Most of you can probably agree that cheese is one of the most tasty and diverse foods out there. It goes with every meal, completes classic American dishes and it comes in SO many varieties.
Have you ever thought about how much cheese you eat in a day? In a week? In a year?
If I had a dollar for every conversation in which I told someone I was a vegan, and the response I got was “I don’t know how you do it…I could never give up cheese”, I would be rich. Before I transitioned to a plant-based diet I never thought I could give up cheese either. I craved it too much! It took YEARS before I finally stopped eating dairy for good.
So, why DO we crave cheese so much? Is it merely the idea of the melted, savory taste? Or is there a real science behind these cravings?
It turns out, there is.
Why we crave cheese…
Dairy products contain casein, a protein that is significantly found in cow’s milk and cheese. When we ingest casein, our bodies break it down into smaller components during digestion called casomorphins (source). Casomorphins can attach to neuroreceptors that stimulate the release of dopamine, providing minor stress relief and a euphoric sensation.
To simplify, the dopamine release we experience from the properties of cheese is, literally, addictive. Consumption of foods that are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat have been shown to have similar neurological results… which makes sense of why highly processed dairy products, such as cheddar cheese, lead to intense cravings (source) .
Can we surpass those cravings?
Absolutely! Understanding the addictive properties of cheese is important, especially if you’re transitioning to a plant-based diet or trying to cut back on dairy.
They say it takes about 21 days to make or break a habit, so if you’re trying to improve your diet but you’re unsure why you can’t seem to stop thinking about that bag of cheddar cheese in the back of the fridge, don’t worry. The less dairy you consume, the less you will crave it over time.
In the meantime, try to be mindful of your cravings and satisfy them in more nutritive ways. A lot of the time, cravings are your body’s way of telling you it is lacking one or more nutrients!
Going for a plant-based diet and reducing dairy intake will make you feel better than you EVER did from the first bite of a cheese quesadilla. It will take a bit of time before surpassing real cravings if cheese was a significant part of your diet!
You will eventually forget that those cravings ever existed and more likely crave foods that provide plenty of nutrients to nourish and energize your body.
Why go dairy-free?
Reducing intake of animal-sourced cheese means no casein or cholesterol, which also means no unhealthy addictive properties! When we eat animal products, we digest cholesterol and fat from another being. This comes with the aftermath of many potential health threats. Besides the addictive effects of casein, properties within dairy products increase risk of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes (source).
By going for plant-based alternatives from dairy your body will be relieved from that minor addiction, inflammation and even feelings of low energy or lethargy.
The cool thing about plant-based cheese alternatives is that you’re not only eating cheese that’s free from dairy, but you’re usually getting MORE nutrients due to the plant sources in those products.
Give a dairy-free diet a try and see for yourself! Your body will thank you.