Health-conscious millennials, Gen Zers make cottage cheese cool again
Health-conscious millennials, Gen Zers make cottage cheese cool again

If you dive into the world of foodies on TikTok, the hub known as #foodtok, cottage cheese is sure to make an appearance on many of the plates you’ll see.

Cottage cheese became a staple of diet culture in the 1950s, but really got its shine in the 1970s, according to NPR.

The average American in the 1970s ate nearly five pounds of cottage cheese per year, according to the US Department of Agriculture. That number has since fallen to 1.9 pounds of cottage cheese per person in one year in 2021, USDA data shows.

But the fresh curd cheese has found its way back into the hearts of Americans, thanks in part to its popularity on social media. Cottage cheese has 470 million views on TikTok, with users trying unique recipes.

Many people believe the cheese has remarkable health benefits like improving gut health and strengthening bones. Cottage cheese is high in protein and low in sugar, calories and carbohydrates, which helps explain why health-conscious millennials and Gen Zers are flocking to the soft cheese.

And in response, a number of brands like Muuna and Good Culture are marketing to their new, excited demographic with creative packaging and an array of sweet and savory flavors.

But is cottage cheese — or any cheese for that matter — actually good for you?

Is there any health benefit to eating cottage cheese?

It turns out that cottage cheese can have great benefits for your health, according to Dr. Cate Shanahan, a renowned physician and author of “Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food.”

Cottage cheese has “living beneficial microbes” that are very nutritious, Shanahan tells CNBC Make It. Probiotic microbes found in cottage cheese can improve gut health.

And like other cheeses, cottage cheese contains calcium, vitamins A and K2, as well as protein, she notes. It also has potassium and small amounts of zinc in it, according to the USDA.

These nutrients combined can help keep your bones and teeth strong, says Shanahan. “Vitamin K2 helps calcium get into all sorts of cells in the body. It doesn’t just help our bone health. It helps our muscles. It helps our nervous system. It helps everything,” she adds.

Is cottage cheese healthier than other cheeses?

Compared to other cheeses, including American cheese, cottage cheese is a much healthier option because it’s less processed, says Shanahan.

“Cottage cheese is healthier than American cheese because it’s fermented and has some live bacteria in it [like] yogurt has,” she says.

“But [other] cheese, like cheddar, no longer does, because it’s fermented so long that the bacteria sort of dry up and they die.”

Yet, Qi Sun, associate professor in the departments of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, has a different opinion.

“I’m not confident to suggest cottage cheese would be significantly different than other types of cheese,” Sun tells CNBC Make It.

Most cheeses, including cottage cheese, can be high in sodium and fat, which concerns the Sun because it can be troubling for people with high cholesterol. But Sun acknowledged the potential health benefits from components of cottage cheese such as calcium and probiotics.

Is any cheese healthy?

When it comes to cheese, how healthy it is depends on several factors: whether it’s low-fat or whole-fat, the level of its sodium content and even what it’s being compared to, says Sun.

“For example, if you switch from consuming a lot of red meats and refined carbohydrates to cheese products, that wouldn’t be a bad choice. Because cheese is better than red meats and any food rich in refined carbohydrates, very high in saturated fats or other processed meats,” he says.

“If you compare cheese with fruits and vegetables [and] whole grains, probably cheese is not such a fantastic food. So there’s relativity here.”

But what’s undeniable is that vitamins and nutrients like calcium and protein can be found in most cheeses and are important to a person’s overall diet, Sun says.

As long as cheese is eaten in moderation and not negatively impacting a person’s cholesterol, he doesn’t see having it from time to time as an issue.

Is there a healthy way to eat cheese?

“Cheese is such an interesting food because I think it really depends on how you consume it,” says Sun.

He recommends incorporating cheese into your diet as a snack paired with whole-grain crackers, not with processed meats like pepperoni on pizza.

As long as people stay away from “fake cheese,” which is any food that says “cheese food” on the label, Shanahan thinks people can eat cheese as often as they want.

In addition to cottage cheese, Sun encourages people to reach for cheeses like:

  • Switzerland
  • Cheddar
  • Gruyere
  • Appenzeller

“It’s not necessary in a healthy diet,” says Shanahan. “I’m not saying you absolutely need to eat cheese. I’m just saying that it has a lot of great nutrition in it, and it’s one food that you can enjoy.”

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