Just about every cuisine includes its own version of meatballs, but most of us picture them Italian style, smothered with tomato sauce on a bed of spaghetti. Meatballs and fat often go hand in hand. But, they are also a good source of protein. Enjoy meatballs in moderation.
Meatballs are often high in sodium and fat, but they are also a good source of protein. Choose meatballs made with leaner meats or eat them in moderation.
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Meatball Calories, Fat and Protein
According to the USDA, 3 ounce serving contains 243 meatball calories and a significant 18.9 grams of fat. In fact, 30 percent of the calories in meatballs comes from fat. Of that total, 6.5 grams are saturated fat — the kind that can increase your risk of heart disease, according to Mayo Clinic.
Meatballs are not all bad. Meatballs typically contain a high proportion of beef, and beef is a rich source of high-quality protein containing all of the essential amino acids, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Protein is essential for growth and development, boosts bone health, contributes to healthy gastrointestinal functioning and assists with cell signaling.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, men should consume at least 56 grams of protein per day, while women need 46 grams. A 3 ounce serving of meatballs provides 12.2 grams of protein.
Watch the Sodium
Most Americans consume more sodium than is good for them. The 566 mg of sodium in that 3 ounce meatball serving comprises a substantial proportion of the 2,300 mg that the American Heart Association has declared as the upper daily sodium limit for healthy adults. If you've got high blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease, that recommendation drops to 1,500 milligrams.
Although sodium is essential for the normal functioning of the human body, high amounts have been linked with hypertension, strokes, kidney disease and heart attacks. If you do eat meatballs, stay away from the salt shaker and avoid other processed foods that day.
Mind the Micros
The beef in meatballs also is a rich source of micronutrients, particularly zinc, iron and vitamin B12. According to the National Institutes of Health, zinc is a potent antioxidant involved in DNA repair and replication. The recommended daily amount for zinc is 8 milligrams for women and 11 milligrams for men. A 3 ounce serving of meatballs contains 1.41 milligrams of this mineral.
The same serving of meatballs contains 1.5 milligrams of iron. This mineral is necessary for oxygen transport and storage. According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily amount of iron is 8 milligrams for men and 18 milligrams for women.
Vitamin B12 is important for health of nerve and blood cells, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Adults should have 2.4 micrograms of this nutrient daily. A serving of meatballs provides 0.85 micrograms.
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Vitamin B12"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Meatballs, Frozen, Italian Style"
- American Heart Association: "How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day?"
- National Institutes of Health: "Iron"
- National Institutes of Health: "Zinc"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose"
- FDA: "Protein"
- National Academies of Sciences: "Macronutrients"