Do you experience constant and inexplicable cravings for cheese? If so, you’re certainly not alone. If you were to ask the majority of vegetarians—there are an estimated 1.5 billion on the planet—what’s preventing them from transitioning to a strictly plant-based diet, you’d likely find them hiding behind a pungent, nearly impenetrable wall of solidified cow’s milk. The fact is, despite lactose intolerance being prevalent throughout the world, cheese is eaten on every continent. (Yes, you can even find pizza in Antarctica.) One could make a strong case that cheese, not love, is what makes the world go round. But why? What’s at the root of this love affair with cheese? What’s the source of allure in this siren’s song? Is there, perhaps, something in this pseudo-food that makes it addictive?
Am I addicted to cheese?
The short answer is yes. Dairy milk, and its byproduct cheese, is designed to be addictive. This is due to casein–a protein found in the breast milk of every mammal, including humans. When casein is digested it’s broken down into a peptide called casomorphin (1). Casomorphins play an important role in the bond between mother and infant–ensuring a baby’s interest in nursing and supporting adequate nutrition. They work by attaching to the dopamine receptors in your brain, the same receptors heroin or morphine attach to, causing your brain to release dopamine–a neurotransmitter related to feelings of pleasure and reward (2)(3). While not as potent as the aforementioned narcotics, casomorphins do elicit a similar reward response. Thus, each bite of cheese provides a small hit of dopamine, causing the consumer to feel continued cravings for the source of this reward, with casomorphins from cow’s milk being between three and 30 times stronger than those from human breast milk (4).
While casomorphins do provide an essential biological service to infants, once nursing ceases, so does their usefulness. Humans aren’t designed to continue intake after being weaned off of breast milk and transitioning to solid foods. The continued ingestion of casomorphins into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood encourages compulsive, habitual behavior, and is often accompanied by negative health consequences.
How long does it take to stop eating cheese?
The less cheese you consume, the less you’ll crave it. It just takes a little time. Simple as that. If you stop eating cheese, the cravings for it will begin to subside while your body adjusts to no longer having inflammation-causing compounds in your system. And the good news is that your taste buds can change too. They can evolve. Before you know it, you’ll start craving foods that actually nourish and heal your body.
What to do when you have a cheese craving
If you want to cut back on cheese consumption but find yourself craving fatty foods, there is an abundance of healthy fats available in a dairy-free diet. Plant-based fat sources such as hummus, nut butters or avocados, are naturally rich in nutrients that the body needs, unlike cheese, which is primarily composed of artery-clogging saturated fats—fats that lead to heart disease. So it helps to consider not just what you’re giving up, but what you’re gaining—a body free of inflammation, and inflammation is the precursor to the majority of diseases.
Try plant-based cheese
It’s also important to note that giving up dairy cheese doesn’t mean you can’t find even greater satisfaction elsewhere. Whether it’s for spreads, pizza, or snacking on by itself, you can continue to enjoy the foods you’ve always enjoyed, but with delicious, healthier plant-based cheeses. There are so many high-quality options to sate even the most powerful cheese craving. But a word of caution–many plant-based cheeses are easy to get hooked on too… but only due to their sinfully robust flavors.
Want to check out some incredible plant-based cheese options?