Ricotta is a creamy cheese that's usually made with cow's milk, but sheep or goat milk are sometimes used, as well. The cheese is cooked twice to achieve its texture, and it has a mildly sweet flavor that pairs well with fruit, but it's commonly used in pasta and Italian cooking, too. Because it's made with animal milk, the cheese usually contains fat, but fat-free versions are available. While the fat content obviously differs, the nutrient amounts don't vary much between types.
Calories and Fat
A 1/2-cup serving of part-skim ricotta cheese contains 171 calories and 9.8 grams of fat, of which 6.1 grams are saturated. That's about one-third of your daily saturated fat limit of 20 grams if you follow a 2,000-calorie diet. Too much saturated fat puts you at an increased risk of developing high cholesterol, which can raise your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. A 1/2-cup serving of fat-free ricotta cheese has 80 calories, and the fat has been removed.
Both types of ricotta cheese contain about 30 percent of the 1,000 milligrams of calcium you need each day. Calcium is an essential mineral that helps you build bone mass, as well as maintain the health of your teeth. Ricotta cheese is also a good source of phosphorus, another mineral that is crucial for the health of your bones and teeth. A 1/2-cup serving of part-skim ricotta cheese delivers 227 milligrams of phosphorus, which is 32 percent of the 700 milligrams you need on a daily basis. Fat-free ricotta cheese supplies a similar amount. A 1/2-cup serving of part-skim or fat-free ricotta cheese also contains about 150 milligrams of sodium. That's 7 percent of your daily 2,300-milligram limit. Watching your sodium intake can help protect you from heart disease, stroke and kidney problems.
Ricotta cheese is a good source of vitamin A, a nutrient that maintains your eyesight and contributes to healthy reproduction and white blood cell formation. A 1/2-cup serving of part-skim ricotta cheese delivers 133 micrograms of vitamin A, which is about one-fifth of the 700 micrograms you need each day. Fat-free ricotta cheese has a bit less vitamin A, with a 1/2-cup serving supplying about 12 percent of your daily needs. You'll get trace amounts of folate, niacin, vitamin D and vitamin K from either type of ricotta cheese.
Because fat-free ricotta cheese doesn't have as rich of a flavor as part-skim does, use it in recipes instead of eating it plain. When combined with pasta sauces and other flavorful ingredients, you probably won't even notice a difference. Use low-fat ricotta cheese for dips and to mix with fruit because you're more likely to notice a difference in the taste of the cheese. Combine fat-free ricotta cheese with sauteed peppers, onions, mushrooms and low-sodium tomato sauce. Use the combination as a filling for stuffed shells or use it between layers of lasagna noodles. Drizzle low-fat ricotta cheese with honey and pair it with fresh fruit as a healthy dessert or appetizer.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Cheese, Ricotta, Part-Skim Milk
- Frigo: Fat Free Ricotta Nutrition Facts
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Calcium
- MayoClinic.com: Sodium: How to Tame Your Salt Habit Now
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin A
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose
- MedlinePlus: Phosphorus in Diet
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.