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  1. Exam Room Podcast

  2. Jan 24, 2018

The Cheese Trap

It’s one of the unhealthiest foods in the Standard American Diet (SAD). 

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Sadly, it’s also one of the foods that the average American consumes the most. That really should come as no surprise, because cheese is super addictive. In fact, the cravings can be so severe that Dr. Neal Barnard refers to it as “dairy crack.” In many ways it operates just like a narcotic, triggering the brain to cry out for a queso fix. And just like a narcotic, that fix can prove deadly.

Cheese has been tied to heart disease, which is the No. 1 cause of death in America. The link is strengthened by the fact that cheddar and its cheesy counterparts are the No. 1 source of saturated fat in the SAD. What’s more? Sky-high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat in cheese, as well as other dairy products, have been proven to increase atherosclerosis and thus cause cardiovascular problems.

Despite all of the risks, Americans eat 35 pounds of cheese every year. “Dairy crack” has become a staple on supposedly healthy sandwiches, salads, and wraps. And macaroni and cheese is celebrated as one of the ultimate dinner dishes whether it comes out of a blue box or mom’s oven.

So why are we ignoring the risks and warning signs and pushing the pedal to the cheesy metal with our health? Because the deck is being stacked against us.

Dr. Barnard joins “The Weight Loss Champion” Chuck Carroll on this special episode of The Exam Room to discuss the behind-the-scenes fight being waged in Washington, D.C., to ensure we eat as much of it as possible. In fact, tens of millions of government dollars are spent each year subsidizing marketing and promotion of the cheesiest meals at fast-food restaurants.

But there is a ray of hope. As they say, knowledge is power and that is exactly what this episode is all about. What you learn by listening to this episode can help you conquer cheese addiction and enable you to enlighten others on how to break free from the cheddar chains. It’s time to live a long and healthy life!

On The Show

NASCAR’s Healthiest Driver: Chuck chats with NASCAR driver and noted vegan Landon Cassill! During his pit stop on the show, Cassill reveals that his vegan diet helps him stay mentally sharp and physically fit while speeding around the track at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour. The plant-powered speedster also talks about his wife maintaining a vegan diet during her pregnancy and the couple’s plans to raise their child on a vegan diet as well. And the absolute best part of the interview comes as Cassill talks about eating bananas during the race. The only problem is where does he put the peel? He tosses it out the window of course.

Dairy crack: If cheese smells like old socks, why do people get so addicted to it? It’s a question that Dr. Barnard has posed time and again. And it’s one of the foods that new vegans miss most from their old diet. Chuck is taken to school to learn about this phenomenon.  It turns out, cheese produces an opioid-like effect on the brain that is similar to one caused by narcotics. Thus the term “dairy crack.”

Cash cow conspiracy: This may seem like something out of a cheap political thriller novel, but it’s 100 percent true. The U.S. government partners with the dairy industry to promote cheese. Dr. Barnard reveals that there are actual laws on the books requiring this partnership. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Physicians Committee has learned part of this partnership includes government-paid food experts to work directly with fast-food restaurants to figure out ways to get consumers to eat more cheese. This is how some of best-known cheesy favorites have found their way onto the menus. For example, this group worked with Pizza Hut to create a pizza that was topped with an entire pound of cheese.

Medical miracle? Dr. Barnard shares the story of Katherine Lawrence, a veteran of the Iraq War, who was told by doctors that she would need a hysterectomy. At the time, she was eating copious amounts of cheese, including one “blue box” of mac and cheese every single day. Just before she underwent the procedure, a final scan by doctors revealed the endometriosis that plagued her reproductive system had cleared up. Doctors were baffled! Her only change? Adopting a vegan diet and cutting cheese out of her life. Following her miraculous turnaround, Katherine is now the proud mother of three children and is helping others live a healthier life as a Physicians Committee Food for Life instructor.

Cheese and breast cancer: Although the science is still being evaluated, Dr. Barnard explains women who have had breast cancer and eat cheese at least once a day put themselves at a 49 percent higher risk of death. He hypothesizes it’s because of hormones in milk that causes the cancer to grow. “It’s like putting fertilizer on a weed,” he says.

Cheese makes you fat: There’s really no way to sugar coat this one. Dr. Barnard enlightens “The Weight Loss Champion” to the fact the average American eats nearly 70,000 calories of cheese every year! That’s more than a full month’s worth energy from just one food!

Cheese and Alzheimer’s disease: This is potentially one of the most hopeful areas of medical science. Researchers in Chicago have determined people who consume the highest amount of saturated fat, or the “bad fat” in cheese, are at two to three higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared to those who ate lower amounts. Because cheese and dairy are the No. 1 source of saturated fat in the diet, Dr. Barnard tells Chuck he feels a strong correlation can be made for the two.

Recipe: A cheeseless mac and cheese from Chef Bev that is sure to fool any cheese-a-holic out there. This comfort food classic is made with crumbled “bacon.”

About Landon Cassill

Landon Cassill is a devout vegan who likes to go fast.

From Front Row Motorsports

“An Iowa boy, born and bred in the used car business, Landon has had racing in his blood from a very young age. From go karts at age 8 on up to full size racecars through his high school years, Landon chased the competition all over the US. A student of the sport in its purest form, he could build his cars, race them, wreck them, fix them, and go right back at it for the next weekend. If it really takes 10,000 hours of hard work to become an expert, he had that covered long before high school graduation.

As a professional driver, Landon’s experience is not just limited to one job. He has worked with startup teams all the way to the very top. As the test driver for Hendrick Motorsports, Landon earned 4 Championship rings with the #48 team during their legendary dominance between 2007-2010. This period of time was one of the most formative and defining moments in Landon’s career. It was what gave Landon the inside look of how a championship organization operates, and laid the foundation for Landon’s leadership abilities as he blazes his own trail through the NASCAR ranks.

​Landon has represented large companies on a national scale such as The National Guard, GoDaddy, and many others. His experience as a spokesperson in the corporate world has taught him the right balance between class and edge, but more importantly, has shed a light on how the corporate world works, and how deals are made. Only 27 years old, Landon is still 10 years away from his statistical prime as a Professional Driver, but these next 5 years could be the most important years of Landon’s career. His success now will set him up for opportunities in the future to be a winner at the highest level of auto racing.”

Recipes On The Exam Room

This vegan mac and cheese recipe is courtesy of Chef Beverly Kumari and featured in her vegan and vegetarian cookbook, Nouveau V: The New Renaissance of Vegan & Vegetarian Cuisine.

More on Exam Room Podcast

Join us Wednesdays at noon ET for a live Q/A with Dr. Neal Barnard!