John & Mary-Ellen Landry
1. Salt. Truth, we need some salt, rather sodium, in our diets to allow it to function properly. More truth, we are consuming far too much of it. Often, it comes already built into the food we are about to bite into in the form of processed and/or packaged foods and yes, cheese is a processed food.
Sprinkling a wee bit of coarse salt on top of a meal is rarely the issue here. Food manufacturers know just exactly how addictive salt is and they want us hooked. Dr. Neal Barnard from PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) goes into this in depth in his book The Cheese Trap. Our tongues are very sensitive to salt and our brain rewards us for finding it by flooding our nervous system with the feel-good brain chemical called dopamine. We get a hit of this and we want more! 100 g serving of cheddar cheese has a whopping 621 mg of sodium (RDA is 1500 mg/day for ages 9-50) and it is not even the worst of the worst. Sheesh!
2. Grease/Fat. It seems that the grease/oil combination increases the addictive quality and cheese has no shortage of fat. In fact, cheese is the highest concentrated source of fat in the diet outside just chugging some oil or eating some butter. Not just any ol’ fat but the highly inflammatory, artery clogging, blood sludge, and vessel damaging kind in the form of saturated fat. There is no such thing as hearty, healthy or low fat cheese my friends!
3. Opiates. In my cheese? You betcha! The main protein in dairy is called casein and cheese is made from dairy. Casein in cheese is very concentrated and when cheese is consumed it is broken down into fragment chains of amino acids called casomorphins. That is to say, casein-derived morphine-like compounds.
In nature, a nursing cow wants her calf to be driven to nurse so they grow and flourish. These morphine-like compounds support that drive the way it was intended and who it was intended for. Since opiates have a calming effect and they also cause the brain to release dopamine, having them present in cheese keeps the drive strong and us coming back for more. If you feel at a loss to get a grip on your cheese addiction, you are not alone. Considering that these casomorphins compete to attach to the same receptors of the brain as heroin, you’re not really at fault to feel addicted. You are; we all are.
Are we left longing for cheese and feeling life is not worth living for? Nonsense. We can start by swapping out animal-based cheeses with those made from plants. Made with a base like nuts, potatoes and carrots (yes, you heard me correctly), or soy, plant-based cheese is huge! The more gourmet the cheese, the higher the price tag, but often the more satisfying and delicious in my humble opinion. Consider those listed here or make your own. We love this recipe for gooey cheese from Carrots & Flowers founder Megan, and Julie Piatt has perfected the art in her book This Cheese is Nuts. Or try this cheesy dressing or this no cheese sauce from Forks Over Knives. The recipes are so abundant I just can’t keep up; what a good problem to have.
Final comment: For those who are looking to release weight or watching calorie density, plant-based cheese can be high in fat when made with nuts; some add coconut or other plant-based oils so that they are successful, so consider it a wonderful condiment from time-to-time, simply make one without nuts, or take liberty to use nutritional yeast to get your cheese fix.
SLS Health Coaching is owned and operated by Mary-Ellen and John Landry. Combined, Mary- Ellen and John have over 50 years of experience as health and wellness leaders. They are sought after for their knowledge, energy, and ability to communicate and connect with people. Their passion is to provide a supportive, non-judgemental community that empowers people to create positive life changes. Specializing and certified in plant-based nutrition, SLS works with anyone who wants to take hold of their health and works specifically with those who are struggling with chronic ailments like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, but are overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. Please visit us at SLSHealthCoaching.com.