Is Meat Loaf Healthy?

Meatloaf is a classic comfort food, and there are many ways to make it healthier.
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Meatloaf, aka meat loaf, is a classic homestyle main dish traditionally made with ground beef or a mix of ground beef and pork, held together with eggs, ketchup and oatmeal or breadcrumbs.

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Frozen, store-bought meatloaf and the meatloaf that's served in restaurants are usually too high in sodium and saturated fat to be considered healthy. However, a few easy ingredient swaps can transform this comforting high-protein dish into a tastier, more nutritious choice if you make it at home. Read on for some how-tos.

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Lower the Fat

A slice of Betty Crocker's classic home-style meatloaf contains 270 calories and has 12 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of which are the unhealthy saturated variety. The recipe specifies 80 percent lean beef. You can easily lower the level of red-meat fat in your homemade meatloaf by using 90 percent lean beef, or by replacing some or all of the ground beef or pork with ground chicken or turkey. The American Heart Association recognizes both types of poultry as being more heart-healthy than pork and beef, which are considered high in "bad fat."

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"Stretching" the meat by replacing some of it with uncooked rolled or steel-cut oats is another way to lower unhealthy fat and boost meatloaf nutrition. Many meatloaf recipes already use oats as an ingredient because they help the loaf keep its shape, but oats also bring a multitude of health benefits. They are a source of good-for-you unsaturated fat; per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, oats also contain beta-glucan fiber, which "may help to prevent sharp rises in blood sugar and insulin levels after eating a meal, and may benefit gut health."

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Using fat-free instead of whole milk to moisten your meatloaf will also shave off some of the fat.

Slash the Salt

Restaurant and frozen versions of meatloaf are often loaded with sodium, with a single slice containing about a quarter of the daily sodium recommended for adults by the Centers for Disease Control. You can reduce homemade meatloaf's sodium content by omitting the added salt entirely and replacing it with a salt substitute, and/or by adding your favorite herbs and spices to taste. Dijon mustard, basil, garlic, celery, sage, thyme, paprika, parsley and chives are all common — and tasty — choices.

Reduce the Sugar

Many meatloaf recipes call for a glaze made with ketchup and brown sugar. By skipping the sugar and topping your loaf with store-bought or homemade sugar-free ketchup, you can lower your meatloaf's glycemic index. Two tablespoons of Heinz ketchup, for example, contains 8 grams of sugar. (It also contains 320 milligrams of sodium, so making your own will help reduce your meatloaf's salt levels, too.)

Classic meatloaf gets some of its sweet taste from yellow onion. Including other diced or grated fruits or vegetables is another way to add sweetness — plus fiber, vitamins, minerals and moisture — to your loaf. Try green or red pepper, grated beets, grated carrots or even a handful of raisins.

Cut the Calories

Order a large slice of meatloaf in a restaurant, and you could wind up consuming almost 500 calories before you even touch the side dishes served with it. Seasonings, diced vegetables, the egg, the milk and the breadcrumbs (or oatmeal) don't add much in the way of calories. When it comes to calorie count, it's mostly all about the meat.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, one pound of 80 percent lean ground beef contains 1,152 calories, which makes a 4-ounce serving of meatloaf roughly 350 calories, depending on the extras that are in your meatloaf mix. By contrast, a 4-ounce slice of meatloaf made with 90 percent lean ground beef is about 225 calories, and 4 ounces of meatloaf made with ground turkey has about 255. Use a leaner meat and watch your serving size, and you can both enjoy some cozy meatloaf and stay within your recommended calories for the day .

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