There are few foods that are as universally loved as cheese. But are there scientific reasons why we pine for some gooey cheesy goodness a lot of the time? Is it just that delish or are habit-forming means also at play?
Let’s find out what the science says about whether or not cheese is habit-forming, or addictive.
Is cheese addictive?
Current science suggests that cheese may have some mildly habit-forming properties due to a protein that causes a dopamine hit (you know, that endorphin that gives you that reward feeling). While cravings for cheese can happen, they’re not nearly as strong as a habit-forming drug. Cheese also comes with calcium, protein, and good fats, all of which are beneficial.
The main protein in dairy milk is called casein, which our bodies break down into casomorphins. Casomorphins can attach to dopamine receptors causing that familiar dopamine hit of pleasure or reward.
It takes 10 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of cheese. So, those casomorphins are far more concentrated in cheese than when you’re just drinking milk. This means that eating a whole lot of cheese could potentially lead to behaviors that are similar to addiction such as cravings or even withdrawal symptoms if you’re really going ham on cheese.
Cheese is also high in fat, which research suggests may contribute to those late-night cheese pangs. According to a research review, high fat foods are associated with the reward response, which makes eating those foods feel really good.
There could even be evolutionary reasons why our bodies crave cheese such as forging bonds between a lactating parent and their baby, though the science is still being examined.
Ultimately, cheese, like some other foods such as sugar, high fat foods, processed foods, certain probiotics, among others, do have some habit-forming properties. The research is ongoing into all of the mechanisms that make this happen.
The jury is still out on whether everyone who ingests cheese gets the same level of euphoric feelings (or any at all). And even those who do experience a mild dopamine hit likely don’t have any adverse affects. It’s just not the same experience that you’d find with habit-forming drugs, for instance.
Cheese contains calcium, good fats, and protein. It also tends to have higher amounts of calories and sodium than other foods. It’s not likely that you’d need to avoid cheese for reasons of addiction, but more just to keep your eating plan balanced and nutrient-dense.
If you are looking to decrease your cheese intake for any reason, you could explore dairy-free cheese alternatives such as vegan cheese or nutritional yeast.
But before passing on the good gouda, just eat it in moderation and within a diverse diet of nutrient-rich foods.
There are ways to include cheese in your diet that take full advantage of those nutrient benefits and taste *chef’s kiss*. They include:
- healthier mac and cheese recipes
- ways to make your shells and white cheddar fancy AF
- lots of nom-worthy goat cheese recipes
- how to make a huge and stunning charcuterie board
- an intro to one of our favorite cheeses, Halloumi
- some genius cheese pairings you may not know about
- cheesy low carb breakfast ideas
The casomorphins in dairy milk cheese can potentially create euphoric feelings for some (and even keep you coming back for more), but research can’t definitely say that cheese is habit-forming in the same way as opiate drugs. It’s more likely a very mild dopamine response.
Cheese isn’t considered dangerous and comes with a fair few nutritional benefits such as calcium and protein. If you enjoy eating cheese (guilty as charged) and don’t live with something like intolerance to lactose, you can include it as part of your diet without an issue.
Check in with your doctor or a dietician if you have concerns about your diet or the way cheese fits into it.