Ricotta cheese is a commonly-available cheese used as a filling for lasagna and stuffed shells, as well as a pizza topping, and even as a filling for Italian desserts such as cannoli. It is made from whey -- a cheese by-product from cheeses like mozzarella and provolone. You can also make ricotta cheese at home by separating the whey from whole milk. This type of cheese is a mixed bag as far as its healthfulness goes. It is quite fattening and high in calories; however, it has much nutritional value from the vitamins and minerals it contains.
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Calories and Fat
A 1-cup serving of whole milk ricotta cheese contains 428 calories and 31.9 g of fat. The majority of that fat – 20.4 g – comes from saturated fat, the type of fat that can wreak havoc with your blood cholesterol levels and lead to an increased risk of heart disease. There are part-skim and fat-free ricotta varieties available, although the texture of the ricotta, normally creamy and sweet, sometimes suffers. Part-skim ricotta has less fat and calories per serving, although not significantly so as 1 cup has 339 calories and 19.5 g of fat. Fat-free ricotta contains 160 calories and no fat.
One serving of ricotta cheese contains 125.5 mg of cholesterol, over one-third of the recommended limit of 300 mg per day. Part-skim ricotta has 76.3 mg per serving, and fat-free ricotta contains 60 mg per serving. Too much cholesterol in your diet can clog your arteries and increase your risk of coronary problems.
Carbohydrates and Protein
Eat a serving of ricotta cheese, and you will take in 7.5 g of carbohydrates and 27.7 g of protein. Both of these macronutrients contribute to your energy needs. Fat-free ricotta provides you with slightly less protein and more carbohydrates than whole milk ricotta; part-skim ricotta has approximately the same amount of protein but more carbohydrates.
Vitamins and Minerals
Including ricotta cheese in your diet boosts your calcium intake; one serving provides you 51 percent of the daily value. Part-skim ricotta may contain slightly more, but fat-free ricotta contains far less. A serving of ricotta cheese will also provide you with 39 percent of the daily value of phosphorus, 28 percent of riboflavin, 22 percent of vitamin A, 19 percent of zinc and 14 percent of the daily value of vitamin B-12. Amounts may vary in part-skim and fat-free varieties.
Ricotta cheese contains 206.6 mg of sodium. Part-skim and fat-free varieties of this cheese contains significantly more sodium, with fat-free ricotta containing approximately 600 mg per 1-cup serving. The American Heart Association recommends consuming 1,500 mg per day or less.