Is cottage cheese the protein-rich superfood of the century…or just another food-fad-revival?
This hotly debated topic raged in the 1970s and 1980s, cooled in the early part of the century, then recently heated back up as high-protein diets have returned to fashion.
On one side, cottage cheese lovers adore it as a high-protein, low-fat, calorie-conscious snack and substitute for higher-fat cheeses and other ingredients. It has always been a favorite among dieters, for example.
On the other hand, you have the dairy-sensitive, dairy-averse, or lactose-intolerant crowd who wouldn’t touch the stuff with a ten-foot pole. Plus, many people love dairy products but can’t stand cottage cheese.
So, is cottage cheese good for you?
Like all real foods, it has its nutritional and functional value but may not be optimal for every person.
In this article, we’ll explore the nutritional benefits of cottage cheese and let you decide if it deserves a place in your superfood regime.
What Is Cottage Cheese Made Of? A Brief History + Recipe
Cottage cheese doesn’t look like hard, soft, or semi-soft cheese, which leads some to wonder: what exactly is this lumpy, runny, cheese-like concoction?
As the name states, cottage cheese is a very old style of fresh cheese.
According to the American Dairy Association, it’s believed cottage cheese was the first cheese brought to America by European immigrants in the mid-1800s.REF#3024
It was popular among the pioneers because it reduced food waste from milk cows, could easily be made at home, and was a filling meat substitute.
Fresh cheeses, also known as un-aged cheeses, tend to spoil faster than aged cheeses, which are soft or hard.
Examples of other fresh cheeses from around the world include:
- Cream cheese
- Farmer’s cheese
- Fresh mozzarella
- Soft goat cheese
Cottage cheese surged in popularity during World War I and World War II when Americans were encouraged to ration food, including meat, by substituting it with cottage cheese.
Cottage cheese was also much less expensive than meat, making it an essential survival food for many families affected by the wars and their economic aftermath.
How to Make Cottage Cheese
As previously mentioned—and documented in books depicting pioneer times, such as the Little House on the Prairie series—cottage cheese is quick and easy to make in even the most primitive kitchen.
All you need is milk, a large pot, a strainer, a tea towel, a spoon, and some salt.
- Cottage cheese is made by boiling milk, adding vinegar, lemon juice, or rennet, and letting curds separate from the whey.
- The curds are then strained through a clean tea towel or cheesecloth, allowed to sit a few minutes, then rinsed and squeezed as dry as possible.
- Next, the curds are transferred to a bowl, broken up with a spoon, and seasoned with salt.
- Additional milk, half and half, or cream can be added, it can be served dry, or made into cottage cheese balls (a favorite among the pioneers)
This recipe has many variations, but this is the basic procedure.
The Nutritional Benefits of Cottage Cheese
As you just learned, cottage cheese is high in protein, making it popular during war times and among modern high-protein connoisseurs and athletes.
It’s also low in carbs, can be low in fat, and is a good source of calcium and other essential nutrients.
A half-cup serving of low-fat (2%) plain cottage cheese contains approximately:REF#3025
- 90 calories
- 5 grams of carbohydrates
- 12 grams of protein
- 2.5 grams of total fat
- Contains phosphorus, potassium, calcium, vitamin B12, selenium, riboflavin, and folate.
Although the fat content of cottage cheese varies from non-fat to full-fat (4%), the calorie differences are only about 30 calories from low-fat to full-fat.
Most dieticians and medical doctors recommend low-fat dairy, while other nutritionists and traditional food experts recommend full-fat.
Although the amount of fat in full-fat and low-fat cottage cheese is only a few grams, check with your healthcare practitioner for individual recommendations.
Cottage Cheese May Not Be Super For Everyone…but You Have Options
Although cottage cheese contains many essential nutrients, it may not be a superfood for everyone.
For example, cottage cheese tends to be high in sodium, so those on sodium-restricted diets may need to avoid it or look for low-sodium varieties.
Also, people on low-protein diets, such as those with kidney disease, may not benefit from eating high-protein food like cottage cheese.
Likewise, anyone with a dairy allergy or sensitivity would not benefit from eating traditional cottage cheese.
However, there are now vegan cottage cheese alternatives made with things like cashew milk, watermelon seeds, and natural cultures that boast almost as much protein as dairy-based versions.
Various recipes for homemade vegan cottage cheese utilize tofu or soaked nuts, dairy-free yogurt, and other flavorings.
Getting back to traditional cottage cheese, if you have concerns about drug, pesticide, and synthetic growth hormone residues in your milk and/or want to optimize your nutrition, you may wish to opt for cottage cheese from organic and/or pasture-raised dairy cows.
Several studies suggest organic and grass-fed dairy products have higher essential fatty acid concentrations than non-organic dairy.REF#3026 REF#3027 REF#3028
Finally, if you just don’t like the taste or texture of cottage cheese, there are plenty of other foods you can eat that contain equal amounts of protein, B12, calcium, and other nutrients.
Ricotta cheese (dairy or vegan), for example, is made very similar to cottage cheese but has a smoother, sweeter texture and flavor.
What About Cottage Cheese for Weight Loss?
Cottage cheese has long been promoted as an excellent weight-loss food, but does it work?
There is some research suggesting high-protein foods (not cottage cheese specifically) may help promote weight loss,REF#3029 and that cottage cheese satiates similarly to eggs.REF#3030
Research has also shown that eating dairy products can help adults maintain a healthier weight when restricting calories.REF#3031
However, mounting anecdotal evidence suggests people can also lose weight by not eating dairy products. Everyone has different theories about this, from reduced inflammation and bloating to reduced sugar intake due to lactase (the natural sugar in dairy products).REF#3032
In both cases, more research is needed as results could be from overall calorie restriction.
The Final Verdict: Is Cottage Cheese Good For You?...
The answer is yes.
Whether you opt for dairy-based cottage cheese, organic or grass-fed cottage cheese, or a vegan alternative, plain cottage cheese provides a wealth of nutrients and protein without excess fat, sugar, or artificial ingredients.
Speaking of artificial ingredients, always check the labels when buying cottage cheese with fruit or flavorings, as these typically contain a lot of sugar, artificial sweeteners, dyes, or other questionable ingredients.
What Goes Well With Cottage Cheese? Here are 15 Ideas to Try
If you’re tired of the same-old cottage cheese with peaches or pineapple, consider these creative ideas:
- Use in place of ricotta in lasagna (either blended to mimic ricotta-like consistency or as-is)
- Blended into smoothies as a substitute or enhancement to protein powder
- Make it into a healthy ice cream
- Enjoyed with crudite
- Blend into dips
- Add to omelets, frittata, or quiche
- Try cottage cheese pancakes, waffles, or muffins
- Eat with granola for a high-protein breakfast
- Use as a replacement for cream cheese in various recipes
- Add to baby food recipes, like cottage cheese, banana, and avocado
- Sub cottage cheese for mayo in chicken salad, pimento cheese, and other recipes
- Out of Greek yogurt? Try blended cottage cheese with lemon juice in its place
- Add to casseroles and mac and cheese for added nutrients without the extra fat
- Try out a cottage cheese scone or cornbread recipe
- Try a protein cookie recipe using cottage cheese
Want More Information on Nutrient-Dense Superfoods?
Check out the following articles:
- 1. , "Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Cottage Cheese", American Dairy Association. . 1 1. , "Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Cottage Cheese", American Dairy Association. .
- 2. , "Cheese, cottage, lowfat, 2% milkfat", USDA FoodData Central. 2 2. , "Cheese, cottage, lowfat, 2% milkfat", USDA FoodData Central.
- 3. , "Grass-fed cows produce healthier milk", University of Minnesota Extension.. 3 3. , "Grass-fed cows produce healthier milk", University of Minnesota Extension..
- 4. , "Enhancing the fatty acid profile of milk through forage-based rations, with nutrition modeling of diet outcomes", Food Science & Nutrition. . 4 4. , "Enhancing the fatty acid profile of milk through forage-based rations, with nutrition modeling of diet outcomes", Food Science & Nutrition. .
- 5. , "Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States–Wide, 18-Month Study", PLOS One. . 5 5. , "Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States–Wide, 18-Month Study", PLOS One. .
- 6. , "Effects of dietary habits modifications on selected metabolic parameters during weight loss in obese persons", Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. . 6 6. , "Effects of dietary habits modifications on selected metabolic parameters during weight loss in obese persons", Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. .
- 7. , "The satiating effects of eggs or cottage cheese are similar in healthy subjects despite differences in postprandial kinetics", Appetite. 7 7. , "The satiating effects of eggs or cottage cheese are similar in healthy subjects despite differences in postprandial kinetics", Appetite.
- 8. , "Milk and dairy products: good or bad for human health? An assessment of the totality of scientific evidence", Food Nutrition Research.. 8 8. , "Milk and dairy products: good or bad for human health? An assessment of the totality of scientific evidence", Food Nutrition Research..
- 9. , "6 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Stop Eating Dairy, According to Dietitians", Prevention Magazine. . 9 9. , "6 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Stop Eating Dairy, According to Dietitians", Prevention Magazine. .