A healthy diet includes a diversity of protein sources, including plant proteins. Another source of non-meat protein is dairy foods. One, in particular, ranks high on the protein scale, offering all the amino acids your muscles need to grow – but it’s one you don’t hear a lot about these days. Find out what it is and how it can help you build a better physique.
Protein is the most satiating of all macronutrients. Plus, it supplies the building blocks your muscles need for recovery after a workout and to form new muscle tissue. When your body breaks down dietary protein, muscles and tissues enthusiastically take up the amino acids and use them to build proteins – not just muscle proteins but hormones, enzymes, immune proteins, and proteins that give cells their structure and help them interact with the outside world.
There’s no shortage of protein supplements and powders on the market. These highly processed powders are helpful when you’re pressed for time, but the best way to meet your body’s daily protein requirements is to eat foods naturally high in protein. When you think of protein, visions of beef, chicken, and fish probably come to mind. Of course, these are all excellent protein sources and contain all the essential amino acids your body needs and can’t make – but they’re not the only options.
At the other end of the spectrum are plant proteins, like lentils, beans, nuts, tofu, tempeh, and whole grains, also good sources of protein, but you need to eat a variety of these foods since, with the exception of soy-based foods, each lacks one or more essential amino acids your body needs to synthesize proteins.
Dairy Protein – A Good Source of Protein
You have yet another option for meeting a portion of your protein needs – dairy protein. Milk contains 8 grams of high-quality protein per cup – high-quality meaning it contains all the essential amino acids. Yet another excellent source of dairy protein you hear less about these days is cottage cheese. If your goal is to add more protein to your diet, cottage cheese does the job and it’s easy to carry with you to work or eat right out of the container.
How do you make cottage cheese? Curdle milk and drain the whey. This leaves behind a soft, solid cheese. To make large curd cottage cheese, manufacturers add an enzyme called rennet to speed up the curdling. Without rennet, the cottage cheese will have small curds.
What’s to love about cottage cheese? It’s a protein powerhouse. A cup of low-fat cottage cheese has 28 grams of protein, an impressive amount by any standard. The predominant type of protein in cottage cheese is casein, a milk protein that’s slowly digested, helping you stay full longer. Cottage cheese has other nutritional benefits – it’s a good source of riboflavin and vitamin B12 as well as the trace mineral selenium. You might assume, being a dairy product, that cottage cheese is rich in calcium. Unfortunately, it’s not. A full cup actually supplies only 14% of your daily calcium needs. Milk, yogurt, and most other cheeses are better sources of calcium. In fact, cheddar cheese has 6 to 7 times more calcium relative to cottage cheese.
Still, cottage cheese is worthy of adding to your diet, if only for the protein it contains. Plus, cottage cheese is one of the most versatile foods out there. You can use it in recipes to boost the protein content or use it as a quick breakfast along with some fruit when you’re in a hurry.
Are There Downsides to Eating Cottage Cheese?
Be aware that cottage cheese you buy at the supermarket is high in sodium. A one-cup serving has as much as 900 milligrams of sodium. Of course, you can avoid the added sodium by making it yourself if you have the time. You can find a number of recipes for doing this online. A few companies offer cottage cheese without added sodium as well as low-sodium cottage cheese, although it’s harder to find. Low-sodium cottage cheese usually has around 60 milligrams of sodium and is a better choice than no-sodium from a taste standpoint.
You might also have difficulty eating cottage cheese if you’re lactose intolerant, as many people become as they get older. If that’s the case, look for lactose-free cottage cheese. It’s slightly sweeter since the natural milk sugar, lactose, is already broke down to galactose and glucose so you can digest it easier.
You might be concerned about hormones added to dairy products, as you should be. Look for cottage cheese made from organic milk or made from milk without added rBGH (bovine growth hormone). Fortunately, a number of dairy manufacturers have stopped using rBGH but make sure you’re buying a brand that has.
An Ideal Post-Workout Snack
When’s the best time to eat a serving of cottage cheese? Enjoy a scoop after a resistance workout. The reason? Dairy products stimulate the release of insulin. Normally, you want to minimize insulin release. The exception is right after a strength-training session. Insulin release at this time is beneficial because it helps ferry amino acids into the muscle cells that need them for recovery. The combination of protein and carbs in cottage cheese creates an ideal environment for muscle growth.
Some people argue that whey protein is a better post-workout snack since it’s rapidly absorbed and aids in muscle recovery, but the casein in cottage cheese provides a slow and steady release of amino acids for more sustained benefits. The steady release of amino acids also helps with satiety.
If you eat a snack at bedtime, make it cottage cheese. Casein, with its slow release of amino acids, ensures your muscles receive protein while you’re sleeping, helping to prevent muscle catabolism.
Dairy Protein and Weight Loss
Consuming dairy proteins may be beneficial for weight loss. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition showed consuming dairy protein from sources like cottage cheese helps reduce the loss of muscle tissue while on a low-calorie diet. As you know, when you lose weight, you don’t just lose body fat, you lose muscle too. Two ways to reduce this loss: resistance train and consume more protein, including dairy protein.
There’s also evidence that consuming a diet higher in protein, including dairy protein, accelerates fat loss. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed adding 3 or 4 servings of dairy foods to a low-calorie diet led to more weight loss than a similar calorie-restricted diet without dairy.
The Bottom Line
When choosing your protein sources, select a variety of sources, including plant-based and dairy protein. Don’t forget about cottage cheese – it’s an under-appreciated food for improving your physique.
Self Nutrition Data. “Cottage Cheese”
The Journal of Nutrition. Increased Consumption of Dairy Foods and Protein during Diet- and Exercise-Induced Weight Loss Promotes Fat Mass Loss and Lean Mass Gain in Overweight and Obese Premenopausal Women; A.R. Josse et al.; July 2011.
International Journal of Obesity (2012) 1 -9.
Related Articles By Cathe: