Are Meatballs Good for You?

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 have both nutritional benefits and deficits. Though they often are high in fat and sodium, meatballs also provide minerals, vitamins and protein. Enjoy meatballs in moderation.

A pan with meatballs in a tomato sauce. (Image: OlgaMiltsova/iStock/Getty Images)

High Fat Concerns

A six-meatball serving of a popular brand of meatballs weighs in at 3.2 oz., 230 calories and 15 grams of fat. That 15-gram fat content is too excessive for meatballs to be a regular part of your diet. Fully 58.7 percent of the calories in meatballs comes from fat. That precludes meatballs from membership in the category of foods that the USDA’s "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" refers to as “nutrient-dense” — those with relatively few calories, high nutritive value and minimal amounts of added or natural fats. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" recommends that the majority of the foods you eat be in their nutrient-dense forms.

Too Much Sodium

Most Americans consume more sodium than is good for them. The 680 mg of sodium in that six-meatball serving comprises a substantial proportion of the 1,500 mg that the American Heart Association has declared as the upper sodium limit for good health. 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.

High-Quality Protein

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 researchers from the School of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at the University of Surrey, protein regulates body composition, boosts bone health, contributes to healthy gastrointestinal functioning and assists with cell signaling.

Meatball Micronutrients

The beef in meatballs also is a rich source of micronutrients, particularly zinc, iron and vitamin B12. Zinc deficiencies occur in up to 12 percent of all Americans and in almost 50 percent of those over 65, according to Emily Ho of the Linus Pauling Institute. Zinc is a potent antioxidant involved in DNA repair and replication. Vitamin B12 may help protect against cardiovascular disease. Vitamin B12 deficiencies are also relatively common, affecting between 10 and 15 percent of Americans over 60, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Iron is necessary for oxygen transport and storage. Infants, children, adolescents, pregnant women and vegetarians are among the populations that are vulnerable to iron deficiencies.

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