Friday, March 27, 2015

Say Cheese, or say Smack

When I decided to try the whole vegan thing, my biggest worry was how I was going to say no to cheese. Part of my earliest memories of visiting my Grandma was that she would make us her macaroni and cheese. It was legendary (in my book anyway!). All of the emotions I associate with my Grandma - love and comfort just to name two, are wrapped up in those little cheesy noodles.
I also loved grilled cheese sandwiches (I later acquired the taste for the accompanying tomato soup), nachos, scalloped potatoes, and that pepper jack cheese with all those green and red bits in it. Bleu cheese came on the scene, first only in salads, but it quickly became a favourite as well. Let's just say I love cheese.

So how has it been going without? Well, I will say that on a Friday night, I miss making a meal of wine, cheese and crackers. (Ok, so that's my secret single behaviour from when I lived on my own!) But I still miss a good slice of aged cheddar... mmmm. Ploughman's Feast anyone? Anyway, I digress. The point is that I've survived, and I've actually learned a thing or two about why cheese might be so addictive. I figured it was worth sharing because maybe you've got a hankerin for the cheesy goodness too.

I was reading the book "The Vegetarian Flavor Bible" by Karen Page. She quotes Dr Neal Barnard, who tells us why cheese 'addiction' actually has a physical component to it.

"...cheese is a special case. Nutritionally, it is awful - with a very high content of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. However, cheese is extremely high in casein, the dairy protein, which is not like the other proteins. It breaks apart to release opiates into the bloodstream, and these milk casomorphins attach to the same opiate receptors in the brain that heroin attaches to, called the mu-receptor. So it's not just taste, it's not just mouthfeel - dairy products are unique in that they release casomorphins, and cheese has a much higher concentration of them than milk or ice cream." 
"If I stuck a needle in your arm a half-hour after you ate cheese, there would be opiates in your bloodstream and attaching to your brain. While it's not enough to make you drive dangerously or rob a convenience store, it's enough to make you say the next day, 'I think I'd like a little more cheese.' Completely stinky, repugnant cheese become more attractive when a person associates what's going on in the brain with the smell and the flavor."

He goes on to say that "If you are hooked on cheese - or anything else- you might consider trying to make a clean break. That's easier than teasing yourself with little bits here and there."

Hmm. Cheese is like mini-heroin to your brain? Hard to believe, but lately what I've read a lot about the whole sugar / cocaine thing is similar. Why not cheese & heroin?

So... does that mean I'm going to go cold-turkey? Well, I have already, and I don't seem to need rehab. Truthfully, though, I just don't think I will stay off 'the good stuff' forever. I'll keep the doses low, carefully measured out to ensure I just take about one ounce. That should do it, right?


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