Cottage Cheese, the Dairy Delight Said to be Making a Comeback

[This article was previously published in the spring issue of  The Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter.]

by Anne Ross, JD
Director of International Policy at The Cornucopia Institute

In the early 1970s, the average American ate five pounds of cottage cheese per year. Since then, the dairy staple has declined in popularity, often relegated to restaurant salad bars between the gelatin desserts and canned peaches.

Source: AdobeStock

This is a shame because, in its simplest form, cottage cheese is a very nutritious food. It is low in calories and high in dietary protein. One cup of cottage cheese can pack 25 grams of protein, which accounts for over 70% of the calories in cottage cheese.

Fitness enthusiasts and athletes look to cottage cheese for its high content of casein protein. Casein is slow-digesting, which means it feeds cells over a long period of time, and is thought to reduce muscle breakdown.

Like many dairy products, cottage cheese is an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus. It is also a good source of B-complex vitamins, which promote heart health, digestion, and metabolic and brain functions. B vitamins are necessary for proper enzyme production and operation, which makes them critical in muscle building, fat loss, immune function, and blood health.

A stroll through your local grocery store will confirm that yogurt is still the queen of dairy (check out our Yogurt Scorecard to find the healthiest options), but you will also likely see an array of flavored cottage cheese.

Recent market data suggests that this once-beloved dairy delight is prime for a global comeback. Food manufacturers have begun to introduce these flavored lines and some that have “mix-ins” of fruits and nuts. Large consumer packaged goods companies are targeting millennials with novel versions of traditionally wholesome cottage cheese.

Which of these products are the protein-packed and calcium-rich curds of cheese people have been eating for health and nutrition for centuries?

And which cottage cheese products have manufacturers converted to junk fund with processed ingredients, like the inflammatory agent carrageenan, starches, gums, thickeners, and added sugar?

Cornucopia’s upcoming report and scorecard will show the best brands available, as well as those that should be avoided. Just like many yogurt products on store shelves that are marketed as healthy, a close inspection of the ingredients lists and nutrition panels of many cottage cheese products tells a different story.

Cornucopia’s analysis shows that organic cottage cheese is superior to its conventional counterparts. Although many conventional cottage cheese brands contain a litany of questionable ingredients, most organic brands stay true to the simplicity of authentic cottage cheese.

Some brands include added flavors. Consumers often avoid “artificial flavors,” but may be unaware that many “natural flavors” allowed in conventional foods are processed using synthetic, petroleum-based solvents, such as propane and neurotoxic hexane.

They may also contain synthetic carrier systems or artificial preservatives, such as polysorbate 80, BHT, BHA, triacetin, and propylene glycol. These dangerous solvents, carrier systems, and artificial preservatives are prohibited in organic processing.

Sugar has also found its way, in surprising amounts, into many flavored cottage cheese products. Consuming large quantities of sugar is unhealthy and, if consumed in excess, can promote cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Many conventional cottage cheese products also contain modified corn starch and modified food starch. These ingredients are derived from corn which is heavily sprayed with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides—and is likely genetically modified.

Conventional brands also frequently contain maltodextrin, a starch commonly made from corn and wheat, although it may also be made from rice, potatoes, or tapioca. The starch is highly processed to create a water-soluble white powder which is used as a stabilizer, sweetener, and thickener in many packaged foods.

The majority of maltodextrin used in conventional food is genetically modified, since most of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. The other crop sources of conventional maltodextrin are subject to fungicide applications in addition to the toxic sprays used on corn.

Since all ingredients in certified organic products must be GMO-free, maltodextrin in organic cottage cheese must be made from non-GMO sources.

Some researchers have raised concerns about the high glycemic index of maltodextrin. Ingredients with a high glycemic index cause blood sugar to rise quickly. If this process occurs repeatedly over time, a person is at higher risk for insulin resistance and diabetes. Maltodextrin may also be linked to changes in gut bacteria composition by suppressing the growth of probiotics and increasing the growth of harmful bacteria associated with autoimmune disorders. Some cottage cheese products include fermented or live cultures, and they tout their products as containing probiotics.

Considering the emerging science on maltodextrin’s effects on gut bacteria, the fact that some products contain both maltodextrin and probiotics could be thought of as brands hedging their bets on our intestinal health.

Organic cottage cheese is derived from organic milk, which boasts superior nutritional benefits. Authentic organic dairy cows consume a higher-quality diet than dairy cows raised in conventional confinement.

Researchers have found a 50% higher content of omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk produced by grass-fed cows. This is due to the prevalence of omega-3s in grass, compared with the grain fed to conventional livestock.

A balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is essential for human health. Most Americans consume excessive levels of omega-6 with insufficient levels of omega-3.

Grass-fed dairy also contains up to 40% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than conventional milk. CLA has been linked to a range of health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and obesity.

Choosing organic cottage cheese has another added benefit. Organic dairy cows cannot be treated with rbGH, a hormone that is often injected into conventional dairy cows to increase milk production.

Numerous studies have shown increased growth hormones in milk from cows treated with rbGH and a corresponding risk of cancer in humans.

Cornucopia’s upcoming Cottage Cheese Report and Scorecard will help you decide which brands of cottage cheese are the healthiest. Not surprisingly, the findings show that organic really shines.

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