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Is Risotto Healthy? Nutrition, Calories and Carbohydrates
Nutrition

Is Risotto Healthy? Nutrition, Calories and Carbohydrates

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on 2022 September 20
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8 min

Risotto, such as the fan-favorite mushroom risotto, is a beloved Arborio rice entree with a creamy stock that is cooked slowly on the stove. However, is this delectable dish good for you?

is risotto healthy
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While many interpret starches, including rice-based dishes such as risotto, to be bad for you because of the carbohydrate content, there are pros and cons to this popular dish that should be considered when deciding to eat it.

In this article, we will break down the health benefits, health risks, and nutritional information for risotto. Read on to learn more!

Is Risotto Healthy?

Risotto is not quite healthy because it is very high in sodium and carbohydrates.

Excessive sodium intake can contribute to an increased risk for heart disease, including high blood pressure. Also, high amounts of carbohydrates that are not burned or used for energy can cause undesirable weight gain or obesity.

5 Risotto Health Benefits

While we have just established that risotto is unhealthy, it does have some small benefits to your health. Let’s talk about them!

#1 Significant source of calcium

Risotto is a creamy rice dish made from cream or some form of dairy that helps cook the rice along with the chicken, beef, or vegetable stock used and provides a creamy texture.

The cream contains calcium that works alongside vitamin D to support healthy and strong bones and teeth.

Additionally, according to the Mayo Clinic, calcium ensures your muscles, heart, and nervous system are functioning properly.

To add even more calcium to your risotto dish (along with many other vitamins and minerals), add some broccoli, kale, or spinach.

#2 Contains some dietary fiber

Another benefit is that risotto contains some dietary fiber from the rice called Arborio. A 100g serving of risotto contains about 1.5g of fiber.

Fiber supports a healthy digestive system and can even promote healthy blood sugar control and lower cholesterol levels.

According to the Mayo Clinic, men and women aged 50 and older should consume 30 grams and 21 grams of dietary fiber per day, respectively. On the other hand, men and women under 50 years old should consume 38 grams and 25 grams per day, respectively.

Similar to the first health benefit, adding more vegetables to the dish or pairing it with a side salad would increase the dietary fiber in your meal.

Of course, substituting brown rice for Arborio rice would bulk up the dietary fiber so much more – check out the easy healthy recipe below!

#3 Provides vitamins and minerals from the rice

When making traditional risotto, typically, the rice used is Arborio rice. However, other common choices are carnaroli rice and vialone nano rice, among others. 

These kinds of rice are typically refined grains of rice absent of the whole grain.

Arborio rice is a type of white rice that does provide some nutrition despite the bad rep they get. They contain B vitamins, such as niacin and thiamin, as well as minerals, such as manganese and more.

#4 Very versatile

A major benefit of risotto is also its versatility to be used as an entree or side dish, and you could add endless combinations of ingredients to make it more unique (and more nutritious!).

The best part about risotto is that you can easily add other healthy ingredients that are filling and tasty.

Of course, it is best to add fruits, such as tomatoes or squash, vegetables, such as carrots or broccoli, and lean meats, such as chicken or turkey, to your risotto.

Adding in fruits and vegetables (such as making a delicious mushroom risotto!) will increase the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant composition of the meal or side dish.

Finally, adding a lean meat source can increase the protein content.

#5 Filling and satisfying

Lastly, a benefit of risotto is that it is filling and satisfying to eat. The combination of fiber and protein from the rice (even more so with brown or whole wheat rice options!), along with the fat content from the cream or milk, is the perfect pairing for a satiating meal.

Similar to the previous point, more fiber from extra fruits and vegetables can make you feel even more full after the meal. 

Not only do you feel full after eating, but the fiber, protein, and fat combination also help you stay full throughout the day, fueling you all the way up until your next meal. 

With a hearty risotto, you can guarantee that even just a small serving can satisfy your craving.

Risotto Nutrition Facts

Let’s dive into the nutritional information for a serving of risotto made with Arborio rice. 

Nutritional table (per 100g)

Calories/Nutrient (per 100g)Amount
Calories (kcal)157
Sodium (mg)1,430
Net Carbs (g)109
Fiber (g)1.4
Sugar (g)1.43
Fats (Total)1.43
Protein (g)12.9
Cholesterol (mg)0

Source: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/777970/nutrients 

Low in calories and fats

Risotto is relatively low in calories and very low in fat, especially compared to other starchy entrees or side dishes with a similarly creamy texture, such as mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese.

A 100g serving, which is approximately half of a cup of risotto, contains only 157 calories and 1.43g of fat.

While risotto is low in calories, it is also relatively low in nutrition, such as vitamins and minerals. It may be worth increasing the calories slightly by adding whole-grain starch to the rice, such as brown rice, to increase the nutrition and benefits greatly.

Additionally, risotto is often made with a very small amount of olive oil, which can add some fat. However, this is monounsaturated fat, which is healthier than saturated fat.

High in protein

The rice in risotto also adds some dietary protein with about 13g in a 100g serving.

Protein is essential in our diets to support muscle growth, repair, and development, as well as plays a role in every chemical reaction in the body.

High in carbohydrates

Since rice is a starch, risotto is high in carbohydrates, with over 100g of carbohydrates per 100g serving of risotto.

While carbs do provide the body with energy and fuel to operate, too many carbohydrates that are not burned can be stored in the body as fat and contribute to weight gain.

High in sodium

A 100g serving of risotto, which is approximately half of a cup, contains a whopping 1,430mg of sodium.

The sodium in risotto often comes from the vegetable or chicken stock the Arborio rice is simmered in.

The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2,300mg of sodium per day. However, it is even better to consume no more than 1,500mg.

Therefore, a single one-cup portion of risotto has practically the entire day’s worth of sodium! Also, many would likely not be full with just one serving; therefore, the sodium can add up even more.

Someone who consumes a diet high in sodium is at an increased risk for heart disease, including high blood pressure or hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. It can also contribute to heart failure, kidney disease, and other comorbidities, according to the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

Below we will discuss some ways to make your risotto healthier, including decreasing the sodium content. So, read on to learn more!

Healthy Risotto Recipe

Let’s talk about how to make risotto with some healthy, nutritious, and tasty modifications! 

Ingredients: 

  •  ¼ low sodium or no salt added chicken or vegetable stock
  •  4 cups water
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 2 minced cloves of garlic
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups short-grain brown rice
  • ¼ cup white wine (optional)
  • 3 cups chopped vegetables of your choice
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese (optional)

Instructions:

1. Start with low-sodium (or even better, a “No Salt Added”) chicken or vegetable stock. Add the water and the stock to a pot and bring to a boil.

2. Once it boils, simmer for a few minutes and cover the pot with a lid. Prepare a skillet with the extra virgin olive oil (high in healthy fats!) and add chopped onion, minced garlic, and some black pepper to taste.

3. Add in the short-grain brown rice and stir for a few minutes. Now, slowly pour in small amounts of the simmered stock and let it completely absorb before adding more. Repeat until the rice is tender.

Short-grain brown rice is a great alternative to refined Arborio rice to create a main dish that is healthy and still has that creamy texture. 

4. Slowly add white wine. The white wine can add a bit of acidity to the dish and add depth to the flavor. 

Note: White wine is optional.

5. Mix in some deliciously cooked vegetables of your choice, such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms, to your cooked rice.

While there is no problem with eating plain risotto, adding vegetables and lean meats can improve nutrition and make it more satisfying to eat. Try mushroom risotto topped with parmesan cheese.

You could also substitute the parmesan cheese with nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is a health product that has flakes rich in protein, vitamin B12, and more. It is vegan and vegetarian yet tastes of cheddar and parmesan cheese!

Voila! You have made a tasty and delicious risotto.

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FAQs

Is risotto good or bad for you?

Risotto is bad for you because, while it does have some health benefits, it is extremely high in sodium and carbohydrates. Less than half of a cup of risotto already has more than the ideal amount of sodium for an entire day.

What is the risotto serving size?

A serving of rice, including risotto which is a rice-based dish, is one-third of a cup, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A 100g serving above is about half a cup, for reference.

Is risotto fattening?

While risotto is very low in fat, including saturated fat, it is very high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential in the diet for energy, but excess consumption of carbs can lead to weight gain and obesity.

A Word From a Nutritionist

Overall, risotto is a tasty rice dish many enjoy paired with meat and veggies. However, if you are interested in eating risotto, there are some ways to make it even healthier for you.

If you have risotto, it is best to make your own at home to be able to control exactly how much sodium it contains. Opt for a low-sodium or no-salt-added stock to reduce the sodium content.

Be careful with how much salt you add yourself, as it can quickly add up and overpower the dish. Additionally, substituting the white rice with whole-grain brown rice will significantly bulk up the fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Finally, pair your risotto with a plate full of fruits and vegetables, such as mushrooms for mushroom risotto, and a side of lean protein.

A hearty risotto rich in whole grains, dietary fiber, lean protein, and healthy fats will lead to feeling full and satisfied all day long.

Conclusion

In conclusion, risotto is a starch dish high in sodium and carbohydrates that should only be consumed in moderation. The sodium content is from the stock used to simmer the rice.

Also, rice provides a lot of carbohydrates that can cause weight gain if consumed in excess. While the rice itself does have some nutrition, whole-wheat rice will provide much more for the number of carbohydrates.

Eating risotto plain and by itself does have some amounts of dietary protein but should still be paired with meat, fish, poultry, or a vegetarian meat alternative, such as tofu. Stick with lean meat to reduce saturated fat consumption.

While risotto itself is mostly salt and carbohydrates, if you make some substitutions to your homemade risotto, such as making mushroom risotto with brown instead of Arborio rice, it can be a more nutritious and balanced meal or side dish.

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed byRosmy Barrios, MD
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