Is fondue season your favorite part of fall? Do you “work on your night cheese,” à la 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon? And are you that friend who brings a wheel of brie to every party instead of a bottle of wine? It’s not your fault. According to a study from the University of Michigan, cheesy, delicious foods can actually have addictive properties.
The researchers recruited around 500 people for two separate studies. In one study, people completed the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a questionnaire designed to measure whether you’re addicted to food. (Questions include “I eat to the point where I feel physically ill.”) Then, those participants indicated which foods, out of a list of 35, they found the most addictive. In the second study, participants also completed the addiction questionnaire, and then rated each food on the list of 35 on how tough it is to stop eating it.
The results, published in the journal PLos ONE, will likely not surprise you. Pizza topped the list of addictive foods, topping chocolate, chips, and cookies; cheeseburgers and just plain cheese were also rated as highly addictive. So what exactly makes pizza so alluring? The top reason is that it’s processed, and the second reason is that it’s packed with fattening cheese. The studies’ authors predict that the higher the fat content in a food, the more addictive it is, regardless of whether you have a tendency to binge.
Dr. Neil Barnard, who runs the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has started a vendetta against cheese. Cheese is so addictive, he said, because it contains the protein casein, which creates casomorphins when the dairy breaks down in your body. “Casomorphins attach to the brain’s opiate receptors to cause a calming effect in much the same way heroin and morphine do,” he told the Vegetarian Times. “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.” Further studies still need to be doneto show exactly how casomorphins affect the brain, so it’s not set in stone yet. Plus, our bodies actually love cheese, since it gives us nutrients, which sets it apart from, well, actual crack.
So sure, cheese is unhealthy and has addictive properties, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to go through withdrawal if you stop eating it. In fact, several studies have shown that eating small servings of full-fat dairy like cheese might reduce your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. So as the saying goes, everything in moderation, even when it comes to “dairy crack.”