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Is Cheese Really Like Crack?

Photograph by Twenty20

You know when you start on some cheese and crackers, and your body is telling you, "Can't stop; won't stop"? Or when your kid throws a tantrum because she can't have another slice of pizza?

Recent headlines read: "Cheese triggers same part of brain as hard drugs," "Cheese really is crack" and "Your cheese addiction is real." What if there is a scientific reason we love cheese so much that it feels like an addiction?

RELATED: Cheeses to Avoid During Pregnancy

The study that's making news was published earlier this year in PLOS ONE and looked into which foods are most associated with addictive-like eating behaviors, with pizza coming out on top in one experiment.

"Besides being a basic food group for kids, college students and adults, there's a scientific reason we all love pizza, and it has to do with the cheese," reports the Los Angeles Times.

Articles blame the craving on casein, a protein found in all milk products like cheese and releases casomorphins during digestion.

Casomorphins "really play with the dopamine receptors and trigger that addictive element," registered dietitian Cameron Wells told Mic.

But just because you like cheese doesn't mean it's as addicting as crack cocaine.

"I was horrified by the misstatements and the oversimplifications … and the statements about how it's an excuse to overeat," says Ashley Gearhardt of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who led the study. "'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. I eat cheese every day. That's doesn't mean you're addicted or it has addictive potential."

The research included about 500 people who completed the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a survey that identifies signs of addictive behavior when it comes to food. In the study, when researches ranked how frequently 35 foods were "problematic," chocolate took the No. 1 spot, followed by ice cream, french fries and pizza. Cheese doesn't show up until spot 16.

So what the study is saying isn't that cheese is as addictive as crack—it's that foods most process with high levels of sugar or fat are the ones we crave (which is something we've all kind of suspected). It's not something to lose our rinds over.

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