Following a ketogenic diet means you have to keep an eye on your food choices.
In order to stay in ketosis; watching how many grams of carbs you consume is essential. But there’s more to the story than macronutrients alone.
High-fat keto-friendly meal plans can often include some suspicious food choices. That’s why it’s always important to look into your food choices, and determine if a product is, in fact, keto.
Cheese products run the gamut from high-fat (Parmigiano Reggiano) and high-quality to high-carb and low quality (American cheese). But what about cottage cheese, does it fit into a healthy keto diet?
Cottage cheese first became popular during the days of low-fat dieting. If you buy the skim-milk version, you end up with a pretty low-fat, high protein snack. But the days of low-fat dieting are over — thank god.
So where does this leave cottage cheese?
Let’s start by talking about what cottage cheese is.
The Cottage Cheese Story
It’s rumored that cottage cheese has been around for thousands of years, dating back to Egyptian times.
The first documentation of “cottage cheese,” however, was in 1831 where it received its official name. The cheese was made in cottages and country homes, using leftover milk product from butter making.
Cottage cheese is a fresh, mild cheese with a slightly acidic flavor that can have either large or small curds. It’s made by adding an acid to pasteurized milk, which causes the milk solids to separate from the whey.
Typically, the acids used are either vinegar or a bacterial culture that produces lactic acid.
After the curd is formed, it’s allowed to drain any remaining whey, and finally is pressed to remove the remaining moisture.
Depending on the type of cottage cheese you buy, the carb count could vary quite a bit. The same is true for the amount of protein.
That’s why it’s essential to purchase full-fat cottage cheese and be wary of the skim-milk versions.
For instance; one serving of full-fat cottage cheese contains[*]:
- Calories: 120
- Fat: 6 grams
- Protein:14 grams
- Carbohydrate: 3 grams
While one serving of skim-milk cottage cheese contains[*]:
- Calories: 90
- Fat: 2.5 grams
- Protein: 11 grams
- Carbohydrate: 6 grams
As you can see, the skim milk version contains two times the amount of net carbs, with more than half the fat.
The full-fat version, however, is loaded with protein and fat, ideal for keeping your blood sugar in range.
Let’s take a look at the health benefits vs. pitfalls.
Cottage cheese is a great source of protein. With 14 grams per serving in a full-fat version, it makes a great snack.
The benefits of getting enough protein in your diet go well beyond hitting your ideal “macro ratios.” Research shows that when you eat a diet rich in protein, it can[*]:
- Increase your overall satiety (meaning you eat less)
- Enhance your calorie burn (protein takes a lot of energy to break down)
- Positively affect your body composition (more muscle, less fat)
- Reduced energy efficiency (you won’t rapidly regain fat mass)
Rich Source Of Vitamin B-12
Vitamin B-12 is essential for proper red blood cell formation as well as DNA synthesis. Perhaps even more crucial is its role in the metabolism of homocysteine.
Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with blood clotting, reduced vascular tone in your blood vessels, and free radical damage to cell membranes. All of which are factors that can increase your risk for heart disease[*].
An excess of homocysteine has also been linked to neurological diseases like dementia and Alzheimers. It’s hypothesized that homocysteine may negatively impact the function of neurotransmitters, leading to cognitive decline[*][*].
Another nutrient that cottage cheese is brimming with is phosphorus. This mineral plays a vital role in the health of your bones, and one cup of cottage cheese contains 47% of your RDA[*].
Together with calcium, phosphorus makes up a significant component of your bone structure called hydroxyapatite. Hydroxyapatite creates hardness and rigidity in your bones and makes up about 70% of your bone structure[*][*].
Phosphorus is also essential for the balance of acidity in your body. It acts as one of your major buffers, maintaining your acid-base homeostasis.
In order for your body to function properly, your cells and extracellular matrix need to have an ideal pH. Acid-base homeostasis is crucial for the health of every cell in your body[*].
If that wasn’t enough, phospholipids, (a type of fatty acid containing a phosphate group), are essential for the structure and function of your cell membranes[*].
Cottage cheese contains 19% of your RDA of calcium in just one cup[*]. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body. Its functions are so broad an entire post could be written on it. But here are just a few[*]:
- Contraction and dilation of your blood vessels
- Hormone secretion
- Signaling within your cells
- Muscle function
- Nerve transmission
- Bone structure
Calcium intake is even linked to decreased body weight and the prevention of obesity. One animal study found that low calcium diets impede weight loss, while diets high in calcium markedly accelerated fat loss[*].
CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid)
One of dairies best-kept secrets is its CLA content.
If you’re lucky enough to find cottage cheese made from grass-fed dairy cows, then you’ll be getting a boost of CLA. In fact, cows that are allowed to roam around and feed on grass have up to 500% more CLA than non-grass-fed cows[*].
So what is CLA, and what does it do for you?
CLA is a type of fatty acid.
The health benefits associated with CLA include a wide range of physiologic functions. Research shows that it has anti-carcinogenic activity, anti-diabetic activity (helps control blood sugar), and can help with weight reduction.
In addition, it may also help lower blood pressure. Not bad for a fatty acid[*].
As you can see, cottage cheese offers an array of health benefits. However, these health benefits come with a few caveats.
Some people lack sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase, which resides in your small intestine. Lactase is responsible for breaking down lactose, the sugar present in dairy.
When lactase is scarce, undigested lactose can pass from the small intestine into your colon. Here, bacteria in your colon will break down the lactose and create gas and fluid. This excess fluid and gas create symptoms associated with lactose intolerance like:
- Abdominal pain
- Stomach growling
Lactose intolerance can occur due to genetic factors, premature birth, aging, and injury to the small intestine[*].
Due to the lactose content of cottage cheese, if you have lactose intolerance or suspect, there is a sensitivity to dairy you should avoid cottage cheese.
A casein allergy differs from lactose intolerance in that your immune system becomes involved, as opposed to digestive enzymes. Casein allergies usually affect younger children and babies and often resolves by the time you’re five years old.
A casein allergy occurs when your immune system mistakes casein for a foreign substance and tries to fight it off.
Symptoms of casein allergy include[*]:
- Breathing problems
With allergies, you’re typically dealing with proteins as opposed to carbohydrates. While sensitivities to carbohydrates like lactose can be very uncomfortable, allergies can actually be life-threatening.
You likely already know if you have an allergy to casein, but if you do avoiding cottage cheese is a must.
When it comes to consuming animal products, quality is essential. Many dairy farmers will feed their cows hormones and antibiotics to enhance the growth of the cows and prevent infection.
Published research supports the fact that added hormones, like estrogen, in cows milk could lead to a number of different types of cancer. However, dairy farmers are still allowed to add them[*].
And if that wasn’t bad enough, they also load up the animals with antibiotics. This may help the animals fight off infection (why not just give them more sanitary places to live?), but it can turn detrimental to the health of your gut.
In addition, research is showing that the increased consumption of antibiotics through animal products is leading to antibiotic resistance in humans[*]. That means that in the case of a serious bacterial infection, your doctor may not be able to treat it with antibiotics.
Low-Fat Cottage Cheese
Not all cottage cheese is created equally. As you saw earlier in the skim-milk to full-fat comparison, the macronutrient profile of cottage cheese can vary widely.
Keep an eye out when you’re shopping for the low-fat or skin-milk versions of cottage cheese. Many, if not most, cottage cheese is still stuck in the ‘90s with its low-fat nutrition profile. Always go for full fat when possible.
So the question remains, is cottage cheese keto?
The answer is yes, providing it’s made with full-fat dairy. But you always want to read the label; sometimes companies will jazz it up with fruit or jam — avoid those ones.
Is Cottage Cheese “Clean Keto”?
Some people like to throw dairy products into the “dirty keto” column.
In case you’re not familiar, dirty keto is basically “convenience keto food”. Cheap cuts of meat, fast food restaurants, greasy burgers — all dirty keto.
If you’re in keto for the long haul, dirty keto has to go.
Eating a clean low-carb diet means you’re choosing high-quality foods like grass-fed beef, organic vegetables, and free-range chicken.
Therefore, as long as the cottage cheese you’re choosing is high quality (organic when possible), it fits squarely in the clean keto category.
Cottage cheese is one of those fantastic ingredients that can be used in a host of different ways. Here are some simple cottage cheese recipes that you can play with.
Keto Cottage Cheese Bowl
Cottage cheese makes an excellent switch-out for greek yogurt. You can make a delicious morning breakfast by adding:
- ¾ cup cottage cheese
- 2 tablespoons of nuts (macadamia nuts, cashews, almonds)
- ¼ cup of berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries)
- Drizzle of sugar-free sweetener like lakanto maple syrup
You can also switch it up by adding different types of nuts and seeds like pecans or flax seeds. Or, if you like nut butters you could add in Perfect Keto Nut Butter or almond butter.
Cottage Cheese Avocado Toast
On the savory side of breakfast, there’s low-carb avocado toast.
Start by toasting some keto 90-second bread.
- 1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil
- 1/4th of an avocado
- 3 tablespoons cottage cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Of course, you can jazz this recipe us with any variety of low-carb veggies that you like.
Cottage Cheese Pancakes
Cottage cheese makes these pancakes light, fluffy, and satisfying. With a few simple ingredients, you can have low-carb pancakes loaded with protein.
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup of cottage cheese
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ tsp stevia or monk fruit
- 6 tablespoons coconut flour or almond flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
Once well combined, grease a pan or skillet with butter or coconut oil, and pour small batches of batter onto the pan.
Cook pancakes until their golden brown on one side (about 3-4 minutes), then gently flip ( 2-3 minutes
Tuna Salad with Cottage Cheese
This is a fantastic lunch option. You can add some kale for more greens, or just throw together:
- One can of tuna
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise or olive oil
- ½ cup cottage cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cottage Cheese Greek Salad
This is a fun take on your traditional greek salad, just grab a bowl and add:
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- ¼ cup chopped tomato
- ¼ cup chopped cucumber
- 2 tbs chopped onions
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
This fresh, simple, and satisfying salad can be made as a meal or as a light afternoon snack.
Egg and Cottage Cheese Breakfast Bowl
Eggs and cottage cheese? You bet. The combo may not be intuitive, but the fresh taste of cottage cheese actually pairs beautifully with some sunny side up eggs. All you need is:
- 1-2 sunny side up eggs
- ½ cup cottage cheese
- Sauce of choice (chimichurri, pesto, roasted red pepper)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Add cottage cheese to a medium-sized bowl, and then top with remaining ingredients.
Cottage cheese is a great protein source for snacking. Here are some ideas:
- Celery or zucchini dipped in cottage cheese
- Cottage cheese with berries
- Cottage cheese with protein powder (it tastes better than it sounds)
- Plain old cottage cheese with salt and pepper
- Cottage cheese with some chopped celery and your favorite salad dressing
The Takeaway: Certain Cottage Cheeses Are Definitely Keto
Cottage cheese can be a great addition to your keto diet. You can even use it to replace some other dairy staples like sour cream, cream cheese, and plain greek yogurt.
But there are two major caveats:
First, you need to make sure the dairy is full-fat.
Second, make sure that it’s a high-quality product. This means it comes from preferably organic milk, with no hormones or antibiotics added.
As always, cottage cheese is another tool to add to your keto tool-belt, and shouldn’t completely replace other types of nutrition. Variety is always key.