Cheese and Other Dairy Products: Are they Processed?

There’s a question I’ve been getting a lot lately and it goes something like this:

If you avoid processed foods how is it that you’re still eating cheese (or cream cheese or sour cream or [insert dairy product here])? Isn’t cheese processed?”

The thing is even cooking is technically a form of processing or changing your food so unless you are on a raw food diet, which we are not, we are all eating food that’s been somewhat “processed”. So maybe it would be better to say we avoid all highly processed foods, which, to draw the line somewhere, we define as having more than 5 (or any refined) ingredients.

So to hopefully answer some of those burning cheese questions I’d like to share what we look for when it comes to purchasing dairy products in general. And in case you missed it be sure to check out our post earlier this month all about milk.

Cheese

There are a few basic things we look for in cheese…

  • Organic: As I’ve mentioned before you can’t exactly peel or wash off dairy products like you can with conventional produce so we think it’s best to go organic if you can.
  • Block Form (as opposed to pre-grated): Bagged, pre-shredded cheese contains an anti-caking agent called cellulose that’s sometimes made from wood pulp. Whether this additive concerns you or not the point is it’s an extra additive you will not find in a block of cheese. So when we want grated cheese at our house we just grate it ourselves. Yes, it’s an extra step, but it’s worth it to me especially because I think the texture is much better (i.e. less “powdery”).
  • White: Cheese, which is obviously made from milk or cream, is meant to be white not orange…think about it. The orange color is typically a harmless, natural color additive, but just to make a point I personally like to buy my cheese white because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. When it comes to “voting with my dollars” I don’t like to mess around!
  • Full Fat: We no longer buy any reduced-fat or non-fat food products (since to get products that way they are simply more processed), which is actually kind of a relief because I never thought the low-fat versions tasted all that good anyway!
  • GrassFed: Cows are meant to eat grass (not corn), and as I mentioned in the milk post when animals are fed a proper diet their food products are in turn more nutritious for you. Sometimes it’s hard to find, but I ideally look for cheeses that either say “grass-fed” or “pasture raised” on the package.

Yogurt*, Cream Cheese, and Other Dairy Products

This is what we look for when it comes to other dairy products like cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, and ricotta cheese…

  • Organic: Just like cheese and milk we always choose organic when it comes to any dairy products.
  • Full Fat: Once again we did away with all low-fat and non-fat products when we made the switch to real food.
  • Plain: When it comes to dairy products like yogurt, it’s always best to buy the plain version and flavor it yourself. The majority of factory-made food contains way too much sugar (and salt and oil) so it’s not only best to be able to control how much is added, but also what type of sweetener is used. We love mixing our plain yogurt with homemade berry sauce, homemade strawberry-honey jam, or a little maple syrup and vanilla extract… you can also add some orange zest for a real treat!
  • Least Number of Ingredients: No matter what type of food you are buying I highly recommend to ALWAYS read the ingredients before making a purchase. Most of the time least processed = least number of ingredients (as long as those ingredients are “whole” of course).
  • Grass-Fed: Once again this can be hard to find especially when you are looking beyond cheese and milk, but ideally all dairy products should come from grass-fed (as opposed to corn or grain-fed) cows.

*Note Regarding Greek Yogurt: I can’t really say that Greek yogurt is “better” or “worse” for you than regular yogurt because to be honest it’s just different. As long as the yogurt meets the criteria outlined above just pick whichever one you like best!

New Sponsor: Plan to Eat

I’d like to introduce another one of our newest sponsors today…Plan to Eat! Plan to Eat is a very cool meal planning service that is quite different from all the rest. Before now most of the services I’ve come across give you a dinner plan and shopping list so you basically eat the meals they’ve picked out for you for the week. Plan to Eat, on the other hand, is a program that automatically turns YOUR own recipes into a meal plan and shopping list. You can import recipes from websites and blogs or add your own. So in the most basic terms you decide what you’re going to have for dinner and Plan to Eat organizes the information for you into one neat meal plan and shopping list! They even have a feature where you can access your shopping list from your mobile phone. Pretty cool, huh?

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263 thoughts on “Cheese and Other Dairy Products: Are they Processed?”

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  1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

    Hi there. When we are talking about whole milk, go organic. Most of the toxins that non-organic milks would carry are found in the milk fat.

  2. In my country (Greece) unfortunately stores have only either organic homogenized milk or good quality non organic non homogenized milk. What should I buy for my family?

  3. Vanessa S. Dainton

    Have you all seen the documentary on Netflix, “What the Health?” It has to do with cutting out dairy as well as meats or any animal product. Basically going vegan. Essentially, it discusses the dairy ‘industry’ and how unhealthy animal based products can be. It got me back to focusing on whole food eating and trying to cut unprocessed foods (again–was a vegetarian 8 years ago for a few years). Worth a watch.

  4. I turned 40 and developed both gluten and dairy sensitivities. I also have an issue with my thyroid. I do a lot of reading one if my go to good for me, now seems to be harming me because of
    Kale and broccoli

    Both said to be harming my thyroid is this true

  5. OK, so I finally sat down & picked some meals from the first book to try this week. I was so happy that my grocery list was not overly extensive AND contained everyday ingredients! I can do this!
    so after shopping at my local Aldi (proud to save some ca$h) I was disappointed when I read these ingredients on their cottage cheese:
    (besides the milk, cream & salt of course)
    -guar gum
    -locust bean gum
    -mono & diglycerides
    -xanthan gum
    -carrageenan
    -dextrose
    -potassium sorbate
    -citric acid
    -enzymes
    Seems like WAY too many things I cannot pronounce or know what they are! eeek!!
    So… do you have some brands I should be buying instead?
    Cottage cheese was a fairly new “go-to” protein for me while doing Beach Body’s 21 day fix & other programs :( It’s also something my 18 month old really enjoys!
    Do you happen to have any research about some of the Aldi brands? I know they have come a long way in the past year or so…
    Thanks for all you do! Between you & the Food Babe… I pray for a food revolution for America!!!

  6. Do you have an opinion on stevia as a yogurt sweetener? I grow it in my herb garden its really great finely chopped and mixed with berries and greek yogurt. It took a few rounds to get past the green flecks but is very sweet.

  7. Hmmm Cottage Cheese? I think Greek yogurt more mimics the taste and texture of sour cream. I use it with salsa as a dip. A treat food for sure, but a summer delight when tomatoes are in season.

  8. I read recently how to make a mock sour cream using low sodium full fat cottage cheese and vinegar. Less calories, less fat and less carbs. Would you feel this falls into a healthier alternative, but still within in the guidelines of whole foods? I agree with the concept that stripping milk etc. of fat can impact our health, but if it’s using whole milk it seems like it could still be a whole foods choice.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Sound a like a good alternative, especially if you can find an organic cottage cheese option. I think Nancy’s makes one.

    2. Jennifer Ostrander

      I prefer to just use plain Greek yogurt. It’s the best tasting sour cream ever and super good for u and protein rich. Tastes the exact same maybe just a little creamier.

  9. I have necessarily joined the ranks of eliminating processed foods* from my diet. I always thought I ate “healthy nutritious”. However, in the last five months or so, my GI system let me know, “nice try”. “White” is barely in my food vocabulary any more, as in white flour, white sugar, or practically any sugar or non-complex carbohydrate. And no antibiotics in what I eat. (I have an overabundance of gut yeasts, probably due to a slew of medications that put my gut out of whack.) NOW, if I can’t pronounce it, it’s not on my plate. I’m learning a whole new way of cooking and gut friendly substitutes. Here’s the frustrating part: there’s really no published diet (except maybe paleo, and that’s too meat protein rich for my tastes) that addresses my “special needs”. Make no mistake: I don’t tell people I have life-and-death allergies, I just have food sensitivities . . . the unpleasant ones that cause me to map out restrooms, and on really bad days, not leave the home so I may be less than 15 feet from the necessary room. I long for a taste of ice cream and pizza, but I pass it up, because the consequences are just too severe.

  10. Hi, in regards to the cheese color. Don’t some cheeses naturally go orange I see lots of cheese with the orange color but are all of those unnatural?

  11. So, with the NON processed foods meal plans.. is there any meal plans that are gluten free as well or should I just modify the ones you have suggested?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Deb. No, we do not have meal plans that are specifically gluten free and do encourage you to make the changes that will work best for you.

  12. I could not help but notice that the block cheese was made from raw milk. This is not a safe product for children, pregnant women, or anyone who has a compromised immune system.

  13. I feel like this question won’t make sense but I’ll ask anyway: Where in the store is the best place to find the best block cheese? Would it be with the shredded cheese section or over by the bakery where they have a section of specialty type cheeses?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. It completely depends on the store. I go to four different groceries here and they are all in different places. :) Most commonly, however, you do find most of the cheeses (outside of the deli area) grouped close together. Some stores have separate organic and health food sections, too. Again, depends on the store. Sorry. ;)

    2. our grocery stores also split cheeses into two areas. The cheeses in the dairy area are the more standard brands and types. The other area has more local options and speciality options. Organic Valley is in the dairy section but I have found some local options in the other section that are real food.

  14. I was wary of this recipe because it seemed too simple. I was thinking it would be boring. I was dead wrong! It is so so good! I’m so glad I took a chance on it and this is how I will be making my chicken salad from here out!