Many people, vegans and omnivores alike, have a love-hate relationship with cheese. While people often love it for the taste, they loathe it for the saturated fat content, and yet they cannot seem to break their cheese addiction. The average American consumes over thirty pounds of cheese annually, and it is one of the largest source of saturated fats.
Cheese is prominent in cultural diets including Mexican and Italian, and is a common ingredient in All-American-style comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese and casseroles. Its popularity might be unrivaled, as many people say they can’t live without it. But chances are that very few of these people realize the depth of those cravings: that dairy actually causes a mild addiction.
Wait, what? It sounds farfetched, but dairy indeed contains a chemical similar to morphine. Researchers discovered it 1981 and intense research ensued. They identified the protein known as casein, which is present in milk from all mammals, including humans and cows. Upon breakdown in the stomach, casein releases opiates known as casomorphins. Casomporphins, like morphine, are part of the opioid family. You may actually have a cheese addiction.
This might seem very strange at first, but consider the true purpose of milk: mammals breastfeed to ensure healthy babies and encourage bonding between mother and child. Breast milk also contains antibodies to strengthen a newborn’s immune system and help them grow strong, at a rate appropriate for the species. The casomorphins have a soothing effect which entices infants to keep nursing, grow stronger, and therefore be more likely to live to reproduce themselves.
Compared to human milk, cow’s milk has more than ten times the casomorphins, possibly as much as twenty times. Since it takes about ten pounds of milk to make a single pound of cheese, the casomorphins are highly concentrated in cheese products.
Now, the opioid-qualities of dairy will not get you high, and you are not going to need counseling to break the habit. However, the effects are strong enough to incite cravings. Due to a multitude of factors, cheese consumption in America tripled since the 1950s, and, not surprisingly, so has the obesity rate. In an effort to stem this trend, there has never been a better time to ditch the queso.
The good news is that it is very possible to change your palate! Cravings for cheese (or any other ‘undesired’ food item you’re trying to ditch) will diminish once you retrain your brain and taste buds. In a study by Gary Beauchamp, PhD., subjects who were learning to curb their salt intake noticed their cravings typically subsided after only a month.
Alternatives to dairy cheese are on the rise, including gourmet and artisanal style ‘cheeses.’ Brands like Daiya, Teese, Follow Your Heart and others are being sold at more and more grocery store chains. Just last year, CBS’s Shark Tank venture capitalist jumped at the chance to invest in Heidi Ho’s Organics, a company that has unique and savory flavors like Creamy Chia Cheeze, Smoky Chia Cheese, and Black Lava Ne Chèvre.
In addition to the store-bought faux-cheeses, there are plenty of substitutes you can easily make at home to complete any creative pizza concoction you can dream up. Nutritional yeast is an amazingly versatile ingredient common in many ‘cheesy’ recipes. If you don’t yet have it in your vegan arsenal, you really need to check it out- it’s a must have.
If you are working on kicking cheese to the curb, what veganized recipe are you looking forward to trying? If you are already vegan, how did you control the post-queso cravings?