The thing I hear most often from people who are leaning towards a purely plant-based diet is, “I don’t know how I’ll ever give up cheese, I love it too much”. I hear ya, loud and clear on this one. I was a self-proclaimed cheese-aholic and thought life would simply never feel the same without it. Then, I learned something very interesting that helped me tremendously. I found out that there is a protein in cheese called Casein, which breaks apart during digestion to release a whole host of opiates called casomorphins. That’s right OPIATES, as in narcotics! There is a very real reason why even the thought of giving up cheese, might fill you with dread. These casomorphins are very soothing to our bodies and in turn, our minds.
After a wickedly stressful day, my go-to soothing meal used to consist of cheesy pizza and a fishbowl sized glass of wine. Whatever soothing the cheese couldn’t accomplish, the wine usually did the trick. There was no doubt I was doing some hard-core emotional eating, but I had also become conditioned by the numbing effects these chemicals had on my body. Clearly, it was a disastrous co-dependency I had to quit in order to recover my health. Once I quit cheese, which was much easier than I had anticipated, I never looked back. I was able to see the obvious negative effects it was having on my body, poor digestion, skin problems, and an overall sluggish feeling. All of which cleared up when I left cheese behind.
What are we really missing anyway? You might be wondering about the possible dietary benefits of cheese that you would fore-go. We all hear a lot about calcium coming from cheese, we all know calcium is good for us and our bones, so won’t we be shorting ourselves? The fact is, the downsides of cheese greatly outweigh the benefits. In fact, calcium is even higher in foods like kale which has a whopping 90 mg of calcium per cup. That means a 3.5-cup kale salad provides even more than a one-cup glass of milk. In 1 cup of (shelled unsalted) edamame you’ll find 261 mg of calcium! nice. right? There are also sesame seeds, white beans, arugula, oranges, the list goes on.
Ok, so now that we’ve put the calcium issue to bed. Let’s take a look at some of the other qualities of cheese. Well, for starters it’ contains a lot of fat, and not the good kind, it is loaded with artery-clogging saturated fat. We all know that isn’t anything we need, so let’s move on. The biggest downside to cheese, which gets very little attention is that it contains lactose, which many adults are unable to properly digest. Statistics show that 40 million Americans are lactose intolerant. In a recent study, it was found that 75% of all African-American, Jewish, Mexican-American, and Native-American adults living in the US, are lactose intolerant.
The real problem is most people aren’t even aware of their intolerance until it causes real trouble. Often the symptoms are very subtle like gas or bloating, which can often be attributed to something else they ingested. The real kicker is when we put these substances into bodies that do not tolerate them, we are causing an immune response to occur. Every single time we eat the offending food (cheese in this case), we are triggering our immune systems to treat that food as an invader. When there is a continuous onslaught of any food that we are sensitive to coming into our bodies, we are, in turn, causing our immune systems to become grossly overstimulated. Over time, this can result in autoimmune dysfunction. And if you already have autoimmune disease, you can see why cutting the cheese (no pun intended) might do your body good.
It is crucial to our health and especially the recovery from autoimmune diseases to identify possible foods that may be triggering our immune response. Cheese is a very common trouble-maker for those of us suffering from one of these illnesses.
So, next time someone asks you if you want cheese on that, you can speak for your body and say ‘no more cheese, please’.