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Protein, calcium healthy benefits of cottage cheese

Cottage cheese may well be the quintessential fast food which comes into its own in summertime. Ready to eat, it can be pulled from the refrigerator and added to salads, serve as a side dish paired with vegetables and herbs, or play the role of dessert scooped on top of your favourite fruit. The best part is cottage cheese is a highly nutritious food, relatively low in fat and packed with protein. As such, it adds balance to the otherwise rather high-caloric feast of vereniki, stuffed with cottage cheese and smothered with cream sauce!

So what are the health benefits of cottage cheese, and can it live up to its reputation as must-eat food for people on a weight-loss diet? What is the difference between organic cottage cheese and its conventional counterpart?

Common sense would tell us cottage cheese has the same or similar nutrients as milk from which it is made—this is, indeed, the case. This creamy product falls into the category of “soft cheese” in contrast to hard cheeses such as cheddar and mozzarella. All cheeses are prepared by heating milk, then adding an acidic component to help it curdle and solidify. In the case of soft cheeses such as cottage cheese, paneer and farmer cheese, the process is quick with no aging involved. As soon as curds form, they are pressed to squeeze out the whey (or milk serum) to form a mass of white cheese which is chopped into large or small curds.

Curds and whey

Now if we were as clever as Little Miss Muffet—who you recall from the nursery rhyme—we would eat both curds and whey and likely be the better for it, but as it is, curds should be part of everyone’s diet, particularly if one doesn’t drink milk. As has been established, cottage cheese is a low-fat source of protein (especially if you choose a 0, 1 or 2 percent fat product) and since it is “complete protein”–that is, it contains all the amino acids the body needs to function but cannot synthesize itself—it can take the place of meat in a meal.

Another important nutrient in cottage cheese is calcium, imperative for bone building and strengthening. One cannot underestimate the importance of strong bones for daily vigour, and in helping to stave off osteoporosis and arthritis. Calcium also plays a role in sending nerve impulses and appears to help reduce the risk of breast cancer. One advantage in receiving calcium from milk is the presence of vitamin D which aids in calcium absorption, as well as phosphorus which contributes to bone health.

In addition, cottage cheese is a source of vitamin A—important for development of cells of the immune system and skin—as well as a host of B vitamins including vitamin B12, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin and folate which play roles in keeping brain cells healthy, metabolic function and energy production. Minerals in cottage cheese one could point out are potassium, an important electrolyte for heart health, zinc which strengthens the immune system and helps in diabetes control and selenium, useful as an antioxidant.

A healthy food suitable for a weight-loss diet? One can say an unequivocal yes. Since it is an excellent source of calcium and folate, both of which are important for fetal development, cottage cheese or some milk products should also be in the eating regime of pregnant women.

Quality and safety

Now the question remains—does organic cottage cheese have an edge over that conventionally produced? In terms of quality, safety and nutrition, there is virtually no difference between organic or regular milk used to produce cottage cheese. When you compare the labels of the organic product with its counterpart you notice that both contain similar “gums” to thicken, stabilize and emulsify.

Any differences between the two types of cottage cheese would be due to farm management practices. Organic milk comes from cows allowed to graze in summer, and fed in winter with certified organic feed—grown on fields free from pesticides and fertilizers. Animals raised organically are not fed any antibiotics, synthetic hormones or other artificial drugs. That said, most conventional farmers that market milk for public consumption use antibiotics mainly to treat illness and infection—and care is taken that milk from those cows while being treated does not leave the farm (it is tested before it hits the supermarket shelf). Hormones cannot be used in Canada for any cows to promote milk production.

While on-field practices on organic farms are more environmentally friendly (no application of chemical fertilizers and herbicides), the distance from farm gate to market may well be longer than for conventional farms since milk travels further to be processed at so-called “dedicated facilities.” So the carbon footprint might be similar in the end!

Whether consumers wish to pay more for organic cottage cheese comes down to what is important to them: do they value a world where fewer chemicals are used for food production—chemicals that eventually make their way to waterways, and present a hazard to wildlife and potentially humans? As with most things in the world, there are pros and cons even in choosing the type of cottage cheese to eat!