It’s 9 pm and you’re getting the those evening snack cravings. You feel like breaking out the nacho chips, but your fitness sense tell you to find something healthy that will carry you through the rest of the evening.
What do you do?
You reach for the cottage cheese.
There’s a good reason that the refrigerators of healthy, fitness conscious-people usually have at least one container of lowfat cottage cheese. It’s one of the most filling “diet” foods you can eat, and it’s loaded with protein and calcium. It’s also extremely versatile, and can serve as a healthy cheese substitute in all kinds of recipes, from dips to enchiladas to lasagna.
But before we talk about all of the uses of cottage cheese, let’s take a look at what it is, how cottage cheese is made, and it’s nutritional profile.
How Is Cottage Cheese Made?
Cottage cheese is basically milk that is curdled by adding an enzyme like rennet or by the addition of edible acids like vinegar or lemon juice. The action of these enzymes and acids cause the milk to clump. After the enzyme or acid is added to the milk and curdling takes place, the liquid whey is drained off and the curds are left. These curds are primarily made up of slow-digesting dairy proteins called casein, which are high in protein and low in fat. When low-fat or skim milk is curdled, you get an even lower fat product than regular cottage cheese.
Although most of the whey is drained off, some still persists. Whey is very fast digesting protein (it is absorbed typically within an hour of consumption), while the casein in the curds can take up to seven hours to digest. This isn’t a bad thing, since there are certain times when you want both types of protein.
The Nutritional Profile of Cottage Cheese
Low-fat cottage cheese is nutritionally dense ounce-for-ounce.
A typical half-cup of cottage cheese (113 grams) has:
- 80 calories
- 1 gram of fat
- 0.5 grams of saturated fat
- 10 mg of cholesterol
- 380 mg of sodium
- 130 mg of potassium
- 7 grams of carbs
- 3 grams of sugar
- 12 grams of protein.
It also provides about 10% of your daily calcium requirements.
In terms of calories and fat, it’s one of the lowest fat dairy or cheese products you can eat. And because it’s high in protein, it’s an ideal food for people who are trying to add muscle and minimize body fat.
The only downside to cottage cheese is that it is fairly high in sodium. Depending on the brand, a single 113 gram serving has about 16% of your daily recommended intake of sodium, so if you are watching your sodium intake, you may want to opt for one of the lower sodium brands on the market or moderate your consumption.
Why Cottage Cheese is Great for Dieters and Bodybuilders
Low fat cottage cheese is an ideal addition to a healthy diet, especially for people who are prone to evening snacking or who are looking to add additional lean body mass.
Because cottage cheese is made up primarily of slow-digesting casein protein and has very few carbohydrates, it’s an excellent evening or late-night snack. The slow digesting proteins can keep your amino acid levels up during the night, which discourages muscle breakdown during your eight hour sleep “fast.” And because of the high protein content, cottage cheese is very filling — the perfect food to stop that evening craving for junk food dead in its tracks.
In fact, cottage cheese is a great snack no matter what time of the day. It’s a great protein side with that healthy salad at lunch, and makes a good in-between-meal the rest of the day.
Getting Creative with Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is also an extremely versatile food, and can be a great substitute for higher-fat, higher-calorie cheeses in a number of recipes and dishes.
For example, instead of ricotta cheese in lasagna, try using cottage cheese between those layers of whole grain lasagna noodles. Cottage cheese has a very similar texture to ricotta cheese when melted, and you’ll never know the difference (although your abs will.)
You can also make cottage cheese into a creamy veggie dip or sandwich spread by blending it in a blender with herbs and spices like cumin, thyme, dill or even a packet of ranch dip.
Put a container of low-fat cottage cheese in the blender with the herbs or spices of your choice and pulse until it’s smooth and creamy. Fold in some chopped green onions and a little fresh garlic and you’ll quickly forget that you are eating something that is good for you.
Craving enchiladas, but not the fat and calories? Try mixing a cup of low-fat cottage cheese with chopped green onions, garlic and cumin and use it as a healthy cheese filling in corn tortillas.
Cottage cheese also makes a great, low-fat sour cream substitute heaped on top of baked potatoes.
Finally, don’t rule out dressing up your cottage cheese with other healthy ingredients like almonds, walnuts, chopped pineapple, peaches, strawberries or even blueberries. A bit of honey and cinnamon can also make cottage cheese into a tasty breakfast.
But What if I’m Lactose-Intolerant? How Can I Eat Cottage Cheese?
If you’re lactose intolerant, you can still enjoy the health benefits of cottage cheese. There are a number of lactose-free cottage cheese options on the market, including Lactaid Brand Lowfat Cottage Cheese. So eat up without the worries!