Cottage cheese doesn’t typically receive a lot of attention. It gets left out from the fancy cheese counter at the grocery store. It doesn’t make the cut for a charcuterie (meat and cheese) board. And it isn’t typically included in recipes for favorite foods such as pizza, grilled cheese or baked ziti.
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It’s a soft, white, fresh cheese that’s different in texture and taste than more popular cheddar, Parmesan and blue cheeses. But cottage cheese holds a prominent place in the dairy aisle for good reasons, says registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD.
“It’s a portable food that’s easy to add to your diet,” she says. “And cottage cheese offers lots of health benefits.”
As a dairy product, cottage cheese is a great calcium source, which is important for bone health. Having healthier bones makes you less likely to get osteoporosis (weak bones). Cottage cheese in your diet can even help with your blood sugar levels.
Thinking about giving cottage cheese a go? Zumpano explains what you need to know.
Is cottage cheese healthy?
Cottage cheese is low in calories while providing protein and vital nutrients, Zumpano says, making it one of the healthiest cheeses you can eat. It’s made by curdling pasteurized (sterilized) cow’s milk — when milk turns acidic, the milk protein separates and forms curds (clumps). These loose curds serve as the base for cottage cheese.
Depending on the fat content of curdled dairy milk, cottage cheese is available as nonfat, low fat (1% or 2%) or whole fat. The milk type affects the nutritional content.
“To get the most bang for your buck, choose a low-fat or even full-fat cottage cheese,” Zumpano advises. “Nonfat cottage cheese may sound like a good idea, but it contains less protein and won’t be as satisfying.” Full-fat cottage has 1.5 grams more of saturated fat when compared to 2% but can be the most satisfying.
Health benefits of cottage cheese
Cottage cheese may be mild in flavor, but it packs a punch when it comes to potential health benefits. Some of the many benefits of cottage cheese include:
Provides good nutrition
A 100-gram serving (just under a half cup) of low-fat (2%) cottage cheese provides:
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Aids in weight loss
Three factors make cottage cheese a great choice if you’re looking to lose pounds or maintain your weight:
- High in protein: Research finds that eating a high-protein diet helps curb your appetite and manage hormones associated with appetite, digestion and insulin release.
- Low in fat: Full-fat cottage cheese contains less fat than some other cheeses (4% fat versus 30% fat in cheddar), and its high protein makes it an excellent low-fat option.
- Provides calcium: Studies show that increasing calcium can help you lose weight when combined with a calorie-restricted diet.
Cottage cheese isn’t the only dairy food to provide these advantages. Greek yogurt can also check these boxes. But if you’re deciding between the two, Zumpano recommends cottage cheese. “Full-fat cottage cheese and full-fat Greek yogurt have the same amount of fat, but cottage cheese has 25% more protein.”
Provides essential amino acids
Cottage cheese is rich in casein (pronounced “KAY-seen”) protein. It’s a complete protein that provides essential amino acids, which are all the building blocks of protein that your body needs.
Amino acids help your body work smoothly. They affect your:
“Eating cottage cheese as part of a balanced diet is an easy way to ensure your body gets everything it needs,” says Zumpano.
Supports bone health
Cottage cheese has three nutrients that help promote healthy bones:
- Calcium helps prevent osteoporosis that can lead to bone fractures.
- Phosphorus is critical for proper bone development and strength, especially during growth spurts or when healing from a fracture.
- Protein helps maintain bone mineral density and can reduce the risk of fractures.
“Bone health is critical as you age,” Zumpano shares. “Adding cottage cheese to your diet is an easy way to strengthen them.”
Helps you control blood sugar levels
Plain cottage cheese is low in carbohydrates, making it a great option for anyone watching their blood sugar. The slow-digesting casein protein in cottage cheese also helps prevent blood sugar spikes.
“To get this benefit of cottage cheese, choose plain cottage cheese,” Zumpano recommends. “Avoid cottage cheese pre-packaged with fruit and check the label for added sugar.”
Contributes to a balanced gut
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can improve the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut (gut microbiota). The curdling process used to produce cottage cheese adds beneficial bacteria that can promote better gut health. But unlike Greek and regular yogurt, which almost always contain probiotics, not all cottage cheese is created equal.
“If you want cottage cheese that provides probiotics,” Zumpano says, “check the label to see if it says it contains ‘live and active cultures.’”
Promotes muscle development
The slow-release protein in cottage cheese doesn’t just help with digestion. It’s also important for building muscle tissue and helping your muscles recover after a workout.
“Casein protein provides your cells with amino acids consistently over a longer period, which helps muscles recover instead of breaking down,” Zumpano explains. Consider having cottage cheese after a workout to get the maximum benefit for your muscles.
Reduces your risk of some cancers
Research shows that increasing dairy intake may lower your risk for some (though not all) cancers. “There’s still a lot to learn about the connection between dairy and cancer prevention,” Zumpano states. “But it’s clear there are protective benefits to including dairy in a balanced diet.”
Experts believe getting more calcium may offer protection from:
- Bladder cancer.
- Breast cancer.
- Colorectal cancer.
- Stomach (gastric) cancer.
Tips for adding cottage cheese to your diet
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that adults get three cups of dairy daily. Cottage cheese can help you reach that goal.
When you incorporate cottage cheese into your diet, remember to:
- Check the nutrition label: Single-serve containers of cottage cheese may vary in size and nutritional content.
- Consider your lactose tolerance: The lactose in cheese decreases with age. As a fresh, unripened cheese, cottage cheese often contains more lactose than aged cheeses. If you have lactose intolerance, consider a cottage cheese that’s lactose-free.
- Keep an eye on sodium: Cottage cheese can be high in sodium, so opt for low-sodium or sodium-free cottage cheese to protect yourself from high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Get creative: There are many ways to eat more cottage cheese. Consider adding cottage cheese to your eggs or pancake mix. Bake it into muffins or cakes. Or use it as a substitute for sour cream or ricotta cheese.