Eating Cotija Cheese When Pregnant [Benefits, Concerns & Alternatives]

From the first moment that you find out you are pregnant, you probably start asking a lot of questions. Many newly pregnant women want to know as much as they can about their body and their baby’s development, including which foods are safe and which can help support their child as they grow.

If cotija cheese is on your list of questionable foods, you will be happy to learn that you can eat cotija cheese safely as long as you know enough about its preparation.

Generally speaking, you can eat cotija cheese when pregnant and it makes a great source of nutrients for you and your baby. However, if you have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, cotija cheese may cause discomfort. Due to its high sodium content, you should limit your cheese intake to 2 or 3 servings per week.

If you do decide to eat this hard cheese, make sure that you know how that it was stored and prepared properly to avoid food poisoning.

DISCLAIMER: While this information was prepared by a certified dietitian, it is NOT a medical advice. Please consult your own medical professional before altering your diet. The information is strictly for educational purposes.

Benefits Of Eating Cheese During Pregnancy

Cheese is one of the top recommended foods (in moderation) for pregnant women. Why is this food such a great option for pregnancy?

It is delicious and tasty, which can inspire an increased appetite even when you don’t feel like yourself, and has valuable nutrients that pregnant women need.

Full Of Protein

Pregnant women need protein to keep their bodies healthy and to support their baby’s development.

Protein helps your baby’s body grow, aids in the formation of antibodies, and helps with hormone regulation and formation.

In fact, the Mayo Clinic recommends that pregnant women get around 71 grams per day of protein.

Cheese can be an efficient and tasty way to get protein in your diet. This is especially important for vegetarians who do not consume meat, another great source of protein.

Texas-based Cheesemakers recommend cotija if you are looking for salty cheese, just be aware of its high sodium content.


Added Flavor

Because it is very salty, cotija cheese can add a lot of flavor to a dish without a lot of calories.

Sprinkle just a little bit over the top to really enhance the tastes of your food and to add that delicious salty taste and texture that can make your dish extra delicious.

Cotija cheese can be found aged or fresh. Aged cotija cheese is drier in texture and is comparable to parmesan or Romano cheeses.

Fresh cotija cheese is more like feta, although it is still considered hard cheese.

Fresh cotija cheese is usually less expensive than aged cotija cheese, although both can work within most budgets and are easy to find.

Because cotija cheese comes from Mexico and is common in Mexican cooking, look at a Mexican grocery for the greatest variety and best prices.

Pregnancy Cheese Cravings

Cotija is a great cheese for those who are craving something salty when pregnant. Just a little bit can satisfy that need for a salty snack, as well as provide additional protein for your body and your baby.

Sprinkling it over other healthy foods, like roasted vegetables, can boost the nutritional profile of your snack even more.

Because it is so salty, take care if you have any sodium restrictions during pregnancy.

Fortunately, just a small amount of cotija can provide that salty taste you crave without adding a lot of sodium to your diet.

Two to three servings per week are safe during pregnancy unless you start to have complications with your blood pressure.

You can talk to your healthcare provider about how much cheese is safe for you and your growing baby.

Concerns When Eating Cotija Cheese While Pregnant

Pregnant women need to take extra care about their diets to make sure that they are staying safe and providing their growing baby with the nutrients that they need.

While cheese can be a wonderful addition to a good pregnancy diet, there are a few considerations that you should keep in mind before going crazy with cotija cheese.

As always, talk to your healthcare provider about your specific needs and pregnancy to make the best decision.

Dairy Allergy And Lactose Intolerance

If you have a hard time digesting dairy, you may actually find it easier during pregnancy.

Many pregnant women who are lactose intolerant experience fewer (or no) symptoms during pregnancy.

This may or may not be the case for you, so it’s always a good idea to try a very small amount to see how it affects you.

Cotija cheese is great for this because such a little bit can go a long way when it comes to flavor.

Cotija cheese is made from cow’s milk and contains lactose. Some people can experience a reaction to lactose because they are unable to digest it with naturally-occurring lactase enzymes, which their either lack or do not have enough of to eat large quantities of cheese.

Cotija Cheese

If you are worried about consuming lactose, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement to help your body digest it.

They may be able to recommend a lactase supplement that can help your body break down the lactose found in dairy and cheese.

Soft Cheese Vs. Hard Cheese

Hard cheese, like cotija, is safe to eat during pregnancy because the process by which it is made and aged keeps harmful bacteria from growing.

For this reason, cotija cheese is not only safe but a great alternative to other soft cheese (mozzarella, blue cheese, feta) for those who want cheese in their diet.

Soft cheeses and unpasteurized cheeses can have harmful bacteria like Listeria growing on them, which put them on the do-not-eat list for pregnant women. This also applies to deli meats and hot dogs for the same reason.

It’s always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about what foods you should avoid completely and what foods you need to take extra care of when eating while you are pregnant.


Listeria is the top harmful bacteria to be concerned with when consuming cheese during pregnancy.

This bacteria can be found in a variety of foods if they have not been stored or prepared properly.

Cheese that is unpasteurized has a much higher risk of listeria, which can apply to fresh cotija cheese. Make sure that you only buy and eat cotija cheese that has been pasteurized.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that pregnant women take extra care when eating queso fresco, which can be made with soft cheese or unpasteurized cheese.

Tip: Prepare your own queso fresco using only pasteurized cheeses to be safe. Restaurant versions may contain a variety of cheeses and it is almost impossible to know that all of them are safe to eat during pregnancy.

Listeriosis can resemble the flu in adults but can cause severe complications, including miscarriage or stillbirth, for unborn babies.

If you worry that you have eaten something that has caused symptoms, always talk to your healthcare provider.

Listeriosis bacteria

Keep in mind that your body and preferences change during pregnancy, so any unusual symptoms are worth bringing up to be safe.

Recipes With Cotija Cheese

If you have decided to put cotija cheese on your pregnancy menu, there is no shortage of delicious and nutritious recipes to use.

Cotija As A Topping

Try it crumbled on top of other dishes, like burritos or nachos. This gets the salty bite that cotija is known for and is a tasty complement to other protein-rich foods like beans and meats. It also melts a little when sprinkled over hot foods, adding to the texture.

Cotija cheese also makes a great addition to salads. It provides an intense salty flavor that compliments many greens, vegetables, and fruits. You can also sprinkle it into dipping oils for bread.

Skip Queso Fresco While Pregnant

Take care when eating queso fresco, even if it contains pasteurized cotija. Unless you have prepared it yourself, you can’t be sure that other no-go cheeses aren’t mixed in as well.

It is best to save your queso fresco tastings for after your baby is born to be safe.

Top 5 Alternatives To Cotija Cheese When Pregnant

The best substitutes for cotija cheese depend on the way that you intend to eat it.

The overall flavor profile of cotija is salty so look for something that can add that element to your food.

1. Parmesan And Romano

Parmesan and Romano cheeses are the top alternatives that are similar to cotija cheese and also safe for pregnant women to eat.

They are hard cheese that can be grated, similar to aged cotija, and sprinkled over the top of foods.

Parmesan cheese alternative to Cotija Cheese

Parmesan and Romano are often included in Italian cooking, while cotija is more common in Mexican foods.

2. Cotija Molido

If you can’t find larger pieces of cotija, your recipe may work with cotija molido. This is a dry, crumbled version of cotija that can be sprinkled on top of dishes.

If you use a larger quantity, it can also be melted and mixed into other ingredients such as in a queso dip.

3. Goat Cheese

Pasteurized goat cheese or hard goat cheese can be eaten safely during pregnancy. It is another salty option that can bring a similar flavor to your dish.

Goat Cheese as substitute to Cotija Cheese

It can be crumbled or melted, similar to cotija. Just be sure that it is pasteurized and has been stored with food safety regulations in mind.

4. Añejo Cheese

This aged Mexican cheese has a similar flavor to aged cotija. It is often sold coated in paprika or chile powder.

Depending on the flavors that you want to achieve as you cook, this may work well or you may want to tone down other spices.

You can also cut the outside of the cheese off, but you do risk wasting part if you do not use it.

5. Feta Cheese

Feta cheese is a common substitute for fresh cotija cheese but should not be eaten during pregnancy unless it has been pasteurized.

Feta cheese and fresh cotija cheese have a similar salty flavor and crumbly texture. Both should be pasteurized, however, to be safe for pregnant women to eat.

Final Thoughts

Taking care of your body and your growing baby during pregnancy is a big responsibility.

Determining which foods are safe is an important part of that, which makes experts like the CDC and your healthcare provider so valuable.

Learning more about the nutrients that you need is a great step to keep you and your baby healthy. Cheese is a fantastic way to get protein in your pregnancy diet.

For highly flavorful cheese like cotija, even a small amount will really impact the taste of your dishes.

Aged cotija is the best option to get a salty bite, while fresh cotija cheese is also delicious and safe, as long as it is pasteurized.

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