Cottage cheese might be the flat-belly poster child, but this high-protein snack isn't always squeaky-clean from a nutritional standpoint. Many brands jam-pack their tubs of cottage cheese with added sugar, sodium, gums, and preservatives all to improve this curdled cheese's palatability and shelf life. And while that's advantageous for the brand, that doesn't spell good news for your health. So how do you go about avoiding the cottage cheese products with the lowest quality ingredients so you end up with a tub that can actually support your health goals?
"I'd try to choose one that has no added sugar, and [then] add your own fruit," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, the creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. "Adding your own fruit also adds fiber and other nutrients along with just the natural sugar that's in the fruit."
On top of the added sugar that many cottage cheese products sneak into their tubs, most people don't realize that cottage cheese provides more sodium than other types of cheese, with close to 400 milligrams per serving or more.
"It's important to keep this in mind if you're watching your sodium intake," adds Taub-Dix.
As for fat content, choose what you like. However, you should also be mindful of the calories in your cottage cheese selection if weight loss is your goal.
"Even if you prefer full-fat cottage cheese (4% dairy fat), cottage cheese is a relatively low-calorie, high-protein food. But in most cases, we combine cottage cheese with other foods like fruit, salad, and so on, so you might want to try a lower-fat version (1% or 2%) to help reduce calories and saturated fat," Taub-Dix says.
Before grabbing a tub from the dairy aisle, check out this list of cottage cheese products featuring the lowest quality ingredients along with corresponding expert recommendations for what kinds to consider choosing instead. Also, if you're curious about trying cottage cheese but are still skeptical of its overall texture, this recipe for Whipped Cottage Cheese With Berries and Pistachios may be the perfect dish to get you on board with this high-protein delight.
Penn Maid Pineapple Cottage Cheese
"You'd be better off adding your own fruit to cottage cheese than buying one that has added sugar versus the natural sugar you can get from your own fruit," says Taub-Dix.
Additionally, Taub-Dix points out that this cottage cheese's protein content is about 10 grams, which less than some other brands. Protein helps curb hunger and build and maintain lean muscle, which burns more calories at rest.
"I personally prefer Friendship cottage cheese; it has 15 grams of protein per serving and a shorter ingredient list," advises Taub-Dix.
Hood Cherry Pineapple Cottage Cheese
Sure, it tastes like a tropical vacation, but this cottage cheese has a long list of offenses: It's riddled with artificial red dye, high-fructose corn syrup and a whopping 13 grams of added sugar—that's equivalent to more than three teaspoons of sugar, claims Taub-Dix.
Instead, go for Good Culture Simply Pineapple. This kind of cottage cheese has just 3 grams of sugar and 15 grams of protein for 100 calories. Plus, Good Culture cottage cheeses have the added benefit of live and active probiotics to support gut health.
Hood Blueberry Cottage Cheese
Hood's blueberry version isn't any better than the cherry pineapple. Instead of satisfying your sweet tooth with this pick, Taub-Dix suggests "adding your own berries and buying their plain cottage cheese for added benefits and less added sugar."
Plain cottage cheese from Hood has just 4 grams of natural sugar—none added—long with a short, simple ingredient list. If you prefer an already flavored version of cottage cheese, you can also go for Good Culture Simply Blueberry, which has just 3 grams of sugar and 15 grams of protein.
Hood Cottage Cheese With Cucumber & Dill
This savory cottage cheese option may sound enticing for brunch, but beware of the high sodium content: A half-cup serving size contains 510 milligrams of sodium, or 22% of your Daily Value. Sit down to a full cup of this cucumber and dill cottage cheese, and you'll take in almost half a day's worth of salt!
For a heart-healthier alternative, grab Hood's plain cottage cheese and stir in some cubed cucumber and finely chopped fresh dill at home. Also, you can try mixing your go-to plain cottage cheese with a salt-free everything bagel seasoning for a low-cal yet satisfying savory snack.