why cottage cheese is super healthy and nutritious

Lawrence Lefcort, SATI STAFF

No one really knows just how long cottage cheese has been around. Cheese experts speculate that its consumption may date back more than 5,000 years! But one thing is for sure: the soft, unripened curdled cheese delight has been enjoyed for centuries by cultures the world over. You might even say that cottage cheese is the universal cheese!

Cottage cheese isn’t expensive and is super easy to make. It’s no wonder that its pre-industrial production took place in the cozy country dwellings across Europe where there was an abundant supply of fresh milk and homemade butter was a staple. Today, many people continue to enjoy preparing their own unique, delicious variations at home.

But did you know that besides being hearty and delicious that cottage cheese is also marvelously healthy and packed full of nutrients? And science confirms what ancient peoples dating back to Roman times knew instinctively. Below you’ll discover just what makes this fluffy, creamy cheese so good for us and why you’d be well served to add a little more cottage cheese to your diet.

The legend of cottage cheese

Ancient lore has it that back in the Mesopotamian era [1] around 3,000 BC, a traveling shepherd discovered a sour, salty cheese by accident. He had filled up his saddlebags (made with sheep’s stomach) with milk and set off on a long journey by camel. The desert heat combined with the bouncing of his bags and the rennet from the sheep’s stomach caused cheese curds to form [2].

The Romans were keen to spread their love of cheese to all the lands they conquered, and the art of cheese making was graphically depicted in the tombs of ancient Egypt. Throughout the ages, the techniques of making cottage cheese became more refined and allowed people living in warm climates to preserve milk’s nutrition long before the refrigerator was invented.

The term “cottage cheese” is said to have been coined in the United Kingdom around 1830 [3].  At the time, across the English countryside, it was popular to use the leftover milk from making butter for the production of cottage cheese. Many of the country cottages at the time had their own livestock, and needed original and practical ways to use and preserve their dairy products.

In America, the first semblance of the cottage cheese industry was seen in Wisconsin in 1841.  Anne Pickett, a farmer’s wife, used the milk from neighborhood cows to create the first cottage cheese factory [4]. From that point on, cottage cheese’s popularity and industrial production continued to grow until 1916, when it represented roughly 8% of the total cheese production in the country [5]. A star was born, and it hasn’t looked back ever since.

How is cottage cheese prepared?

Cottage cheese is unique among cheeses because you don’t need rennet to make it (vegetarians among us can rejoice!). Instead, cottage cheese employs mesophilic lactic acid, a naturally occurring bacteria. The process is simple: put a pot of milk on the stove, add lemon, lime juice, or vinegar to it (old-school cooks may still use rennet), and watch your milk transform into the first phase of cottage cheese [6].

Adding acidity to warm milk causes the casein protein to separate from the liquid (the whey) and form into curds [7]. After letting the mixture cool for about half an hour, separate the curd from the liquid milk by straining it with a thin dishcloth. After all the curd has been separated, rinse the cheese curds in cold water to remove any remaining acidity, and then squeeze them until dry [8].

This process results in a sweeter blend that crumbles easily. After that, add some cream or half and half, salt and whatever spices tickle your fancy, and you’re good to go [9]! Pop your cottage cheese into the fridge and enjoy at your leisure as a snack or as a main dish. Never has there been a more satisfying way to make fresh cheese for the home and reap the nutritional fruits of your labor. Kids love it too!

Cottage cheese is super nutritious

The beauty of eating cottage cheese is that it’s low in carbohydrates but rich in protein [10]. It fills you up, but the calories come off quickly. You could eat a bowl of cottage cheese, granola, and fruit for breakfast, feel completely satisfied, and work off the calories in a cinch in just a few hours! Check out cottage cheese’s nutritional stats below — they just might surprise you.

A cup of low-fat (2% fat) cottage cheese (200 grams) provides you with [11]:

  • 163 calories
  • 23 grams of protein (accounting for more than 70% of total calories)
  • 10 grams of carbohydrates
  • 4 grams of total fat (lipids)
  • 30% DRI of sodium
  • 28% Daily Required Intake (DRI) of Phosphorus
  • 26% DRI of selenium
  • 23% DRI of vitamin B12
  • 21% DRI of riboflavin
  • 13% DRI of calcium
  • 7% DRI of folate

Cottage cheese also supplies us with a respectable amount of iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, and vitamins A, B1, B3 and B6. Not only that, its high casein protein content makes cottage cheese a crowd favorite among athletes across the board like bodybuilders [12], swimmers, runners, and gymnasts. It’s also a popular diet choice for weight-loss aficionados, health food enthusiasts, and pregnant women.

Cottage cheese can help you shed unwanted pounds and keep them off

Obesity is a serious social problem and one of the most significant health issues facing industrialized countries. In America, more than 35% of all adults are considered obese, and epidemic obesity costs the country more than $147 billion annually [13]. Left untreated chronic obesity can provoke other illnesses like hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and cancer.

Its low calorie, high protein makeup have made cottage cheese a darling of weight loss programs far and wide. Medical research has shown that making cottage cheese a part of your diet regime can help you lose weight in the long-run [14]. A recent Polish study followed sixty overweight men and women who set out to lose weight over one year.

The participants substituted a high-protein, high fat, and sugared diet with a more balanced one that included high-protein, low carb foods such as cottage cheese. After one year, it was clear the diet had helped both groups drop weight by an average of 6 lbs in women and 3 lbs in men. LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol and blood pressure fell considerably in both gender groups.

The knock against many low-calorie diets is that they leave you feeling not quite full – in other words – hungry. Cottage cheese as part of your weight loss regimen might just help solve the problem. Studies have revealed that if your diet is high in protein consumption, including foods like cottage cheese, you’re more likely to feel full for longer periods of time [15].

Greater sustained satiety will allow you to eat less and decrease your overall calorie intake, helping your body to slim down [16]. For example, eggs have been hailed as a great breakfast food for dieters because they keep us feeling sated [17]. And researchers have confirmed that cottage cheese can give you the same feeling of fullness as eggs [18].

And if that doesn’t convince you, cottage cheese may have another pound buster in its toolkit: calcium. The calcium content of dairy may help you lose weight faster and keep it off. Calcium allows us to metabolize food quickly and prevents us from gaining weight [19]. One study followed the four-month diet and exercise program of ninety healthy, overweight or obese premenopausal women.

The results concluded that high-protein dairy products like cottage cheese not only helped the women lose fat but also enabled them to build lean muscle mass at the same time. Science has loudly confirmed that the protein and calcium partnership in dairy products like cottage cheese provide a one-two punch against weight gain that’s hard to ignore [20, 21].

Cottage cheese may help fight cancer

Every year, cancer claims roughly 7.5 million deaths worldwide, making it one of the planet’s most lethal killers. But it might surprise you to know that most cancer cases come about because of lifestyle factors (such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, nutrition, and lack of exercise), infection, and environmental toxicity [22].

And indeed where lifestyle is concerned many physicians tell us that diet and nutrition can play a major role in helping us prevent cancer [23]. Not only that, scientific data suggests that up to 40 percent of cancer incidences may be preventable by modifying our diet, nutritional intake, and food consumption patterns [24].

Although unproven as a cure for cancer, the nutritional content of cottage cheese may help us prevent certain types of cancer. Like other dairy products, cottage cheese is rich in calcium, a mineral that many believe decreases the risk of breast cancer. A 2002 report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute made the cancer prevention case for dairy.

It examined data from a large cohort study that followed 88,690 pre and postmenopausal women over sixteen years to discover if a relationship existed between high intake of dairy products, calcium, or vitamin D and a decreased risk of breast cancer. Researchers found that, with premenopausal women, higher levels of dairy calcium and vitamin D did indeed reduce the risk of breast cancer [25].

The next time you dig into that delicious bowl of cottage cheese and berries, take a second to contemplate that the rich and yummy snack may be helping you ward off colon cancer. Medical authorities have mentioned the calcium content in milk as one of the contributing factors that help shield your intestines from colorectal cancer [26].

A couple of studies have confirmed the claim: in one analysis of 135,000 men and women over a sixteen-year period, researchers reported that people who took more than 700 mg of calcium daily showed 35 to 45 percent less risk of developing lower colon cancer than those who took 500 mg or less per day [27].

Another large study of Finnish men confirmed the link between elevated intake of calcium and a lower risk of colorectal cancer [28]. The theory goes that calcium molecules bind with bile and fatty acids in your gut, and neutralize their cancer proliferating potential. Not bad for a small bowl of curdled milk topped fresh with whatever your heart desires!

Keeps your bones strong

Osteoporosis is a serious public health threat in the U.S. with an estimated 54 million Americans 50 years and older having weak bone mass and density [29], representing 55 percent of all adults over 50 in the country [30]. Women are twice as likely to develop osteoporosis as men [31], and many people don’t realize their bone integrity has been compromised until something breaks.

In youth, your bones are constantly regenerating themselves, creating fresh bone faster than it breaks down, and increasing your bone mass until it maxes out in your late teens [32]. As we age, our rate of bone loss outpaces the speed at which we create new bone tissue, making us more susceptible to bone fractures in the hip, spine, and wrist [33].

Here’s where cottage cheese’s high calcium content comes to the rescue again. It helps keep your bones strong, vigorous, and healthful and promotes optimal muscle growth [34]. Calcium also promotes healthy teeth and helps ward off cavities and harmful bacteria. Cottage cheese is also a great source of phosphorus and protein which play a significant role in maintaining the health of our bones [35].

Helps you bulk up

If you’re looking to build muscle, look no further. Cottage cheese contains abundant protein that can help boost your brawn. Athletes and bodybuilders have long known its secret and studies have proven that weight training combined with high-protein foods stimulates the creation of muscle mass [36]. The unique proteins in cottage cheese called casein, make up 80% of its protein content.

Casein digests and absorbs more slowly into your tissues, making your new muscles more cohesive and less prone to breakdown [37]. And dairy protein is considered to have a greater effect on muscle protein synthesis after exercise than other kinds of proteins [38]. Casein also encourages the uninterrupted synthesis and digestion of the leucine, an essential muscle-forming amino acid [39, 40, 41].

Using cottage cheese in your diet

If you’d like to add more cottage cheese into your diet but don’t know how you’re in luck: there are many creative and delicious ways to enjoy cottage cheese and reap its many health benefits [42]. The suggestions below may inspire you to create your very own cottage cheese culinary delights!

  • Pancakes or waffles: mixing cottage cheese into your batter instead of milk will reward you with a light, fluffy dream-like pancake [43]. Top with bananas and coconut if you like!
  • Salads: add cottage cheese to your favorite leafy greens, seeds, and sprouts to get a protein boost.
  • Fruit: enjoy cottage cheese with strawberries, blueberries, bananas, fresh peaches, pears, or your melon of choice [44]. Add it to a breakfast banana split for a real treat!
  • Granola or breakfast cereal: add cottage cheese to your favorite cereal and drizzle some honey or maple syrup on top.
  • Dipping sauces: use it to transform your sauces into thick, tasty, creamy pleasures [45].
  • Smoothies: cottage cheese’s light, fluffy texture combined with your favorite fruit makes a great fruit shake [46].
  • Toast: tired of peanut butter? Cottage cheese can be a refreshing, creamy, protein-rich alternative to making your toast come alive [47].
  • Baked goods: use cottage cheese to enhance your pies, cakes, biscuits [48], and pastries.
  • Cottage cheese will make you one heck of a cheesecake [49]!
  • Lasagna: instead of ricotta cheese, cottage cheese is an incredible healthy substitute [50].
  • Cottage cheese makes a great sour cream substitute in all recipes.

The sati line

Cottage cheese: it’s wholesome, grounding, and dependable. Like grandma’s apple pie, you can always count on this light, fluffy delight to taste great, go down smoothly, and fill your belly. All that while giving your cells an incredible nutrient burst with a low-calorie impact.

Not only that, but cottage cheese is super simple to work into your diet as it combines easily with a host of other foods. What other food could you eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner or as a yummy snack? Eat it plain, with your favorite fruits or vegetables, baked in pastries, as a main dish or topped with honey for a delectable dessert.

Cottage cheese may have gotten a bit of a bad rap in the past but no more. Science loves it as do athletes, health buffs, and dieters everywhere. If you haven’t already made cottage cheese a part of your diet, there’s no time like the present. From shedding pounds to boosting bone strength, to helping you keep your gut free from disease, where cottage cheese is concerned, the proof is literally in the (cheese) pudding.

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