“Your dairy vice has been vindicated,” the headline said.
That seemed reassuring, since I not only like dairy but also rely on it for a good portion of my daily protein. The headline suggested that dairy is like eggs; for years we were told to avoid eggs, especially egg yolks, and then eggs were reevaluated and promoted as a nutritional powerhouse, especially the yolks.
I clicked on the link and started reading about the recently published book The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy.
Huh? Cheese addiction?
Author and physician Neal Barnard says that the protein casein in dairy products contains opiate molecules. Even babies are getting drugged, whether they’re drinking mom’s milk or cow’s milk.
Cheese has the most concentrated form of casein of any food. Barnard says that we grownups, who on average eat more than 33 pounds of cheese a year, have a “dairy crack” addiction.
And what problems does he say our addiction causes? Weight gain. Migraines. The risk of diseases including asthma, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.
"Loaded with calories, high in sodium, packing more cholesterol than steak, and sprinkled with hormones — if cheese were any worse, it would be Vaseline,” he says.
This is a hard blow for those of us who love cheese.
I do acknowledge that cheese can be bad for the waistline. For weight control reasons, I have been trying to limit calories from cheese, choosing reduced-fat versions. I gave up snacking on cheese for Lent this year and am thinking of keeping up the sacrifice after Easter.
But eliminating cheese entirely? No pastas with parmesan, ricotta, and mozzarella, no burritos, quiches, grilled veggie and cheese sandwiches, or veggie/cheese/rice casseroles? I’d be giving up a good portion of my staples or looking for imitation cheese substitutes.
The adage that you can eat anything in moderation doesn’t fly with Barnard. “There is something to be said for not teasing yourself with occasional doses of the very food that caused the problem in the first place,” he says. “Better to end that bad love affair.” The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group he heads, favors a vegan diet.
I went in search of rebuttals of Barnard’s arguments and discovered that “cheese crack” was in the news a year and a half before his book was published. I had somehow missed headlines like “Your cheese addiction is real” about a study of the addictive properties of various foods.
The lead researcher on the study, Ashley Gearhardt of the University of Michigan, told Science News that she was “horrified by the misstatements and oversimplifications” in how the study was reported.
Yes, pizza came out as the worst can’t-resist food in one experiment, Gearhardt said, but it probably wasn’t because of cheese. It’s the high level of sugars and fat in processed foods that produce our cravings for them, she and her coresearchers say.
Gearhardt herself eats cheese every day. “That’s doesn’t mean you’re addicted or it has addictive potential,” she said.
“Liking is not the same as addiction. We like lots of things. I like hip-hop music and sunshine and my wiener dog, but I’m not addicted to her.”
Dietitians note that unlike sugar, cheese isn’t empty calories. It’s a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin B12.
Not surprisingly, the National Dairy Council’s stance is that cheese in moderation can be a part of a healthy diet. Its chief science officer said that putting a food in the same addictive category as a drug is misleading and adds to consumer confusion about what to eat.
Cheese is staying in my diet. Except for the calories, I haven’t experienced problems from eating it.
As for that headline that meant the opposite of what I’d thought at first — the headline in the lead sentence of this post — I’m tempted to call it cheesy, but the adjective would be an insult to a food that deserves better.
Filed under: Health and fitness