You may have noticed that we're pretty big fans of cheese over here. Are we passionate about cheese? Definitely. Greedy? Possibly. But addicted?
A study published earlier this year suggests some foods could activate the same response in us as drugs do – which those of us who struggle to leave the last slice of double pepperoni or idly wonder how that whole round of Brie never made it back to the fridge may well have guessed.
Highly processed foods and those high in fat did not fare well, with pizza (possibly to the surprise of no-one) coming out on top for being associated with “addictive-like eating behaviours”. As well containing sugar and carbohydrates, there's usually plenty of cheese.
And the particular allure of cheese (found in plenty of processed foods) is down to it containing a protein called casein, which during digestion releases casomorphins – opiates that trigger the brain receptors dealing with pain, reward and addiction.
Dietitian Cameron Wells explained to Mic.com, “[Casomorphins] really play with the dopamine receptors and trigger that addictive element.” Other experts have gone so far as to compare the addictive qualities of cheese to that of drugs.
Dr. Neal Barnard, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said in an interview with Vegetarian Times: “Casomorphins attach to the brain’s opiate receptors to cause a calming effect in much the same way heroin and morphine do. In fact, since cheese is processed to express out all the liquid, it’s an incredibly concentrated source of casomorphins. You might call it dairy crack.”
The research, carried out by University of Michigan and involving more than 500 participants, focused on identifying addictive food using the Yale Food Addiction Scale. Nicole Avena, a co-author on the study, which was released in February but has come to attention in the past few days, discussed how the results could alter the way we approach the problem of obesity. “This is a first step towards identifying specific foods, and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response.
“This could help change the way we approach obesity treatment. It may not be a simple matter of ‘cutting back’ on certain foods, but rather, adopting methods used to curtail smoking, drinking and drug use.”
The paper concluded: “The current study provides preliminary evidence that not all foods are equally implicated in addictive-like eating behavior, and highly processed foods, which may share characteristics with drugs of abuse (e.g. high dose, rapid rate of absorption) appear to be particularly associated with ‘food addiction’.”
Step. Away. From. The. Manchego.
Images: Rex Features, Thinkstock