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Culinarily Curious: Addicted to cheese? Here's why.

Posted by Alex Pearlman  April 2, 2012 06:12 PM

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cheese.jpgBy Anthony Howard

Confession: I love cheese (but, really, who doesn’t?). If I was ever stuck on a deserted island, I think I’d get by just fine as long as I had a chunk of Vermont cheddar with me. Give me a few slices of creamy Brie on a crusty baguette with sliced apples and a glass of wine, and I’m in heaven.

I think cheese is magical: There are so many varieties, each one more sensual than the last. And yet, some may say that my love of cheese is a little too extreme. So after finding myself craving cheese at weird hours (say, 2 a.m. on Saturday; gee, I wonder why?), I decided to do some research on cheese addiction. What I found surprised me, so if my symptoms sound familiar, listen up!

If you love cheese so much and joke that you think you might be addicted -- well, you probably are. Dr. Neal Barnard, founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, didn’t famously call cheese “dairy crack” for no reason. But if you’re looking for someone to blame for your new-found addiction, head to the barnyard: It’s all the cows’ fault.

The primary protein in milk is casein. When the human body digests casein, it produces casomorphins, which have an opiate-like effect on humans. Because cheese is denser than, for example, milk, the casein is more heavily concentrated, meaning that eating cheese produces a larger amount of casomorphins in the body compared to eating other dairy products.

Cheese-related research going as far back as the ‘80s has also confirmed that cheese contains small amounts of morphine. Scientists postulate that cows produce morphine in their milk because it helps calm their calves, making sure the young cows bond with their mothers and come back for more (does this make cows the dairy farm equivalent of drug dealers?).

If science isn’t enough to get you to “hold the cheese” more often, consider this nutrition fact: One four-ounce piece of cheddar has over 450 calories and a whopping 37 grams of fat.

All of this research, however, isn’t to say that cheese doesn’t have its benefits, too. The delicious dairy product contains plenty of calcium, a necessity for strong bones and teeth, and is definitely part of a healthy, balanced diet. But the Western world continues to consume more and more cheese; it’s creeping its way into every single meal of the day. Americans are now eating about 33 pounds of cheese per year -- triple the amount they were eating in 1970 -- and consumption continues to rise.

So next time you’re browsing the cheese aisle in the grocery store, think about the facts -- and maybe opt for a yogurt instead.

'Culinarily Curious' is TNGG Boston's column on all things food, written by Anthony Howard.

Photo by MetaGrrrl (Flickr)

About Anthony -- I'm a 22-year-old Massachusetts native -- grew up in the 'burbs and now spend my young adult life in the city. I am passionate about cooking and currently assistant manage a restaurant kitchen in Kendall Square. Let's just say that when I invite friends over for dinner parties, no one ever turns me down.

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This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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