This amazing guest post was written by Jeriann Watkins Ireland, a writer and wellness enthusiast. We encourage you to check out more from Jeriann at her website.
Do you love cheese so much that you think you might be addicted? Do you get hungry just thinking about an ooey-gooey baked mac and cheese or even a lovely cheese and cracker plate to go with your wine? Even many people who have given up most animal products, including other dairy, have a weakness for cheese. In fact, science shows that the feeling of being “addicted” to cheese isn’t too far off.
What makes Cheese so Addictive?
Dairy contains a protein called casein, which when digested, release substances called casomorphins. Casomorphins have been shown to have opioidal effects, releasing dopamine in the brain, which is, of course, the same compound most additive drugs release. It is speculated that mammal’s milk contains these properties to help nursing babies bond with their mothers and to continue to eat and get all the nutrients they need.
Unfortunately, casein also has negative properties; as it breaks down in the body, it releases histamine, which is why a large percentage of people have dairy allergies. Histamine production causes most allergy and cold symptoms, including nasal congestion, swelling of the lips, throat, tongue, mouth, and face, wheezing, hives, and itchy skin.
Where is Casein Found?
You’re probably wondering what products casein can be found in and why cheese is so addictive if it turns out all dairy contains casein. Well, different products have different amounts of protein (such as casein), and sometimes the process of making a certain product can increase the amount.
For example, it can take 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese. This concentration results in higher levels of casein. In both cheese and yogurt, bacterial cultures eat a lot of the lactose and other compounds, leaving the proteins, including casein, behind. Ice cream and low fat milk are also very high in casein.
Butter has less casein, as do high-fat dairy products like sour cream, cream cheese, and heavy cream. Clarified butter, or ghee, has no casein at all.
Any product containing milk will likely have some level of casein. This includes baked goods, salad dressings, cereals, many processed foods, and protein powders and bars. Some protein supplements will be extremely high in casein, while others will be made of whey, the other main protein in milk. If you have negative reactions to casein, you’ll want to pay close attention to labels.
How to Manage Casein Consumption
If you’re looking to decrease your casein consumption without giving up cheese, there is good news. Of course, you can start by focusing on limiting your consumption of the high-casein products above, particularly limiting processed foods containing dairy, and high-protein/low fat dairy products.
But even though cheese is on that high-casein list, things get more complicated. There are different types of casein. The protein is different in cow’s milk than it is in goats and sheep. This is why some people who can’t eat cow-milk-cheese are fine with goat’s and sheep’s milk. So you can still enjoy a nice Manchego or some creamy goat’s milk, while avoiding the histamine-producing effects of casein.
There is another consideration as well. Studies have shown that it’s possible that cows bred for maximum milk production, rather than best milk quality, have a mutated version of casein. In countries where cows are bred to produce healthier milk, the casein is not as irritating to the human digestive system. So if you live near a market with imported cheeses, you could test out small quantities and see how your body reacts.
Even if you don’t have access to imported cheeses, and you don’t want to give up cow’s milk cheese altogether, you can practice moderation by only eating cheese when it really shines. Add a few potent bleu-cheese crumbles to your favorite salad. Give yourself a treat with a luscious mac and cheese once in awhile. But work to make cheese a rare treat rather than a daily item.
What are your experiences with casein consumption and cheese addiction? Share in the comments below!