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Do you madly crave cheese? Does the thought of a cheese platter make you salivate? Do you compulsively eat a whole slab of cheese at one sitting and then feel guilty afterwards? Well, you might call yourself a cheese lover, but some scientists claim you’re a cheese addict, hooked on what they refer to as ‘dairy crack’.
“That’s ridiculous!” I hear you say. “How can cheese be addictive?” Well, according to a study involving 500 participants, published by the US National Library of Medicine, cheese increases dopamine neuronal activity in much the same way as drugs!
The culprit is casein, the primary protein found in all dairy (milk) products. When casein is broken down by our digestive enzymes it releases peptides called casamorphins, which have an opiate-like effect. As we know, the group of drugs known as opiates includes heroin and, like such opiates, casamorphins activate our dopamine receptors, producing a feeling of euphoria that we want to experience again and again. Therein lies the roots of addiction.
Personally, I would say that there’s no reason to be concerned about your cheese habit, since this addiction is far from being as harmful as those triggered by psychoactive substances. Subsequent research should look into whether addictive foods are capable of triggering changes in brain circuitry and behaviour in the way that drugs do. Until then, let’s keep on enjoying this small and tasty treat.
I believe that the issue is not about cutting out cheese, or any other food. It’s about restraint and moderation. Rather than avoiding food that we love, we should change our approach to eating. We can avoid overeating, choose quality over quantity, seek out knowledge about balanced and healthy diets, etc.
Then, next time you hear someone say “Cheese is addictive”, feel free to smile, politely explain the difference and continue tucking into your favourite snack.