Cheese addicts may finally be enlightened as to why they love the said dairy product so dearly — it contains a chemical found in known addictive drugs.

Researchers from the University of Michigan hypothesized that highly processed food have the same properties as drugs associated with abuse, in terms of increased rate of absorption in the body and concentrated dose, among others. The said proposition was made because of the presence of refined carbohydrates and fat additives in the food products, as well as the fast rate of absorption of refined carbohydrates, indicated by what is called glycemic load (GL).

In the study, the authors provided preliminary proof for food products involved in eating practices that appear addictive.

The study was conducted in two settings: university and community. Participants included 120 undergraduates for the first study and 384 subjects gathered via Amazon MTurk for the second study.

For the university study, the students answered the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), after which they engaged in a forced-choice activity to identify which among the 35 nutritionally varied food items presented were most linked with addictive-like eating.

In the community study, the same food items were presented but used a hierarchical linear pattern to see which food properties such as fat grams were associated with addictive-like eating behavior. Through this, the researchers were also able to explore the impact of individual discrepancies for the said relationship.

The findings of the first experiment showed that food items with high fat content and GL were more linked with addictive-like behaviors. In the second experiment, processing was a major driver for determining whether a food item is problematic or associated with addictive-like eating.

Erica Schulte, one of the authors of the research, said that fat appeared to equally anticipate problematic eating, whether or not the participants had food addiction manifestations.

Cheese comes into the picture as researchers found that the food items that comprised the top rankings of processed food were those that have cheese content such as pizza. Aside from the sugar and carbohydrates contained in pizza, Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said that cheese has a chemical called casein, which disintegrates during digestion to secrete a surge of casomorphins.

As per previous studies, casomorphins bind with opioid gates, which are associated with pain control addiction and reward mechanism in the brain. "[Casomorphins] really play with the dopamine receptors and trigger that addictive element," said Cameron Wells, registered dietician.

Some experts think that cheese is so influential that they pertain to it as "dairy crack."

The study was published in the journal Public Library of Science (PLOS) One on Feb. 18.

Photo: Jules Morgan | Flickr

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