Soft, creamy and white with curds, cottage cheese is considered a "fresh cheese" as it doesn't undergo an aging process. The California Milk Advisory Board asserts that cottage cheese was likely the first cheese created in America, brought over by European settlers sometime during the mid-1800s. Cottage cheese has long been considered to be a healthier cheese, but is it really? Here's a rundown of the nutritional benefits of this soft, old-school cheese, which you can also track on MyPlate.
How Is Cottage Cheese Made?
The process to make cottage cheese is relatively straightforward: Take milk and add an acid of some sort, like a food-grade vinegar, which causes the curds and whey of the milk to separate. From there, chop the curds into pieces and cook them down until all the whey is gone. Sprinkle in salt for added flavor.
A Perfect Diet Choice
Low in fat with a mild flavor, cottage cheese is a healthy cheese option for people on a weight-loss quest. Commonly incorporated into diet plans, it's packed with protein as well as plenty of essential nutrients.
Read more: The Best Low-Fat Cottage Cheeses
Calories and Energy Profile
One cup of low-fat cottage cheese contains about 160 calories or about 8 percent of the recommended calorie intake for a standard 2,000-calorie diet. With 28 grams of protein or 55 percent of the daily recommendation, cottage cheese works well to keep you feeling fuller longer.
Read more: Cottage Cheese Protein Pancakes
Benefits of Protein
The National Academy of Medicine says an acceptable protein intake for an adult is anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of calories each day. A study conducted by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded that low-fat cheese, such as cottage cheese, is associated with weight loss. That's good news, but when it comes to getting protein from dairy sources, it's best to keep cheese to one or two servings per day.
Read more: Can a Diabetic Eat Cottage Cheese?
Cottage Cheese and Carbohydrates
The American Diabetes Association lists cottage cheese as one of the best cheese options for people with diabetes. A measure of the number of carbohydrates in a food and how quickly it causes your blood sugar levels to rise, the glycemic index (GI) ranks foods on a scale of zero to 100.
Cheese generally has a low GI, and cottage cheese is no exception. A serving of the low-fat kind registers a 4 on the GI scale. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, foods with a low ranking on the scale are digested at a slower pace, thus causing a slower blood sugar rise. Low GI-foods, like cottage cheese, are great for losing or maintaining weight.
Cottage Cheese: Keto Diet Staple?
In stark opposition to some other diets, the keto diet uses fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. In general, if you are looking to put your body into ketosis, you need to eat around 165 grams of fat, about 75 grams of protein, and 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates in any given day when following a 2,000-calorie diet. While doing keto, cottage cheese can work as a high-protein snack. A small cup has about 8 grams of carbohydrates, so be careful not to pair it with something else carb heavy that could throw your diet off track.
Mounds of Minerals
The trace mineral selenium is abundantly found in cottage cheese. For the average male or female, the daily recommended intake is between 19 and 55 micrograms. A 1-cup serving of cottage cheese contains between 14 and 28 micrograms, with more selenium in the higher-fat versions. Selenium is great for those with thyroid issues and anyone looking for a natural immune system boost. It also works as an antioxidant in the body, keeping your tissues healthy and working to prevent cell damage.
Calcium Rich for Strong Bones
Getting your fill of calcium is essential for bone health. Additionally, the calcium in your bones helps to maintain calcium levels in the bloodstream, which is important for healthy nerves and strong muscles. The University of Illinois reports that 1 cup of cottage cheese contains about 166 milligrams of calcium. The National Institutes of Health recommends that most adults get between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day.
So Much Sodium?
Full-fat cottage cheese may have plenty of health benefits, but a moderate amount of salt isn't one of them. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco say the average American eats 5 or more teaspoons of salt each day or about 20 times the amount the human body actually needs. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, a 1-cup serving of cottage cheese has anywhere between 660 and 709 milligrams of salt.
Use Cottage Cheese As a Healthier Swap-In
Cottage cheese can be used effectively as a substitute in many recipes that call for a higher-fat, creamy addition. The mild taste and creamy texture make it a great replacement for full-fat sour cream or ricotta cheese.
Cut down on calories in high-fat items like lasagna by swapping out ricotta for cottage cheese or simply eat a serving with a side of fruit for a protein-rich breakfast or snack. The mild flavor of cottage cheese lends itself to savory recipes as well. Try using it as a dip for fresh vegetables like baby carrots or cucumber slices.
Since cottage cheese contains so little fat but still has a silky texture, another creative way to use it is in desserts that call for higher-fat dairy ingredients. Switch up your breakfast routine by using cottage cheese to create a smoothie that's rich in protein. If you have a sweet tooth, make milkshakes a bit healthier by omitting fatty milk and using cottage cheese instead.
Cottage Cheese for the Lactose Intolerant
Lactose intolerance is a medical condition characterized by the inability to break down the lactose commonly found in most dairy products. If you're lactose intolerant, you may experience symptoms, like bloating, diarrhea and gas, after eating foods that contain lactose. As a result, most people suffering from this condition tend to steer clear of dairy.
Traditionally, cottage cheese contains lactose, but a few kinds, like the Lactaid brand, have hit the market with a 100 percent lactose-free cottage cheese to help you reclaim snack time. With 10 grams of fat per cup, which is about two servings, and 880 milligrams of sodium, this type of cottage cheese is an option if you're avoiding foods with lactose but still want to enjoy the smooth and creamy taste of cottage cheese.
- California Dairy Press Room: Cottage Cheese
- Dairy Good: What Is Cottage Cheese?
- Huffington Post: Cottage Cheese's Nutritional Benefits Rival Yogurt's, So Why Are Sales So Bad?
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Basic Report: 01012, Cheese, Cottage, Creamed, Large or Small Curd
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Protein
- American Diabetes Assocation: The Best Food Choices
- Dieticians of Canada: Food Sources of Selenium
- University of Illinois: How Much Calcium?
- Shape.com: 5 Surprising Foods That Are High in Sodium
- UCSF Health: Guidelines for a Low-Sodium Diet.
- Lactaid.com: LACTAID® Cottage Cheese
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Lactose Intolerance
- New England Journal of Medicine: Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men