Cheese is one the most difficult products to give up when adopting a healthy diet. And it’s no wonder—with loads of salt and fat, your palate, like your health, hardly stands a chance. Cheese is physically addictive! Morphine, of course, is an opiate. Upon digestion, a protein in milk called casein releases opiates, called casomorphins. When you eat a slice of cheese, digestion breaks the casein into casomorphins of various lengths. One of them, a short string made up of just five amino acids, has about one-tenth the painkilling potency of prescription morphine. This opiate effect may be why dairy products are constipating, the way opiate-based painkillers can be. Casomorphins keep a baby calf (or human for that matter) addicted to mother’s milk so they will crave it in order to survive.
Calves and infants are not the only ones privy to this information. Dairy marketers are well aware of the power of cheese and have made lots of deals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure cheese is available in abundance and at almost every turn. Government appointed dairy boards spend millions of dollars marketing through fast-food giants such as Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Subway, and Denny’s, to name a few. Is it working? Americans now consume more than 34 pounds of cheese a year, each, three times as much as they did in 1970.
Here are a few tips to help to get the cheese out of your diet and keep your health on track.
Step 1: The Reality Check: Cheese is the No. 1 source of saturated fat (“bad” fat) in the American diet. Cheese can be upwards of 70 percent fat and, ounce for ounce, has more cholesterol than steak and more salt than tortilla chips!
One-fourth of an average 12-inch cheese pizza contains nearly 13 grams of fat, including 6 grams of saturated fat and 27 milligrams of cholesterol. An ounce of cheddar contains 9 grams of fat, including 6 grams of saturated fat. Part-skim versions of cheeses are not much better, with just slightly lower amounts of fat.
About one-third of adults and 12.5 million children and adolescents are obese. And obesity is a major cause of death, attributable to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Consider that within five hours after eating fatty foods, your triglycerides have increased 150%, your cholesterol levels rise (contributing to plaque formation), and your blood flow has decreased by more than half. Also of great concern is the strong link between cancer and the dairy protein called casein, as outlined in Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s book ‘The China Study’. Educating yourself on these matters will make cheese less appealing and help you to step away from the cheese tray.
Step 2: The Alternatives. There are many great options that are low in fat, such as nutritional yeast flakes. I purchase nutritional yeast in the bulk section at Whole Foods, but you can find it in other health food stores as well (do not confuse it with brewer’s yeast, they are two entirely different products). Nutritional yeast has a creamy, cheesy texture and flavor when melted into pastas, soups, and sauces. It can be used to make cheesy popcorn, cheesy appetizer dishes, or used with tofu to make ricotta filling for lasagna or stuffed shells. One of our favorite cookbooks is called “The Uncheese Cookbook” by Jo Stepaniak. The Colby cheese recipe makes a block of cheese (in your blender). It can be served with crackers or melted to make a ‘grilled cheez’. Whenever I serve this, I am always asked for the recipe!
Step 3: Cleansing the Palate. Have you ever heard that it takes 21 days to break a habit? This maxim has proved true time and again, and can be a useful tool in your efforts to ditch the cheese. The craving for health can be even more powerful than the craving for cheese!
Choose a three-week period when it is convenient for you to make dietary changes. Spend one week before the start date getting ready. That means cleaning out the pantry and refrigerator of the cheese and other dairy products that may string you along the dairy path. Find substitutes and recipes that will help you through the cravings. Do it 100% for 21 days. Absolutely avoid cheese for three weeks, and consider avoiding all dairy products as well. If you still dabble in dairy, you will keep reintroducing the high-fat and other addictive properties of dairy, and your palette will never learn to let go.
After three weeks, you’ll be surprised how much better you feel and how unappealing cheese can actually look, smell, and even taste! You’ll be free of the cheese. In the meantime, if you need a “cheesy” dish for a gathering, contact me. I have many tried and true recipes to share. (Adapted; Sources: PCRM.org)
(This is one of our favorite appetizers. Be sure to use SMOKED paprika – it’s key to the recipe. Recipe by NutritionMD.org)
1 15-oz can white beans (cannellini or northerns)
1.5 TBS fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. prepared mustard
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
2 TBS nutritional yeast
1 TBS tahini (sesame seed paste)
Combine all ingredients in food processor until creamy.
(This PCRM recipe is high fat due to the nuts – use sparingly. I also add a can of white beans)
1 cup raw cashews
2 TBS pine nuts
1.5 cups water
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/16 tsp. nutmeg
1.5 tsp. sea salt
.5 tsp. black pepper (or more to taste)
4 cups cooked whole grain pasta (your choice)
3 TBS freshly minced parsley (optional garnish)
In blender, grind cashews and pine nuts to a fine powder. Add water, lemon juice, garlic, nutmeg and salt. Blend until completely smooth. Transfer to a small saucepan over medium heat and whisk as you bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 7 minutes. Stir in pepper. Serve over hot pasta.
(This cheese is intended for use on melted items (pizza, mac-n-cheese, bean burgers or grilled cheese for example) although we do eat it plain with crackers at times. It’s fairly salty, so use less salt if you prefer, but flavor won’t be as pronounced. Simple to make!)
¼ cup raw cashews
(if you don’t have a high-powered blender, soak nuts in water for several hours and then drain)
1 cup hot water
2 TBS + 1 tsp. tapioca starch (same as tapioca flour. I used corn starch and it worked)
1 small garlic clove, minced
¾ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender until completely smooth, about 1 minute. Pour into small saucepan and cook, stirring constantly over medium high heat. After a few minutes, the mixture will start to look like its curdling or separating. This is normal. Reduce heat to medium and KEEP stirring so it doesn’t burn. Keep cooking and stirring until really thick (2-3 minutes more) and the mixture becomes like a mass of melted dairy cheese. Remove from heat and cool. Moxarella stores well in the fridge for several days.
This sauce can be used as a topping on pasta or pizza, or as a dip for vegetables
1/2 cup raw cashews
2 ounces pimentos
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 cups water
Place all ingredients in a blender and process until very smooth.