Why It’s So Hard to Ditch the Dairy
My name is Lucy and I am addicted to cheese. I need to confess this because, like most people who start down the path toward plant-based eating, giving up cheese was the hardest thing to fathom, harder to give up for me than most other bad habits, like Diet Coke, swearing, or, long, long ago, cigarettes.
When I finally went fully plant-based back in May, I missed cheese more than eggs, more than chicken, more than beef (which I didn't miss at all) and more than bacon (which I once loved). I've stayed strong—other than a sprinkling of parmesan here or a pesto there—for nearly six months. This is like saying a heavy drinker who was accustomed to having five cocktails a day has only had two small sips of wine in five months. Haters gonna hate, but for me, it is a major victory. Just writing this sentence makes my mouth water with the idea of tasting cheese: Jarlsberg was my go-to drug of choice. I could eat thick slabs of it in one sitting and call it healthy because it had calcium, protein and was made of relatively low-fat dairy. I was wrong. And before you judge my weakness: Cheese is actually addictive. But we need to try to cut back, if not cut it out completely.
Just last week the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) petitioned the FDA to add a warning label to cheese to indicate that it contains hormones that can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. This group of doctors led by Dr. Neal Barnard, author of The Cheese Trap, believes that not only is cheese addictive, but it contributes to a lifetime risk of disease. The warning label would read: “Dairy cheese contains reproductive hormones that may increase breast cancer mortality risk.”
The PCRM is the same group that is campaigning to "Ditch the Dairy" when the government releases the updated dietary guidelines in 2020. They are opposed by the dairy industry, which believes that PCRM is more of an animal rights group than a medical one. Dr. Barnard, a medical researcher and author, has written extensively on the benefit of a plant-based diet for the sake of lowering disease risk, especially heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. His recent book, The Cheese Trap, explains why cheese is so difficult to give up, and what makes cheese so addictive and potentially harmful.
The announcement of the warning label proposal for cheese is timed to coincide with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. So why is cheese such a hot-button issue? Isn't it full of healthy protein, bone-building calcium, and iron? Not so fast. Let's take this one thing at a time.
Cheese contains casein, a slow-burning protein that has a powerful drug-like molecule called casomorphin, that interacts with the brain's dopamine center, releasing dopamine into the brain the same way opiates work. Our brain blisses out when we eat cheese, which makes it as addictive as any drug that impacts our brain's pleasure center. So cheese, for most, is tough to kick to the curb.
As for protein and calcium, one slice of cheddar has seven grams of protein—about the same as an ounce of peanuts. As for calcium, the same 204 mg in an ounce of cheddar can be had in a salad of spinach, beans and chia seeds. There are other ways to bridge the gap.
The bottom line: If you're already avoiding dairy milk and choosing almond milk or oat milk or soy milk for your coffee, your next step toward plant-based eating could be cashew cheese, which tastes almost like the real thing. Think of it as a taste test opportunity. There's a whole world of non-dairy cheeses out there, including those that melt up on nachos, those that spread on crackers, and those that make a grilled cheese sandwich like you grew up eating.
And guess what? I don't miss my old Jarlsberg habit anymore. Ditching the dairy only took a month. It was smooth sailing after that.
For more inspiration to ditch the dairy, check out switch4good.org, a site that is dedicated to helping people make positive changes in their diet by not eating cheese, milk or eggs.
Their goal is to help anyone interested in transitioning to dairy-free realize their true potential on a diet that does not include cows’ milk in any form. Take their lactose intolerance quiz and gain motivation from their for athletes, by athletes content.