Ricotta Cheese Nutrition: Is It Healthy?

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Ricotta cheese nutrition

Ricotta cheese is a beloved Italian ingredient known for its versatility in both desserts and main dishes. Made from whey protein, ricotta boasts a creamy texture and mild flavor that complements a wide range of recipes. But beyond its culinary uses, ricotta cheese packs nutrients that can support weight loss, lower blood pressure, and strengthen bones.

Dive in to learn more about the impressive ricotta cheese nutrition facts, its health benefits, and how to enjoy this delicious cheese on your diet.

What Is Ricotta Cheese?

Ricotta cheese is a type of whey cheese made from the leftover whey of cow, goat, or sheep’s milk. It’s known for its creamy texture and mildly sweet taste. Often considered one of the healthiest cheese varieties, ricotta cheese contains all nine essential amino acids and is high in protein, calcium, selenium, and several other important vitamins and minerals.

Ricotta is incredibly versatile and works well in recipes ranging from dips and spreads to salads, pasta dishes, and desserts. While fresh ricotta remains the most popular variety, individuals can also age it to extend its shelf life. Some common types of aged ricotta include:

  • Ricotta Salata: Pressed, salted, and aged for at least 90 days.
Ricotta Salata
Ricotta Salata
  • Ricotta Forte: Also known as ricotta scanta, this cheese is soft and fermented with an intense and robust flavor.
Ricotta Forte
Ricotta Forte
  • Ricotta Infornata: Baked until it develops a brown crust.
Ricotta Infornata
Ricotta Infornata
  • Ricotta Affumicata: Smoked, giving it a gray crust and distinct taste and aroma.
Ricotta Affumicata
Ricotta Affumicata

Ricotta Cheese Nutrition Facts

Ricotta cheese is an excellent source of several essential nutrients. Although the nutrition profiles of non-fat and low-fat ricotta cheese may vary slightly, but most varieties are rich in protein, calcium, selenium, phosphorus, and several other nutrients.

ricotta cheese in wooden spoon
ricotta cheese in wooden spoon

A half-cup of ricotta cheese made from whole milk contains the following nutrients:

  • 216 calories
  • 4 grams carbohydrates
  • 14 grams protein
  • 16 grams fat
  • 257 milligrams of calcium (26% DV)
  • 18 micrograms selenium (26% DV)
  • 196 milligrams phosphorus (20% DV)
  • 0.2 milligrams riboflavin (14% DV)
  • 552 International Units vitamin A (11% DV)
  • 1.4 milligrams zinc (10% DV)
  • 0.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 (7% DV)
  • 14.9 micrograms folate (4% DV)
  • 130 milligrams potassium (4% DV)

Ricotta cheese also contains some vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, iron, and magnesium.

How Is Ricotta Cheese Made?

To make ricotta, they use the whey leftover from making other types of cheese. To make ricotta, you must acidify the whey through fermentation or by using an acid like lemon juice, vinegar, or buttermilk. Many ricotta cheese brands also add rennet, a thickening agent made from enzymes found in the stomachs of ruminant mammals, such as cows.

Next, heating the whey causes the proteins to coagulate and form curds. These curds are then strained and cooled, producing the creamy white cheese many of us are familiar with. Making homemade ricotta cheese is easy and requires just a few simple ingredients. Plenty of recipes typically require milk and an acid, such as buttermilk or lemon juice.

Health Benefits of Ricotta Cheese

You might add this delicious dairy product to your diet for many reasons. Here are a few of the top health benefits of ricotta:

1. Boosts Bone Health

Ricotta is an excellent source of calcium, an essential mineral integral to bone formation and metabolism. Interestingly enough, the bones and teeth contain about 99% of the calcium in the body, providing strength and structural integrity to the tissue.

Each serving of ricotta is also high in phosphorus, another mineral crucial to bone health. Phosphorus is involved in many functions related to bone health but is especially essential for maintaining bone integrity and skeletal development. A deficiency in this micronutrient can cause issues like bone softening, bone loss, and rickets.

2. High in Protein

Ricotta packs around 14 grams of protein into a single half-cup serving. Protein is crucial for several aspects of health, including growth and development, immune function, muscle strength, and more. A protein deficiency can wreak havoc on health, causing side effects like hair loss, hunger, stunted growth, and impaired immunity. Pairing ricotta with other protein foods like meat, fish, poultry, or legumes is a great way to ensure that you meet your daily needs.

3. Supports Weight Loss

With 216 calories in a 1/2 cup serving, ricotta cheese makes a great addition to a healthy weight-loss diet. Besides being relatively low in calories, ricotta is also high in protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. Increasing your protein intake can be an effective method to promote weight loss. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that increasing dietary protein intake by just 15% led to significant calorie consumption, body weight, and fat mass reduction in study participants. Protein can also reduce ghrelin levels, the hormone responsible for stimulating feelings of hunger.

4. May Help Lower Blood Pressure

Some studies have found that the whey protein used to make ricotta cheese could help manage blood pressure levels. For instance, a 2016 study from the United Kingdom showed that supplementing with whey protein for eight weeks decreased both systolic and diastolic blood pressure while also improving other markers of heart health.

Another study in Food Science & Nutrition had similar findings, reporting that whey protein decreased systolic blood pressure in adults with pre- and mild hypertension. Ricotta is also rich in phosphorus, an essential nutrient that regulates blood pressure levels. Some research suggests that increasing phosphorus intake and other minerals like magnesium and calcium could help effectively decrease blood pressure levels.

How to Use Ricotta Cheese in Recipes

Ricotta cheese is widely available in the dairy section of most supermarkets, typically alongside other types of cheese. If refrigerated immediately after opening, it can last about two weeks. While freezing ricotta can change its texture, it can be frozen for up to two months.

Ricotta is creamy, delicious, and easy to use in various recipes. Its rich taste and soft texture work exceptionally well in savory dips and spreads. It can enhance the flavor of baked goods and desserts or stir it into pasta dishes and salads.

Best Substitutes for Ricotta Cheese

Are you running low on ricotta and unsure what to use in its place? Here are some great substitutes:

  • Cottage Cheese: Cottage cheese is a popular substitute for ricotta because of its mild flavor and soft texture. It works well in many dishes, including spreads and pasta dishes like lasagna. Cottage cheese is also lower in fat and calories, making it a good option for those on a low-calorie diet.
  • Cream Cheese: Another excellent substitute, cream cheese has a similar taste and texture. Made from milk and cream, it is higher in calories but works well in desserts like cheesecake, cookies, and brownies.
  • Fresh Cheeses: You can also use fresh goat cheese, mascarpone, paneer, or Fromage Blanc as alternatives to ricotta in pasta dishes or desserts.
  • Vegan Options: For those with a dairy allergy or following a vegan diet, soaking and blending cashews can mimic the texture of ricotta. Add ingredients like nutritional yeast, garlic, onion powder, or lemon juice to enhance the flavor.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

Remember that ricotta contains lactose, a milk sugar many people cannot digest. If you are lactose intolerant, opt for other cheese varieties that are lower in lactose, such as naturally aged cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, or parmesan. Those with a milk allergy or dairy-free diet should avoid many cheeses.

Compared to other cheeses, ricotta contains a higher amount of carbs per serving. This may not be an issue for most people, but ricotta may not be suitable for keto or other low-carb diets. Ricotta is high in saturated fat, which can increase levels of bad LDL cholesterol in the blood.

Although saturated fat is not directly associated with heart disease, according to research, consuming high amounts of it can have other adverse effects, such as decreased bone density. It’s essential to enjoy ricotta in moderation alongside other healthy fats, such as mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Conclusion: Is Ricotta Cheese Healthy?

Ricotta is a type of whey cheese known for its distinct taste and texture. Besides providing good protein, ricotta cheese is high in calcium, selenium, and phosphorus. Thanks to its impressive nutrition profile, ricotta can help boost bone health, enhance weight loss, and lower blood pressure.

Many healthy and delicious ricotta cheese recipes, including salads, spreads, and pasta, are available. You can easily swap several substitutes into dishes because ricotta cheese is like other fresh cheeses like cottage cheese and cream cheese.

Enjoy ricotta cheese as part of a balanced diet to benefit from its many health benefits.