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The Dietitian’s Insight: Why Cottage Cheese is Currently Gaining Popularity with 5 Valid Explanations

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

In a resurgence more celestial than Jennifer Coolidge (White Lotus fans, if you know, you know) and bike shorts as a fashion statement, cottage cheese is back, baby.

No longer just that lumpy, watery ricotta substitute in mom’s lasagna or the sad diet food du jour that it was in the ’90s, cottage cheese is like the new cauliflower. Believe it can be it, and it becomes so. Cottage cheese now stars in everything from ice cream and edible cookie dough to queso and creamy pasta sauce—and the internet can’t get enough. (In case you missed it, here’s what happened when one Shape staffer tested TikTok cottage cheese recipes for 2 weeks.)

But its virality is just one of five reasons why we—and dietitians—can’t get enough. In decades past, cottage cheese has been overlooked or thought of as a bland diet food. DO call it a comeback. In the past 12 months, it has emerged as a mainstay on menus for folks around the globe.

“All good-for-you foods deserve their moment in the sun. Cottage cheese has been loved and appreciated for decades by those in the know; mostly health-conscious women,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a New York–based dietitian and author of the upcoming book Everyday Snack Tray. In fact, back in 2020, we declared it one of the 7 healthiest cheeses on the planet. “I think it’s awesome that a food that was known as a ‘granny’ food is now ultra-cool to the point where it’s sold out at some stores.”

It’s A Nutritional Powerhouse

Cottage cheese is a champion in so many departments nutrition-wise, explains Largeman-Roth.

“Cottage cheese is a convenient, high-protein and relatively low-calorie food that is rich in several micronutrients, including riboflavin, selenium, phosphorus, and calcium,” adds Claire Shorenstein, MS RD CSSD CDN, a California-based registered dietitian for athletes of all abilities and host of The Eat for Endurance Podcast. These minerals help support bone strength, cell function, muscle and tissue repair, and more. “The protein, calcium, and phosphorus in cottage cheese is what makes it, like many other dairy products, good for bone health.

According to the USDA, ½ cup (4 ounces) of 2% cottage cheese provides:

  • 92 calories
  • 2.5 grams of fat
  • 12 grams of protein
  • 5 grams of carbohydrates
  • 4.5 grams of sugar
  • 348 milligrams of sodium (15 percent DV)
  • 125 milligrams of calcium (13 percent DV)
  • 170 milligrams of phosphorus (22 percent DV)
  • 13 micrograms of selenium (24 percent DV)

Some brands, like Largeman-Roth’s favorite Good Culture, also contain probiotics for gut health. If this is important to you, look for “live and active cultures” listed in the ingredients.

When it comes to nutritional downsides, cottage cheese does have a relatively high sodium content per serving due to its processing method, as confirmed by Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, a registered dietitian in the greater Washington D.C. area who helps women stop dieting and find confidence with food. However, whether this is a major drawback depends on the individual.

“If you have hypertension and need to limit your sodium intake, then you should be cautious about how much cottage cheese you consume,” advises Shorentstein. “Some brands may also have slightly lower sodium levels than others. However, if you are an active and healthy person, and especially if you sweat a lot and therefore lose a significant amount of sodium during exercise, then consuming a higher-sodium food that is packed with protein and other nutrients is often a great choice.”

It’s important to note that cottage cheese, like many other animal-based products, does contain some saturated fat. If you prefer to keep your saturated fat intake low, Thomason recommends opting for 2% milkfat cottage cheese or lower.

With that being said, “fat from dairy is unique in that certain research indicates it can have a protective effect on the heart,” Thomason explains. “Studies suggest that saturated fat from other sources tends to be more strongly associated with cardiovascular disease, whereas individuals who regularly consume dairy often show a correlation with a lower risk of heart disease.”

Exceptionally Adaptable

As mentioned earlier, cottage cheese used to primarily be consumed with fruit as a “light” or “diet” snack, or perhaps used in traditional casserole recipes.

Thanks to more home cooks, recipe developers, and restaurant chefs discovering or rediscovering its mild flavor and creamy texture, you can now easily find delicious sweet and savory recipes that incorporate cottage cheese.

You can currently discover guidelines for incorporating the dairy fundamental into smoothies, milkshakes, salads, pasta gravies, plunges, sandwiches, and a plethora of other options.

The certified dietitians we spoke to are still uncertain about that entire cottage cheese and mustard movement, but they wholeheartedly approve and personally enjoy the following cottage cheese creations:

If you’re not a fan of the distinctive curd texture, try processing cottage cheese in a blender or food processor. It blends up into a smooth, spreadable consistency similar to whipped ricotta.

It’s Extremely Gratifying

While all three macronutrients (also known as protein, carbohydrates, and fat) are essential for the body to survive and thrive, one—protein—receives top marks for being scientifically proven to be the most gratifying. The most filling foods on the planet tend to fulfill the following criteria:

  • Rich in protein
  • Large volume per calorie
  • High in fiber

The combination of protein and fat (another satisfying macronutrient), along with a relatively low amount of natural dairy sugar (lactose) and calories, make a single serving of cottage cheese surprisingly gratifying. Just ½ cup has the same amount of protein as 2 medium eggs, and if you choose the full-fat version, it aligns with the keto diet, if that’s your preference. Any variety can be an excellent choice as part of a well-balanced diet, whether your goal is weight loss or weight gain. (Well, unless you’re allergic to dairy. In that case, stay tuned for the “You’re No Longer Limited to Dairy-Based Options” section below.)

Thomason and Largeman-Roth typically choose 4% milk-fat cottage cheese, “since it’s extra creamy and keeps me satisfied for a little longer than the low-fat options,” explains Thomason. (The brands Good Culture, Kemps, Organic Valley, Hood, Kalona, and Cowgirl Creamery receive top marks from the dietitians and Shape editors.)

To make any cottage cheese even more gratifying, Shorenstein suggests adding fresh or frozen fruit plus a handful of nuts or a spoonful of seeds for an additional dose of natural sweetness and fiber.

You’re No Longer Limited to Dairy-Based Options

More than one in three Americans reportedly experience difficulty digesting lactose, as reported by the National Institutes of Health. That doesn’t mean that cottage cheese can’t be a staple on your menu.

Many cottage cheese manufacturers now offer lactose-free cottage cheese for those in the lactose-intolerant group. For vegans and those who avoid dairy, there are also plant-based cottage cheese alternatives available, made from ingredients such as tofu, almond milk, or cashews. These plant-based products have a remarkably similar taste to the real thing.

The main disadvantages of these dairy-free cottage cheeses include:

  • Cost. They often have a higher price per serving than dairy cottage cheese.
  • Protein and mineral content. “Typically, dairy-free options are not as high in protein and are not naturally a great source of vitamin D and calcium. Sometimes, these products are fortified with added nutrients, which helps increase the vitamins or minerals found in their dairy counterparts,” says Thomason.

If you’re craving a plant-based cottage cheese but can’t find one at a retailer near you, Largeman-Roth suggests making your own at home. This tofu-based Vegan Cottage Cheese is a great place to start.

Just like a celebrity endorsement can boost a workout routine, skincare line, or sneaker into the realm of cult-following, celebrities and influencers have helped revitalize the reputation of cottage cheese.

On TikTok alone, the hashtag #cottagecheese has accumulated over 796 million views and counting. And that’s just on one social media platform. Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok stars have gained millions of views and helped popularize various cottage cheese recipes this year.

If you’ve been passing by the cottage cheese aisle on your way to grab your usual Greek yogurt, it’s time to reconsider this staple in your refrigerator. Its mild flavor, versatility, nutritional value, satisfaction factor, and trending qualities are just a few reasons why Shape staff members regularly include cottage cheese in their online grocery orders.

Cottage cheese has transformed from a humble and underrated food to a superfood that caters to a wide range of dietary preferences and culinary needs. As the trend continues to grow on social media and in kitchens worldwide, it’s clear that cottage cheese has solidified its position as a top choice for health-conscious individuals seeking a nutritious and tasty addition to their meals and snacks.

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