Do you love cheese? Really really love it? Have you ever jokingly made reference to your ‘cheese addiction’? Well, it may not be such a joking matter after all – scientific research suggests that eating cheese really does just makes us want to eat even more.

If you’ve ever reached the end of a meal but miraculously discovered that you have some more room in your stomach when the cheese tray comes out, you may be a cheese addict.

It turns out that, just as is the case with hard drugs like heroin and cocaine, some foods provide a consumer with an intense and almost-instant ‘hit’ or ‘high.’

Why Cheese Is Particularly Addictive

In the research, 500 people completed a survey that asked them what foods most often prompted them to overeat.

The researchers found that the most highly addictive foods contain significant levels of fat and are typically highly processed with a high sodium content.This explains why pizza is such a popular food – it is a manufactured rather than natural product, it is rapidly digested thanks to the high-GI level of the dough. Also, it is high in salt, and usually comes heaped with lots of cheese.

Let’s take a closer look at the chemical composition of cheese. Dairy products contain the milk protein casein, which releases casomorphins when it is digested in the human gut. This prompts the release of the ‘feel-good’ chemical dopamine in the brain, which can cement a cheese addiction even further! A glass of milk contains relatively little casein in absolute terms, but it takes a lot of milk to produce even a small amount of cheese. Therefore, cheese is notably high in these addictive proteins, which act indirectly on the opioid receptors in the brain. These are the same receptors that are triggered when a drug addict consumes a hit of heroin.

Should You Quit Eating Cheese Then?

Does this mean you should quit eating cheese? The authors of this study believe that the most addictive foods – including cheeseburgers, cookies and ice-cream and of course cheese – can trigger unintentional overeating. This may be a factor in explaining why obesity is an ongoing and expanding phenomenon in the US and other developed countries. So should you throw out the cheddar? Not necessarily. As long as you enjoy a balanced diet with fruit and vegetables as the key components, feel free to indulge in this relatively harmless vice once in a while. Enjoy it with some low-fat, low-GI foods in the same meal to slightly temper the ‘hit.’

Featured photo credit: Global Panorama via flickr.com

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