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Why can't you stop eating cheese?

By Friederike Ostermeyer | March 19, 2021, 5:49 a.m.

When was the last time you ate a piece of Parmigiano reggiano, Camembert or Gouda and thought: I need more! Why is it that you can't stop eating cheese? FITBOOK took a closer look at the scientific findings.

In 2015, a study caused a sensation that allegedly found out that cheese is addictive. "Cheese affects the brain like cocaine," was the headline of one or the other magazine. Without looking up what the scientists had actually found out, the "cheese is addicting" claim burned itself into many heads - it is, admittedly, a nice small talk topic. What is it really about?

Study of Addictive Foods

That University of Michigan study wasn't all about cheese. Rather, the 120 test persons were asked to report which foods they can least do without. Right at the front: ice cream, french fries, chips, biscuits, pizza, chocolate, soda and cheese. Cheese only took tenth place, while chocolate and pizza made it to the top. The unhealthy hit list confirmed what has long been known: Ultra-processed foods with a high fat and sugar content make us eat “too much” and can make you fat and sick in the long run (FITBOOK reported).

Per capita consumption of cheese in Germany

But back to the cheese. High-quality milk products in organic quality are not exactly considered unhealthy instant food and are also part of a balanced diet. Nevertheless, many cheese fans report that it is difficult for them to put an opened piece of cheese or the package back in the refrigerator after a slice. In fact, many of those affected would even describe themselves (with a wink) as addicted to cheese. If you believe current statistics, the per capita consumption of cheese in Germany has increased by around one kilo per year since 2014. in hint that cheese is addicting after all?

Also interesting: In which types of cheese is the rind edible?

Casomorphine has a calming and intoxicating effect

One of the reasons why cheese falls into the “soul food” category for many is due to a slow-digesting milk protein called casein. This is broken down in the body into so-called casomorphins. Well known: Almost everything that has to do with "morphine", i.e. morphine and other opiates, has a calming, intoxicating and, above all, highly addictive effect. Because it stimulates the reward center in the brain. But for it to really "pop", the substance also has to cross the blood-brain barrier. If you consider that the concentration in cheese is many times higher than in milk (around five liters of milk are needed to produce 500 grams of cheese) - a piece of Parmesan would then not have to fall under the Narcotics Act before it would be available to everyone in the supermarket. To lie on a cooling shelf?

Of course not - because most of the casomorphin is lost during digestion in the intestine and is no longer detectable at all after a few hours. According to a Scandinavian study from 2019, the little bit that should still reach the brain only provides a pleasant feeling of joy - and the famous desire for more that cheese lovers are so familiar with.

Evolutionarily sensible

In terms of evolution, a slight addiction to milk makes perfect sense. It is believed that casomorphins were "invented" by nature to ensure that babies' mammals drink regularly in order to grow up and grow strong quickly. At the same time, the feeling of well-being should strengthen the bond between mother and child. It may come as no surprise that casomorphine is also found in human breast milk. In other words: the said active ingredient has presumably ensured, among other things, for millions of years that (animal) children do not disdain the vital milk. So it's no wonder that you still like it in adulthood - especially in the highly concentrated cheese form.

Also interesting: does milk really make us sick?

Cheese creates a feeling of security

To be addicted to something means to have withdrawal symptoms as soon as you stop using the substance. This may be true of most morphines. Not on casomorphine, however - even if this is apparently confused in many articles on the subject. If we were actually dealing with an addictive substance in the classic sense, it would already have fatal consequences for infants. So cheese is not addictive, but gently satisfied with the desire for more. Perhaps also because the consumption of the milk product subconsciously reminds us of the early childhood feeling of security when breastfeeding. Such theses would of course have to be examined more closely. One thing is pretty certain: the good portion of fat that goes with every cheese meal also does the rest. Because wherever there is a lot of it in play, the much-cited, prehistoric instinct comes into play to grab the high calories as courageously as possible in order to be prepared for times of shortage.

Also interesting: which cheeses contain the least amount of fat and calories?

We asked a nutritionist

Is cheese addicting? We wanted to know that from nutrition expert and qualified ecotrophologist Beke Enderstein. "From my point of view, the current study situation is actually not sufficient to discourage people from using cheese due to the potential for addiction," said Enderstein. She even considers organically certified cheese to be the culinary icing on the cake of pasta and co. The only exception: “People with binge eating or binge eating disorder, in which cheese triggers an eating attack, should (temporarily) refrain from eating it. Regardless of whether the addictive factor is due to the casomorphine, the high fat content or the aromatic nuances - also known as umami. "

By the way: Casein is already very popular in the low-carb community. Numerous studies indicate that the protein accelerates fat loss in overweight people, while it promotes the development of muscles. At the same time, the protein contains all the essential amino acids.

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