. So, how do we break the habit?
Before we dig into how to break your addiction, here’s a snapshot of what’s going on inside your body when you eat cheese.
Why Is Cheese Addictive?
The protein found in milk — human or animal — is called casein, and when it breaks down in your body, it produces molecules called casomorphins. These strings of amino acids have the same effect in your brain as opiates do. Yep, it works kind of the same as heroin does in your brain.
When the opiate centers of your brain are triggered, they release dopamine, which makes you feel good. Cheese has much higher levels of casomorphins than milk does, so if you’ve ever wondered why it’s really tough to say no to that second (or third) slice of pizza, now you know.
Why Is This an Issue?
Simply put, most of us are eating too much cheese.
The National Institutes of Health has a handy guide with science-based recommendations on how much of each type of food we eat, and they suggest that as humans we only need about 1.4 ounces of cheese a day to reap the nutritional benefits.
And guess what? That’s not very much. In fact, that’s about one slice of pizza. So when you dig into those nachos or go for the cheese plate appetizer, you’re fueling your body with more of the stuff it’s addicted to.
If you’re passionate about animal welfare, or even just counting calories, eating a cheese-free diet can be an easy lifestyle change once you know how to wean yourself off of it. But some people can also have health issues associated with eating it. People who are lactose intolerant, for example, can be in real trouble if they accidentally (or not so accidentally) get into some cheese.
Lactose intolerance means that your body doesn’t produce the right digestive enzyme (lactase) to break down the lactose molecules in milk and cheese. What this means is you’re a) not going to get any of the nutritional benefits, and you’re likely going to experience some unpleasant gastrointestinal issues as your body works to get the lactose out of your system. Think gas, bloating, diarrhea. Not nice.
How to Break Your Cheese Addiction
Go Cold Turkey
Your body craves what you fuel it with, so if you take a break from cheese and give yourself some time (be strong!) you’ll find that your body craves it less and less. No one is saying it will be easy, but you’ll be surprised how fast you’ll forget about the good gooey stuff.
Plus, you’ll experience a number of benefits to quitting cheese, among other dairy products.
Try Low-Casein Cheese
Maybe you’re not ready to pull the dairy-free trigger yet. However, one option to help curb your cheese addiction may be to stick with varieties that contain low amounts of casein.
A handy tip to remember is the higher the protein level, the higher the casein. So opt out of cottage cheese, parmesan, cheddar, and romano. Basically, if it tastes rich, it’s probably going to keep you hooked.
Try an Alternative
In grocery stores nowadays, there are plenty of amazing vegan alternatives to cheese out there. Many of them melt, taste, and satisfy just like the real thing. No guilt, no addiction. Win-win!
So, are you ready to give it a go? Remember: you can do anything you set your mind to.
(Sorry, was that a bit cheesy?)