Science

The addictive properties of cheese

Why your cheddar cravings may not be mild

In light of recent news that has emerged claiming that processed foods cause cancer, a University of Michigan study has found that processed foods are highly addictive. A complete lose-lose situation, really.

The ‘Yale Food Addiction’ scale was used to create a list of the most addictive foods in the world, with five hundred students submitted entries of what they felt they were addicted to. Topping the list was pizza, while some may attribute its addictiveness to its outright deliciousness, researchers claim they have found a science-based reason behind why we become addicted to some foods over others, and that cheese is the true addictive substance.

Processing is the key behind the addiction: highly processed food such as chips, crisps and cheese are highly addictive whereas unprocessed foods such as salmon and brown rice are certainly not what we turn to when we need to satisfy cravings. Moreover, all these foods contain fat. Erica Schulte, one of the study’s authors, told website Mic.com: “Fat seemed to be equally predictive of problematic eating for everyone, regardless of whether they experience symptoms of ‘food addiction.’”

As well as being both fatty and processed, cheese contains a chemical called casein, a protein that is found in all milk products. Cheese contains casein in much higher quantities than normal milk products. To produce one kilogram of cheese, around ten litres of milk is used, and the whey product that is used to produce the hard cheese is also casein. So you really get a big casein kick from a lump of cheese. When cheese is digested in our bodies, casein is broken down into a bunch of opiates called casomorphins. Multiple studies in the past have shown that casomorphins interact with opoid receptors in the brain, triggering reward responses that lead to addiction, much in the same way as drugs.

In the UK, 98 per cent of households regularly buy cheese, and we collectively consume 700,000 tonnes of cheese yearly in restaurants, home and food processing. This equates to around 10kg per person per year, though I’m sure most of us agree our personal figure far surpasses that.

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