What! Give up my cheese?


If you have not already begun to at least dabble in reducing the amount of animal-based food you consume, here is some more information you might find useful if you want to be healthier, save the planet and stop killing animals at a rate of 13,300 every second worldwide. All of us find it difficult to change our lifestyle to a whole-food, plant-based diet. Even when it is scientifically and medically proven to us that eating a healthy plant-based diet can prevent most of the diseases plaguing us and even reverse them—not to mention making us feel 20 years younger—we can’t seem to avoid that cheese tray at the cocktail party. Almost everyone I talk to says the same thing: “Oh, I eat really healthy, but I could never give up my (eggs, cheese, double lattes, fish, chicken, prime rib, etc.).” You fill in the blank. 

Our hidden belief system is Carnism, by which we are indoctrinated and trained through our parents and friends, our culture, the media and the industries promoting the products to eat a meat- and cheese-based diet. We are incessantly pelted by juicy bacon cheeseburger and double-crust cheese pizza ads on TV (usually followed by a diabetes or arthritis medicine ad). But it runs even deeper than that. Our cravings for dairy—especially cheese—and meat, including fish, are also fueled by our primordial need for fat and sugar and, in the case of dairy products, opiates. 

All dairy products contain casomorphins. As explained at yumuniverse.com, this peptide is created through the digestion of milk protein (casein) and produces an opioid effect. It is only about one-tenth the strength of morphine and comes in a relatively small amount in milk, but is 10 times more concentrated in cheese. But, as with opiates, dependence can develop with ongoing administration. Think cheese plates, pizza, bacon cheeseburgers, etc. 

Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, explains. “It appears that the opiates from mother’s milk produce a calming effect on the infant and, in fact, may be responsible for a good measure of the mother-infant bond,” he writes in his book “Breaking the Food Seduction.” “No, it’s not all lullabies and cooing. Psychological bonds always have a physical underpinning. Like it or not, mother’s milk has a drug-like effect on the baby’s brain that ensures that the baby will bond with Mom and continue to nurse and get the nutrients all babies need. Like heroin or codeine, casomorphins slow intestinal movements and have a decided antidiarrheal effect. The opiate effect may be why adults often find that cheese can be constipating, just as opiate painkillers are.” Barnard continues: “Opioids are well known for their ability to produce a feeling of euphoria, motivating some to recreationally use opioids. But if it’s already a huge part of our diets in America, so who will actually have to experience the un-comfy withdrawal? You guessed it. Those who try to kick dairy to the curb.”

As casein breaks down in the stomach, the casomorphins also act as a histamine releaser, which is one of the reasons why so many people are allergic to dairy products—an estimated 70 percent of the population worldwide. Not only are we addicted to and suffering allergies from dairy products, we are also lovers of the taste of fat, which is high in calories. There are about 4,000 calories per pound in fat (refined oils) and about 2,000 calories per pound in refined sugar, as opposed to 300 calories per pound in whole fruit and only 200 calories per pound in whole vegetables. We are primordially programmed to seek out high-calorie foods because when we were roaming the plains, savannahs, mountains or Arctic, we did not know when our next meal would come, so we took advantage of the occasional animal we were able to easily kill, or the bee hive we would find. (For more on this, read the “Pleasure Trap” by Dr. Alan Goldhamer.)

There are many reasons why it is difficult to make a transition to a healthy, plant-based diet. Just remember the next time you stop yourself at the cheese tray or order pizza without cheese, armed with all of this great knowledge, those cravings you are feeling will pass eventually—though with some effort. And because of your efforts to eat healthier, you will extend your life many years.


Dave Osborn lives in Point Reyes Station.