We love it when a classic trend becomes popular again — like the retro swimsuits and comfy baggy jeans women are wearing these days. So we took notice when we started seeing everyone treating good old cottage cheese like the #1 weight-loss superhero it had been considered to be in decades past. Cottage cheese is everywhere now: added to smoothies, lasagnas, toast and cupcakes. Why is cottage cheese back on top of the world?
“The secret to cottage cheese may be the casein, a special type of protein that is digested slowly, extending the feeling of fullness,” says Florence Comite, MD, who founded Women’s Health Research at Yale University. It turns out, casein is an important type of protein to eat for weight loss, especially as we age. And it’s found in a variety of delicious foods, from cottage cheese to hard, aged cheeses like Parmesan and Swiss.
What is so special about cottage cheese protein?
Grocery stores are filled with different types of protein-rich foods, but not all of them are digested at the same speed. If you recall the old Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme, you know the two types of protein found in dairy are curds and whey. The body absorbs or digests whey quickly, in 1 to 2 hours, whereas casein curds deliver a sustained release of protein’s amino acids — the building blocks of muscle — over a period of 4 hours, or 39% longer than whey. That calls to mind another childhood tale: the Tortoise and the Hare. Whey acts fast like the hare, while casein acts slowly and steadily like the tortoise to ultimately win the race.
How cottage cheese protein speeds weight loss
Casein curds slow digestion by “clotting” in the stomach, delaying stomach emptying in a similar way that the new weight-loss drugs like Ozempic work, explains Dr. Comite. This delay makes us feel fuller longer. As a result, when we eat slow-digesting proteins like casein, we end up consuming 300 fewer calories per day, according to research by a team of Brazilian scientists. (Click to learn more about how drugs like Ozempic slow stomach emptying.)
Cottage cheese protein is also proven to boost the body’s fat-burning rates by 48%. This change leads women who consume it daily to lose 300% more body fat.
In fact, protein in any form is good for the metabolism. In one study, women who ate the most protein had a waistline 7.6 inches smaller than those who skimped on protein. Why? “Muscle is metabolically active tissue,” explains Dr. Comite. It burns fat even while we sleep, shifting the percentage of fat and muscle in the body. “It’s better than weight loss,” she says. “It’s body recomposition.” And when you eat protein is also key: Click through for ‘Meno-Pot’ Belly and Morning Proteins: When, Not Just What, You Eat Matters.
Why cottage cheese protein helps aging women most
The slow protein in cottage cheese is vital to weight loss for women over the age of 50, who tend to lose muscle mass with age. “Muscle is considered a ‘luxury tissue,’” says University of Pennsylvania-educated obesity specialist Charlie Seltzer, MD. That means the body doesn’t have to hold on to muscle tissue. The body is willing to let it waste away, which is bad news for weight loss and longevity.
“Without proper protein intake, muscle loss can add up quickly and impact body composition,” warns Dr. Comite, founder of the Center for Precision Medicine and Health. The antidote: “When you digest protein, your metabolism increases.” And casein is the perfect protein: “Casein milk proteins are among the highest bioavailable protein sources we consume, making them perfect for those looking to lose weight,” she adds. Indeed, research reveals that casein protein can boost lean muscle synthesis up to nine times more than whey, making weight loss possible at any age!
The problem with current protein recommendations
Many nutrition experts warn that the current recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is far too low. The current RDA is to eat 0.8 grams of protein for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. (That’s 65 grams for a 180-pound woman.) But those standards were set decades ago and influenced by World War II food shortages and Depression-era nutrient deficiencies. Dr. Comite explains, “That dose was only meant to stave off illness and malnutrition. It’s not enough for optimal health, longevity or fat loss.”
So how much protein do we really need?
Canadian grandmother Joan MacDonald, 77, lost 66 pounds when she started eating protein like casein-powered cheese in her omelets and cottage cheese frosting on muffins. Joan nearly quadrupled those government recommendations, eating around 150 grams of protein using an all-day approach called “protein pacing,” which calls for consuming 20+ grams of protein for every 3 hours you’re awake.
Now, Joan is inspiring her 1.8 million Instagram followers and is a poster women for healthy aging. In fact, she and her chef/trainer daughter, Michelle MacDonald, are educating women of every age to use muscle-supporting protein to transform their shape. Check out the Train With Joan app.
To determine how much protein you should eat per day, Joan advises multiplying your ideal body weight in pounds by a factor of anywhere from 1 to 1.4. (For example, if you want to weigh 150, aim for 150 to 210 grams of protein daily.) Fill the rest of your meals with healthy fats like avocado, plus carbs like quinoa, veggies and fruit. No foods are off limits.
Ready to reap the benefits of cottage cheese protein?
Dramatically boosting protein can feel like a challenge, but there are superstar foods that can help. For casein-rich options, try 1 cup of cottage cheese (28 grams), 2 slices of Swiss cheese (16 grams) or 1 container of Greek yogurt (17 grams). Or for a mix of fast- and slow-digesting proteins, opt for a 4 oz. chicken breast (43 grams), a 3-egg omelet (18 grams), a whey protein smoothie (30 grams), 1 cup of black beans (15 grams) or 1 cup of tofu (20 grams).
Casein contains low amounts of lactose and can be tolerated by some people with lactose intolerance. But if you’re sensitive, opt for foods like tofu and pinto beans instead. They’re rich in phenylalanine, an amino acid that controls hunger for 3+ hours. And consider the following bonus tips to make your protein journey easier:
Track your macros
Joan recommends using an app to track your daily protein grams. Consider trying My Macros+ or LoseIt!
Play with the texture
If you’re not a fan of the clumpy, curd-like texture of cottage cheese, try blending it in a food processor for 30 seconds to create a smoother spread to use in recipes. For inspiration, search TikTok for #cottagecheese to find creative ways people are using this versatile ingredient. We love this pizza cottage cheese bowl from Tonya, who’s lost 220 lbs eating foods like this
Consider clever food swaps
Blended cottage cheese is a perfect substitute for creamy ricotta cheeses on pizza, as lasagna filling or in scrambled egg dishes. And it only has a third of the fat! Click through to find five clever ways to use blended cottage cheese in place of ricotta.
Lift heavy things
“If you lift weights while consuming adequate protein, you lose more body fat,” says Dr. Seltzer, who is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He suggests working big muscles with big functional movements. Try dead lifts: Stand and hinge forward at the waist with a flat back to lift hand weights off the floor and up to the torso. “When you learn about protein consumption and weight training, you can ‘game’ the weight-loss system. You can be in control!”
Try a bedtime dose
Casein protein can be particularly powerful when enjoyed before bed. Research shows 85% of people who consumed casein before bed got better sleep, thanks to the tryptophan in casein. Spoon up a serving of Greek yogurt or stir half a scoop of Nutricost Micellar Casein Protein into oatmeal (buy at Nutricost, $47.95 for 26 servings). Or try a slice of cottage cheese bread toasted with butter and jam.
The cottage cheese frosting that goes with everything!
You can even turn cottage cheese into a treat! This easy recipe created by Joan MacDonald, author of Flex Your Age, is delicious on pancakes, fruit salad, muffins and more — and it delivers 6 grams of protein per 2-Tbs. serving.
2⁄3 cup light cream cheese
2⁄3 cup fat-free cottage cheese
2 scoops vanilla ISO whey protein powder (like Women’s Best, buy at WomensBest, $21.59 for 17 servings)
6 tsp. Swerve Icing Sugar (Buy on Amazon, $27.92 for 170 servings)
Blend all ingredients until smooth.
Real-life success: “Eating more protein helped me lose 104 pounds!”
Jen Witherspoon was huffing and puffing by the time she made it from the car to the entrance of the grocery store. With her heart racing in her chest, she worried, How am I going to shop if I’m already drained?
Along with extra weight, Jen was also burdened by prediabetes. She didn’t know how to turn everything around, until she started trying the healthy eating tips she saw on social media. Jen focused on a high-protein diet, aiming for 125 grams each day. A staple ingredient became casein-rich cottage cheese, something she initially overlooked as just a “kid food.” Suddenly, this healthcare worker found the ingredient to be super versatile. And before long, she ate cottage cheese in fruit bowls, on salads, blended into smoothies and spread over bagels. She found, “Cottage cheese was pivotal. It tasted good added to anything and it controlled my hunger.”
Thanks to these healthy lifestyle changes, Jen began steadily losing up to 6 pounds a week. After nine months, she was down 56 pounds. Then 17 months after she began, Jen says, “I got on the scale and it said 117. I crumbled to the floor in tears of joy. I accomplished what I had so diligently worked for!”
In all, Jen lost 104 pounds — 50% of her former body weight. She reversed her prediabetes and got off her Rx metformin with her doctor’s okay. Now, she helps women on TikTok @mommajenzhere. She cheers, “I’m 46, but I feel 20!”
Looking for delicious ways to get more slimming protein in your diet? Check these articles:
Proffee: The Delicious Breakfast Helping Women Over 60 Lose Weight Effortlessly
Protein Brownies: Women Over 50 Are Eating Them for Breakfast and Losing 100+ Lbs
Cottage Cheese Bread Has 50% More Protein — And It’s Super Easy to Make at Home
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
Lisa Maxbauer is an award-winning health and nutrition writer at First for Women and Woman’s World magazines. She is a former guest blogger with The New York Times and author of the award-winning independent children’s book Squash Boom Beet. Learn more at SquashBoomBeet.com and follow on Instagram @lisamaxbauer.
Taylor Patton is a Milwaukee-based writer, editor and professional storyteller. Published in ‘Milwaukee Magazine,’ ‘Edible Milwaukee,’ ‘Woman’s World’ and ‘First for Women,’ she loves finding everyday stories that are just begging to be told. As a certified RYT-200 yoga teacher and vegetarian for 15 years, she believes everyone can eat, drink and live a little more green.