Do you crave cheese and want to reduce consumption of it for any number of reasons? It is no secret. Giving up cheese is very hard for most everyone; you are not alone! When we see delicious melted cheese, pizza with double cheese, nachos with cheese sauce, or even mac and cheese, it is easy for our willpower to melt. There are reasons for this strong feeling we have. Let me explain why we crave cheese:

First, many of us grew up with cheese as part of our Western culture.

Grilled cheese and tomato soup is an iconic meal for many Americans of a certain age. We grew up with cheese. Meat sandwich and cheese is classic. A cheese-ball or platter at a party is too. Cheese became part of our daily fare. We could always eat cheese then feel happy, and full. Many people just love cheese, even fussy eaters and little kids. Individual wrapped cheese slices, as well as blocks, and fancier European cheeses are part of many households. School lunches are loaded with cheese. We are a nation of cheese lovers!

Second, cheese is loaded with salt and we crave salt.

Salt is important however! Sodium helps nerves and muscles to function properly; it is one of the factors involved in the regulation of our water content, or fluid balance. You know sometimes we really sweat a lot then crave something salty to stay hydrated. We need salt, but just not too much. Too much salt raises blood pressure and increases the risk of heart attack and strokes.

OK, we know we crave salt. However, we only need about one and one half grams of salt per day. Most people eat far too much, which leads to health problems. One slice of Domino’s pizza contains about 400 mg. of salt! Processed foods are very high in sodium; especially Asian foods so please read the labels. Seventy seven percent of our average daily intake of salt comes from processed and restaurant foods. For example, a half rack of ribs at TGIF Fridays contains 2,420 mg of salt (over one days’ worth) and Chicken Fajitas at Applebee’s contains 4,800 mg, which is TWO days’ worth of salt. A Whopper with cheese contains half a days’ worth of sodium and oodles of fat, while KFC’s chicken potpie has almost 2,000 mg of salt. It all adds up. Learn more about salt in session 5.

Third, cheese contains a protein called casein; good for baby calves not for humans.

Casein is a protein found in milk. When scientists break down any protein, it becomes long chains of amino acids. Milk contains amino acids called casomorphins named after the protein casein. You’re reading it right – morphine, like the drug. Casomorphins are designed to keep the baby nursing. These molecules ensure that the baby will continue to nurse because it feels so good. That way the baby gets all the nutritious vitamins, proteins hormones, and fat for healthy, wholesome, grow into a great big cow, food. Thus, milk contains a natural opiate (like heroin, OxyContin®, hydrocodone, Vicodin®, codeine, or morphine). It is nature’s way of saying “Hey baby, keep nursing!” Dr. Barnard calls is “dairy crack”. We can’t help but crave cheese. Go easy on yourself if you find it hard to give up. In time, you will train your brain and get over this salty, fatty, opiate!

Fourth, cheese contains many calories, much if it fat.

Cheese is notorious for added weight gain. Cheese is filling; it gives us that feeling of fullness or satiety. True story: I visited China about ten years ago. Despite drinking beer everyday (had to stay away from the water!) I did not eat one bite of cheese and lost weight. Amazing! When we eat fatty foods it is stored as fat. It is not stored for energy later but simply fat. Over 60% percent of the fat in cheddar cheese is saturated fat. Saturated fat is known to contribute to heart disease, is associated with higher risk for Alzheimer’s, and contributes to insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Learn more about fat in session 5.

Bottom line: Despite our cultural conditioning, the salt, casomorphins, and fat, we can give up cheese! Next week I will discuss more about how to do this with practical strategies. Stay tuned! Happy Eating!


Photo: Thank you Herson Rodriguez at Unsplash