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Surprising Science

Food Addiction Is Real and Has ZERO to Do with Willpower

These findings are extremely helpful.

If milk and ice cream are cocaine, cheese is crack. That’s the prevailing analogy following the publication of a study that measures the addictive properties in different foods — including, of course, cheese. According to the L.A. Times:

“The study, published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, examines why certain foods are more addictive than others. Researchers identified addictive foods from about 500 students who completed the Yale Food Addiction Scale, designed to measure if someone has a food addiction.” 

The more processed the food was, the more addictive it was, probably because processed foods are more readily absorbed by the body. Thousands of years of food scarcity, only recently abated by agricultural revolutions, trained the body to respond positively to easily digestible energy. That would be cake, etc.

In the case of cheese, the suspected culprit is a protein called casein. Found in all milk products, casein releases opiates in the brain called casomorphins, which in turn play with dopamine receptors, said registered dietitian Cameron Wells. So consider this: Caseins make up 80 percent of cows milk and it takes 10 pounds of milk to make a pound of cheese.

Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., explains what food addiction looks like and how to curb it (hint: It’s not about willpower):

Comparing cheese to crack is obviously hyperbole, but because cheese is socially accepted, any negative effect it has becomes much more difficult to stamp out. So cheese may be more like tobacco in the 1950s than crack in contemporary society. Of course, comparing cheese to cigarettes is outrageous, but comparing it to crack is hyperbolic enough to be funny.

As Dr. Hyman suggests, going cold turkey on your food vices will show you what effect the food you eat has on your mind and body. Let me also suggest: If you want to know how covetous people are of their favorite foods, go vegan (as I did, nearly two years ago). Of course I’m not actually vegan, as I’m sometimes glaringly reminded, because I eat fish and occasionally eggs for breakfast (when I’m traveling).

In a world of crack addicts, deciding not to take crack is an implicit criticism of crack users. It calls into question the assumed value of Swiss, cheddar, bleu, and mozzarella. This is not to mention processed meat, which causes heart disease just like smoking. So laugh on, cheese addicts. Because you’re addicted to cheese like you’re addicted to crack! That is absolutely hilarious.

Image courtesy Shutterstock


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