Cottage cheese is having more than just a moment. It's downright the hottest product in the dairy aisle these days. One recent report predicted that cottage cheese sales will grow nearly 10 percent every year for the next five years. For context, that's essentially what happened in the yogurt aisle in the early 2010s when it was exploding.
Protein has gained recognition as a must-have nutrient, and cottage cheese has plenty—there's 13 grams per 1/2 cup. And while some popular diets shun dairy, low-carb and keto dieters are likely flocking to whole-milk cottage cheese, which only has 4 grams of carbs per 1/2 cup.
Regardless of what is fueling the growth, this old-fashioned midday meal your grandmother ate is getting a modern makeover: much like manufacturers did in the yogurt aisle, cottage cheese makers are introducing on-the-go single-serve containers, sweet- and savory-flavored cottage cheese, and versions with tasty mix-ins.
But what really gets us health-conscious types excited is that cottage cheese has some serious nutrition cred. It's a solid source of some nutrients that most of us fall short on—calcium and potassium—and other nutrients that we're all wanting more of (protein and, depending on the brand, probiotics). Plus, health experts' ever-so-slight loosening of the reins on fat (especially the fat in dairy) helps.
Yes, cottage cheese is raking in nutrition accolades, but some varieties are healthier than others. Keep these four points in mind if seeking out the healthiest options is a priority. While certain nutrition numbers vary from brand to brand, in a 1/2 cup of whole-milk cottage cheese you can expect to get about 110 calories, 4 grams of carbohydrate and 13 grams of protein.
As delicious as it is, a single serving of cottage cheese could deliver as much as 20 percent of your daily limit for sodium. There are lower-sodium versions out there, but if you find they taste a little lackluster, try comparing nutrition labels and picking a "regular" version with the least sodium.
Sugar's story is similar to sodium in that brand-to-brand there's some variation, especially with flavored varieties. Your best bet is to compare brands. But also remember that dairy has natural sugar (called lactose) in it, so don't set your sights on a brand with zero sugars. If added sugars isn't listed on the label (because that's still a work in progress), compare a flavored variety to the same brand of unflavored or plain cottage cheese, and you can estimate the added sugars with a little subtraction.
Not all brands include those good-for-your-gut bugs. If you're trying to up the ante on probiotics, check the ingredients in your favorite brand and make sure it lists "live and active cultures."
Some brands are ever-so-slightly "cleaner" than others. The must-haves for cottage cheese are milk, cream and salt. Other common additives aren't necessarily unhealthy (in fact, some brands add vitamins), but if you aim to limit "unnecessary" ingredients, this category is one to take a closer look at.
To get in on this cottage cheese craze, all you need is a refrigerator and a spoon. You can use cottage cheese in pancakes or instead of Cheddar to top a baked potato. And if you want to infuse a little more creativity, here are five nutritionist-approved ways to indulge your creamy, salty craving and dress up Grandma's cottage cheese. No cantaloupe included, we promise (though that too is a good-for-you choice).
1. I like my cottage cheese super-savory—Castelvetrano olives, ground fennel seeds and orange zest. I also love adding it to breakfast casseroles. It melds into the eggs and creates a custardy texture once the casserole bakes. —Jamie Vespa, R.D., of DishingOutHealth.com
2. While I enjoy cottage cheese both sweet and savory, my favorite way to eat it for either breakfast or a quick dessert is to add the flavors of apple pie as toppings. I stir in chopped apples, ground cinnamon, a splash of vanilla extract and chopped pecans. The apples add crunch while also providing a punch of sweetness and fiber. The cinnamon and vanilla also add a sweet flavor and the pecans offer healthy fat, fiber and plant protein. —Holley Grainger, M.S., R.D., Cleverful Living blogger at HolleyGrainger.com
3. One of my favorite ways to eat cottage cheese is to mix in a little of the pure, jarred horseradish (not fresh, but also not the dip) and then use it is as a dip for cucumber slices, or if I'm feeling indulgent, potato chips. —Chris Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., of MohrResults.com
4. My choice way to top cottage cheese is with a handful of blueberries and a dash of cinnamon. A hit of fruit curbs sweet cravings, without added sugar. —Carly Crawford, nutritionist, of NourishMeals.com
5. Freshly chopped tomatoes, drizzled with a quality olive oil, and some pepper and flaky salt—all on top of probiotic-rich cottage cheese like Nancy's or Good Culture. The fat in the cottage cheese and the olive oil will help your body absorb more of those disease-fighting chemicals in the tomatoes.—Brierley Horton, M.S., R.D.