Risotto Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Three Cheese Risotto
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Risotto is a creamy rice dish made with a type of rice called arborio. The superfino rice variety comes from the Arborio region of Italy and is known to contain higher levels of amylopectin starch. Risotto can be a side dish, but it is also often consumed as a complete meal when foods such as seafood or vegetables are added.

Risotto is cooked slowly with stock (usually chicken or vegetable stock) which allows the amylopectin starch to be released. As a result, the rice takes on a smooth, creamy texture. Other ingredients such as parmesan cheese, shallots, butter, and white wine are usually added.

Risotto contains carbohydrates, but some recipes are high in saturated fat because of the cheese and butter that is used to prepare it. It can also be high in sodium. Adding vegetables and a lean protein helps to give risotto a more balanced nutritional profile.

Risotto Nutrition Facts

Risotto nutrition will vary substantially based on the amount and type of ingredients used in preparation. If you search nutrition information for homemade risotto in the USDA database, the organization provides the following information for a creamy rice dish (100g) made with cheese and/or a cream based sauce with fat added in cooking.

  • Calories: 166
  • Fat: 7g
  • Sodium: 322mg
  • Carbohydrates: 20g
  • Fiber: 0.3g
  • Sugars: 0.1g
  • Protein: 5.2g

The USDA also provides information for commercially-prepared risotto. Again, nutrition data varies because different brands use different ingredients. But as a basis for comparison, risotto prepared and packaged by Sophia Foods, Inc provides 368 calories per 100-gram serving. It also contains 6.1g of fat, 1193mg of sodium, 66.7g of carbohydrate, 0g of fiber, 7g of sugar, and 12.3g of protein, according to the USDA.

The listed ingredients for that brand of risotto includes superfino arborio rice, lactose, processed cheese powder (cheese, whey powder, salt), powdered sunflower oil preparation (sunflower oil, glucose syrup, sodium caseinate, silicon dioxide), flavors, dehydrated mushrooms, salt, onion powder, yeast extract, and dehydrated truffle (tuber aestivum).

If you make a recipe at home that includes vegetables, meat, or seafood, the nutrition information will change. For example, if you make Creamy Spring Vegetable Risotto (recipe below) that includes asparagus, peas, and mushrooms you'll consume 347 calories per one-cup serving, 9g of fat, 370mg of sodium, 50g of carbohydrate, 4g of fiber, 5g of sugar, and 11g of protein.

If you order risotto at a restaurant it may be higher in calories and have more fat and sodium than a home-prepared recipe. For example, at Buca di Beppo Italian restaurant a side-dish-serving of Baby Portobello Mushroom Risotto provides 470 calories.

Carbs

There are likely to be about 166 calories and 20 grams of carbohydrates in a serving of plain risotto prepared at home. Calorie counts for commercially prepared risotto range from 138 to nearly 400 with no vegetables or protein are added. Carb counts for those same commercially prepared dishes range from 15.8 grams to 66.7 grams.

The main ingredient in risotto, arborio rice, is very high in starch. A quarter-cup serving of the rice contains 36g of carbohydrates—almost all starch. It has less than one gram from fiber and less than one gram from sugar. USDA data also shows that the carbs in home-cooked risotto are almost entirely from starch. Commercially prepared risotto (Sophia Foods) provides some carbs in the form of sugar. Of the nearly 67 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams come from sugar and 0 grams are from fiber.

There is no recorded glycemic index for risotto. But the glycemic index of boiled arborio rice is estimated to be 69, according to the University of Sydney database. Foods with a glycemic index of 70 and above are considered high glycemic foods.

Fats

According to USDA data, home-cooked plain risotto is likely to provide about 7 grams of fat per 100-gram serving. This includes 3g of saturated fat, 1.3g of polyunsaturated fat, and 2.4g of monounsaturated fat.

Commercially prepared risotto provides a comparable amount of fat. According to USDA data, a serving of packaged risotto contains 6.1g of total fat with 1.7g of saturated fat, 1.7g of polyunsaturated fat, and 2.6g of monounsaturated fat per 100-gram serving.

Protein

Risotto is not a significant source of protein, unless meat, seafood, or protein-rich vegetables are added. Risotto made with no added protein contains just about 5 grams of protein.

Vitamins and Minerals

Arborio rice does not provide any significant vitamins or minerals. But ingredients such as parmesan cheese, butter, and cream (if added) provide some calcium. A single serving of risotto is likely to provide about 110 mg of calcium. The daily value set by the FDA (and used on nutrition facts labels) is 1,300 mg per day. Risotto only provides 8.5% of your daily value.

Adding vegetables or other ingredients will boost the micronutrient content. For example, the mushrooms, asparagus, and peas in the Creamy Spring Vegetable Risotto recipe help to contribute to the 4mg (22% of the daily value) of iron that each serving provides.

Health Benefits

The main ingredient in risotto is rice. Any possible health benefits that you gain by eating plain risotto come primarily from the nutritional value of rice. There have been some studies indicating that a rice-based diet may provide certain benefits, But many of those studies have been conducted in Asia where rice is usually not combined with foods like cream or cheese.

Rice has also been studied for its benefit as an economical and efficient food to stave off malnutrition and chronic disease in developing countries. But again, this benefit would not be applicable to risotto, since the dish is not commonly consumed in areas where malnutrition is a concern.

Still, risotto may provide some limited advantages, especially when other ingredients are added.

Helps Maintain Brain Health

Eating enough carbohydrates is essential for healthy brain function because glucose is its main energy source. Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose to be used immediately or stored for later use.

However, it should be noted that chronic excess glucose consumption can contribute to reduced synaptic plasticity and high levels of inflammation, which may contribute to cognitive deficits especially in older adults. The USDA suggests that adults consume 45% to 65% of our total calories from carbohydrates.

May Help Boost Bone Health

The calcium in cream and parmesan may provide certain bone-health benefits. Depending on how much dairy you add to the dish, it may provide at least 8% of the daily value. Calcium helps to support the structure and hardness of both bones and teeth.

May Fight Cell Damage

Some popular risotto ingredients such as mushrooms, artichokes, dark leafy greens, and squash contain antioxidants. Antioxidants fight cell damage caused by oxidative stress that occurs when the body is exposed to free radicals.

Free radicals are made by the body but we are also exposed to them in the environment. Oxidative stress has been linked to conditions including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and certain eye diseases. Eating foods that contain antioxidants may help reduce the extent of this damage.

Allergies

Several ingredients in risotto may trigger an allergic reaction. Those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy should choose a risotto recipe or commercially-prepared risotto carefully. Most include dairy. There are, however, some recipes that are vegan and include no dairy. Nutritional yeast is often used to get the creamy texture in the dish.

It is also possible to be allergic to rice, although reports of rice allergy in adults are rare. There is one published research study, however, showing that allergic reactions to rice can arise in patients with peach allergies.

In children, rice can be a trigger for an allergy called food protein induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES). Symptoms of FPIES can include severe vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Severe cases can lead to a drop in energy, a change in body temperature, and low blood pressure leading to hospitalization. There is no blood or skin testing available. Most children outgrow it by age 3 or 4.

Adverse Effects

For most people, eating risotto is not likely to cause significant adverse effects. If the dish contains high levels of sodium, you may experience bloating. According to USDA data, commercial brands may contain 1193mg of sodium or more. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams per day. 

Varieties

There are countless ways to make risotto. A basic recipe made with chicken stock, parmesan cheese, and white wine can be a savory side dish to can accompany foods such as seafood, poultry, or meat. You can also add ingredients to make it a complete meal.

Consider adding any of these ingredients to a basic risotto recipe:

When It’s Best

Most of the ingredients used to make risotto are available year-round in most grocery stores. For example, you'll find arborio rice, parmesan cheese, cream, and white wine available in almost all supermarkets at any time of year. Additions like shrimp, button mushrooms, or chicken breast are also widely available.

Other popular ingredients are best when purchased in season. For example, asparagus is usually best in the spring. Morel mushrooms are another popular ingredient that you'll find only in the spring. And butternut squash, which can add more creaminess to risotto, is best in the fall.

Storage and Food Safety

Arborio rice can be stored for up to a year when kept in an airtight container and stored in a cool dry place such as a pantry. Rice can also be frozen to preserve it's shelf-life. Once a package is opened, some experts say that you should refrigerate rice for up to six months. Once the rice has been cooked, it can stay fresh for 4–6 days if kept in the refrigerator. You can also freeze cooked rice for up to six months.

Parmesan cheese will stay fresh for up to 12 months when stored in the refrigerator. Other ingredients in risotto are not likely to stay fresh as long. The shelf life of chicken or vegetable stock varies significantly. Bouillon cubes, for example, are good for up to a year. But fresh stock is only likely to stay fresh for about seven days when kept in the fridge. You can freeze stock, however, for two to three months.

Once you've prepared risotto, you should eat it right away, or store it in the refrigerator. Popular ingredients such as asparagus and cream only last a few days.

How to Prepare

Risotto can be intimidating for new cooks because it requires some patience and not all of the ingredients and techniques used to cook it may be familiar. But risotto is hard to mess up and substitutions are relatively easy.

To make a basic recipe, you'll want to start by warming the stock that you'll be using to thicken the rice. Place your stock in a sauce pan and heat. Let it simmer while you prepare the rice. Next, sauté diced onions or shallots in butter or olive oil. When the onion is soft, add the arborio rice and stir for about 2–3 minutes until the grains begin to get translucent. Be careful not to brown the grains.

Next you'll add about a half cup of warm stock or dry white table wine. Stir until it the liquid is absorbed, then add another cup or so of stock. Again, stir until it is absorbed and then add more stock. Continue this process until the rice gets creamy and you've reached your desired consistency. It can take 30–45 minutes.

Remove the dish from the heat and add grated parmesan cheese, along with a small amount of butter or cream. This is also when you'll want to stir in your favorite additions—but these will need to be cooked in advance.

If you don't have arborio rice handy, you can use other grains. For example, some people make risotto using barley, farro, basmati rice, or long-grain white rice. You may have a harder time getting a creamy texture with these substitutions. If you don't have parmesan cheese, consider using pecorino romano, fontina, or gruyere.

Recipes

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