Of all the foods people consume, the toughest one for many to stop eating is cheese.
There are so many emotions around this potent substance… To many, it’s the food of the gods, to some, it’s revolting. But what’s really going on? Why do people struggle to stop eating cheese?
Fortunately, evolutionary mechanisms can explain this riddle relatively simply.
But first, let’s consider what cheese actually is.
What is cheese?
Quite simply cheese is milk that has coagulated. Milk is loaded with nutrients, particularly protein, fat, and salt. To form cheese, a principle protein that’s in milk, casein, coagulates, and this forms cheese. Whilst there are thousands of different flavours of cheese, the process to produce them all is essentially the same.
The key to addiction lies in this protein casein. Let’s explore that.
Addiction, by design.
Mammals produce milk when pregnant. Humans, cats, dogs, cows, sheep, goats, gorillas, and so on…
The purpose of this milk is to provide total nourishment to the infant. The milk is delivered to the infant via the mammalian breast. Milk is designed to nourish, and grow the infant as quickly as possible to the point that the infant can feed itself. For example, to grow a 50kg calve to a 500kg cow in approximately 6 months. It’s the perfect food to do this.
Most mammals are born with limited senses, be it blind, deaf, unable to move quickly or have other limitations, however, they must absolutely be able to feed to survive.
Consider kittens, calves, or puppies in the wild. They will feed from their mother immediately after birth, and typically also use their mother for shelter and to keep warm during the most vulnerable times.
Here’s where the addiction part comes in.
Infants are naturally curious to explore their environment and even though with limited mobility, are able to move freely away from their mother. There needs to be a system to reward the infant to return to the mother to feed. A guidance system.
This reward system is essentially powered by the protein in all mammalian milk, casein.
Immediately on commencing digestion of breast milk (which starts in the mouth), casein becomes casomorphin, a peptide (a fragment of a protein).
Casomorphin is further metabolised into morphine. This provides a release of dopamine and other chemicals in the brain that cause the infant to feel good; simply put, the infant is rewarded for returning to the mother to feed.
This mechanism has ensured the survival of a huge amount of species and continues to do so. It’s as if nature has designed the perfect reward system, and that’s exactly what it is.
All dairy products contain casein, and therefore the same process takes place with the consumption of any dairy product. It’s an amazing system, but taken beyond design can cause huge problems.
Milk is high in casein, but foods such as cheese are incredibly high in casein and so the reward system is amplified.
Quite simply, when you put that piece of cheese in your mouth and it tastes ‘oh so good’, it actually doesn’t really, but the morphine does.
The Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadephia carried out a study decades ago (you can look this up), with 1000 college students. An advert was placed on Craigslist, “1000 cheese lovers wanted. Get paid to eat cheese, apply at ….”. Obviously, the advert received a ton of replies. College students were used as a cheap and easy study group to work with being flexible in time.
They were all asked write down their favourite cheese prior to the experiment and then they were split into two groups, 500 each. They signed the waivers etc and were invited into a sports hall and assigned a table to sit at. They ate a small piece of their favourite cheese and scored it from 1-10 with 10 being delicious, 1 being foul. They then all exited and randomly half the group were given an injection of methadone (they were told it was a flu vaccine I think…) After 30 minutes they were taken back into the hall to their assigned tables and asked to eat the cheese again (approx 1/2 oz / 15g) and to score the cheese again.
Here’s the punchline and the killer blow. The group who had not received the methadone scored the cheese similarly to before, mostly 8 or 9. The group who had received the methadone scored the cheese, their favourite cheese remember, 1-3, with many saying it tasted disgusting or like ‘eating fat’.
So, what happened? Well, that casomorphin became morphine but the methadone blocked the opioid pleasure receptor and analgesic effect.
This is powerful, and it’s why you find ‘milk powder’ seemingly randomly in so many food products. It is to get you hooked, quite literally.
You’ve probably heard that dairy isn’t good for you and that there are better alternatives, yet so many people struggle to kick dairy from their diet.
It really is physically addictive. Morphine is a psychoactive drug, just like heroin, cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, caffeine, MDMA, ketamine, and so on.
Substances that artificially reward the pleasure circuits in our brains are big business, regardless of legality or social stigma.
In fact, you can now have cheese delivered in some parts of the world in an hour. cheese delivery in one hour on Amazon.
Broccoli is yet to achieve such status…
If you are finding it tough to give up cheese, or simply don’t want to, then you are likely addicted. However, why should you?
You’re not weaning from your mother anymore. The cheese is made from the milk of a different species. It is not normal, natural, or necessary. Cheese is absolutely loaded with saturated fat, and cholesterol – it is one of the biggest, if not the biggest single contributor food to weight management problems, and coronary artery disease.
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