Breaking the Cheese Addiction

Breaking the Cheese Addiction: Step 1 The Reality Check

Cheese is one the most difficult products to give up when adopting a vegan diet. And it’s no wonder—with loads of salt and fat, your palate, like your health, hardly stands a chance. For the next several months, we will provide a step-by-step program to get the cheese out of your diet and your health on track. You can be free of the cheese!

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! Not enough to convince you it’s worth pushing aside? 
Consider that immediately after eating fatty foods…

 Your triglyceride levels rise

 Your cholesterol levels rise, contributing to plaque formation

 Clotting factors in your blood are activated

Two hours later…

 Your triglycerides have increased by 60 percent

 Your blood flow has decreased by half

Three hours later…

 The lining of your arteries has lost elasticity impeding blood flow

 Blood vessel function has become abnormal

Four and five hours later…

 Your blood has gotten thicker, flowing even slower than it was two hours ago

 Your triglyceride levels have now increased by 150 percent

Still not enough? Check back next month when we move on to Step 2! In the meantime, try this tasty, no-cheese recipe

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
5100 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Ste.400, Washington DC, 20016
Phone: 202-686-2210     Email:


Breaking the Cheese Addiction Step 2: Making New Friends

Last month, we discussed how cheese is one of the hardest products to push aside when we are otherwise ready to adopt a healthful diet. Despite the overwhelming amount of fat, salt, and cholesterol that we know perfectly well is in there, cheese continues to sing its Siren song and draw us off course.

Sometimes we need to ease into our healthier diets and bodies with “transitional” products. Why transitional? Because these products may not be as low in fat as we are aiming, but they are our bridge from bad dietary habits to healthful ones. And if it is the only way we can make it across the waters, past the Sirens, then sometimes eating mock-cheese products is better than succumbing to the wayward songs of dairy cheese.

Here are a few brands that may get you to the other side:

 Treeline Treenut Cheese

 Daiya

 Dr. Cow

 Follow Your Heart

 Heidi Ho Veganics

 Parmela

 Teese Vegan Cheese

 Tofutti

On the plus side, these plant-based cheese products don't have any cholesterol and may be lower in saturated fat, or “bad” fat. Their disadvantage is a possible high-fat content. So fake cheese might slow weight-loss efforts, just as dairy cheese does.

There are other great options that are low in fat, such asnutritional yeast flakes. Nutritional yeast has a creamy, cheesy texture when melted into pastas, soups, and sauces. Low-fat tofu can also make a great base for a cheese substitute. Try blending tofu with herbs and spices to make a very convincing ricotta substitute for a lasagna. If noshing on some fake cheese now and then secures your safe passage to health, then so be it. Eventually, your taste buds and body will steer you to the calmer and safer waters of a low-fat, plant-based diet.

Breaking the Cheese Addiction: Step 3 Cleansing the Palate

For the past two months, we have been getting real about cheese in order to inspire motivation to kick the habit! We spoke frankly about the components of cheese that contribute to disease, and we offered up some alternatives to replace dairy-based cheese products in the diet. Now, let’s discuss why cheese is so addictive and what has gotten people “unhooked” from such a formidable force.

Arguably, one might consider the smell of cheese enough of a reason not to want to eat it. But that’s not how addictions work. After all, there are few things more offensive than the smell of cigarette smoke, yet tobacco is truly one of the most addictive products on the market. It’s really the association we have with cheese that makes it so powerful.

In 1981, scientists in North Carolina discovered that cow’s milk has traces of a chemical that not only looked like morphine but turned out to be exactly that. It’s not unique to cow’s milk—you can find it in human milk as well. Morphine, of course, is an opiate. If that weren’t enough for your brain to handle, a protein in milk called casein releases opiates, called casomorphins, upon digestion, too. 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.

To have a calf, or a human baby for that matter, addicted to mother’s milk makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective. They have to really 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. Cheese is now the No. 1 source of saturated fat in an American’s diet.

But never fear – the craving for health can be even more powerful than cheese! Have you ever heard that it takes 21 days to break a habit? At the Physicians Committee, we have seen this maxim proved true again and again, both in our clinical trials and through our free online program the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart. 

Getting started:

 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 this (see Step 2 from last month).

 Do it 100 percent for 21 days! Absolutely avoid cheese products for three weeks, and consider avoiding all dairy products if you still dabble in the dairy. If you keep reintroducing the high-fat dairy products, your palette will never learn to let go. Use the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart to help you along.

After three weeks, you will be surprised how great you feel and how unappealing cheese can actually look, smell, and yes, even taste!