Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"I could never give up cheese..."

This is one of the most frequent reasons people state why they could never give up dairy. It was certainly one of the reasons I thought I could never go vegan. I remember when I went down to Virginia to spend my first holiday with my future mother-in-law's family several years ago. The whole extended family were huge cheese eaters, and were very approving of my great love of the smelliest, most intense cheeses money could buy. We whipped up some of the tastiest fondues and ate ourselves into a happy holiday coma. Ahh...the food coma. But it ends up there may be something to that delightful -- though sometimes uncomfortable --  feeling.

Many scientists believe that people are actually addicted to cheese. In the animal milk that makes the cheese is a protein called casein. Sounds harmless enough, right? It's in all mammals' milk, including human milk. When we drink the milk, however, this protein is broken into peptides called casomorphines, which are opiates that contain 1/10 of the strength of morphine. The casomorphines give us a sense of well-being, similar to what heroin or morphine does. As they were intended for babies of the species that gives the milk, this makes sense; it allows the baby to relax and to drink more of the nourishing food, and it helps foster the mother-baby bond.

Cheese, however, has the water, lactose, and whey taken out, so the casein is much more concentrated. The effect of the casein, once it has been ingested and breaks down into casomorphines, is therefore much stronger. (It seems strongest in the "mold cheeses," such as Brie.) If the brain becomes accustomed to casomorphines flowing through the body, it's pretty psyched. And it's downright annoyed if its supply goes away. Thus the addiction.

To be honest, I didn't feel any symptoms of withdrawal when I gave up dairy. (And I've had caffeine withdrawal before so I have an inkling of what it might feel like.) In fact, one week after giving up dairy, my brother- and sister-in-law came over with some of my favorite cheeses to share, and I had no problem politely declining.  (So sweet of them, though!) Many people, however, claim to feel very depressed, sick, or lethargic after right after giving up cheese/dairy. It does make that commonly heard statement, "I could never give up cheese," look a little different, no?

If it's true that cheese is addictive, that's pretty great news for the cheese industry, wouldn't you say?  Makes one think...

In an earlier post, How Now, Brown Cow? I shared my ethical reasons for quitting dairy. But there have been studies, most famously The China Study, which have directly linked the consumption of animal protein to a number of cancers, among other diseases. Casein has also been shown to exacerbate the symptoms of autism.

Anyhow, I'm aiming to keep this short, as I'm behind on laundry and my keyboard's space bar is acting up.  But I encourage you to check out some of this information on your own. The movie Forks Over Knives (which I have yet to see, but plan on seeing) illustrates a lot of the damage animal protein is creating in our bodies.

As the king in Amadeus famously said, "Well...There it is."

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