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Is Meatloaf Healthy? Nutrition, Calories, Ingredients
Nutrition

Is Meatloaf Healthy? Nutrition, Calories, Ingredients

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on 2022 August 29
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9 min

Meatloaf is a popular comfort food in the U.S. As many people enjoy eating this dish regularly, it’s worth investigating its place in a healthy diet. In this article, we review the nutritional content of meatloaf, how healthy it is, and how to add it to your eating plan.

is meatloaf healthy

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If you want to improve your overall health, your diet is the first place to look. Multiple diets flooding the health and wellness industry can often cloud our judgment on what constitutes simple, healthy food.

While limiting certain foods and counting calories are good weight loss strategies, sometimes turning the spotlight on our favorite recipes is a good place to start. It’s possible that your usual home cooking isn’t supporting your journey to optimal health.

With that in mind, we’re casting our eyes on a much-loved dish – meatloaf. Keep reading as we discuss classic meatloaf’s ingredients and nutrition facts to conclude whether it makes a positive or negative addition to your diet.

What Is Meatloaf?

It is a meat dish typically made with ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, onions, and seasonings, then shaped using a loaf pan and baked. It is often served with other comforting side dishes, such as mashed potatoes and gravy.

A traditional homemade meatloaf has a ketchup-based topping. It is typically served hot, but many people enjoy cold meatloaf leftovers alone or in sandwiches the following day. You can find meatloaf served in diners and restaurants and buy premade meatloaf from the store.

As meatloaf recipes vary, the ingredients and nutrients differ. Therefore, some meatloaf varieties are healthier than others.

Is Meatloaf Healthy?

In most cases, no, meatloaf is not healthy. How healthy meatloaf is exactly depends on the recipe and serving size. Store-bought meatloaf and those served in eateries use delicious recipes. The trouble is that most of these recipes tend to have high levels of sodium, saturated fat, and calories.

Fortunately, there are ways to make healthy meatloaf that fits into a balanced diet.

The ingredients are key in determining how healthy a slice of meatloaf is. Although meatloaf is a high-calorie food, it does contain vitamins and minerals, including calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and D.

Classic meatloaf is made using red meats like ground beef and pork. Red meat is an excellent source of protein and other essential nutrients, including iron and zinc.

Iron from meat is considered an essential dietary element. Iron is an important mineral necessary for your body’s growth and development. It is responsible for making hemoglobin – the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen through the body.

Without enough hemoglobin, you can develop health conditions like anemia (low hemoglobin), which leaves you feeling excessively tired. You may need to increase hemoglobin with more iron-rich foods and supplementation.

While it has benefits, eating too much red meat can harm your health. High consumption of red meat, particularly processed meat, is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Meatloaf is an excellent source of protein, with 26.6g per 100g serving. Getting enough protein in your diet provides energy and supports your body with cellular repair, muscle building, and muscle recovery.

Protein aids weight loss by promoting satiety, supporting healthy metabolism, and helping you lose fat without losing muscle. Although protein is part of a balanced diet, you should still be mindful of how much meatloaf you eat. Eating protein in excess can lead to weight gain.

Meatloaf contains fats. While fat is an essential macronutrient that our bodies need to function properly, too much-saturated fat in the diet can raise LDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

The keto diet prioritizes high-fat foods, but meatloaf is not keto-friendly because it contains too many net carbs. Many recipes add unhealthy ingredients like sugar and extra salt that can stop you from getting into ketosis.

So, if you want to achieve weight loss with keto, it’s best to avoid or limit your intake of meatloaf and eat enough fat from healthier sources.

What Ingredients Does Meatloaf Contain?

Classic meatloaf consists of some key ingredients, but you can easily change your usual meatloaf mixture for a more healthy meatloaf recipe. The main components are the meat mixture, bread crumbs, and your choice of vegetables.

Meatloaf ingredients in the average recipe include:

  • Meat mixture: Meats may include ground beef, ground sirloin, ground pork, ground veal, and Italian sausage. Alternative meatloaf recipes may use ground chicken or ground turkey.
  • Bread crumbs
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables such as yellow onion, carrots, celery, red pepper, and bell peppers
  • Ketchup
  • Brown sugar
  • Additional ingredients and seasonings: Salt, freshly ground black pepper, dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, garlic, and herbs

Meatloaf Nutrition Facts

When assessing how healthy a particular food or dish is, you must review the nutritional content. If purchasing store-bought meatloaf, checking the nutritional label is critical to determining if you are going to consume healthy meatloaf.

A good meatloaf recipe has a handful of health benefits. For example, a 100g serving has:

  • 1.27mg iron
  • 35mg calcium
  • 442IU vitamin A

Let’s look at the nutrition facts of classic, homemade meatloaf per 100g serving.

Nutritional table (per 100g)

Calories/Nutrient (per 100g)Amount 
Calories (kcal)301
Sodium (mg)372
Net Carbs (g)3.56
Fiber (g)4.4
Sugar (g)0
Fats (Total)18.6
Protein (g)26.6
Cholesterol (mg)0

High in calories

Most meatloaf recipes are high in calories. A 100g serving of meatloaf has 301 calories. Most of the calorie count comes from the meat in the meatloaf mixture. Red meat tends to have more fat, and ground beef and pork have a lot of calories.

You can reduce the number of calories in your homemade meatloaf by choosing leaner meat sources, like lean ground beef. You can also substitute red meat with lean ground turkey and chicken with reduced fat.

Certain ingredients like ketchup are often high in sugars. A popular meatloaf recipe often contains brown sugar, too. Sugar is high in empty calories. That means it racks up the calorie content without providing any nutritional benefit.

Eliminating sugar and ketchup from your meatloaf recipe can reduce the calorie count. For a healthier option, you can use tomato paste instead to add flavor and help retain moisture in the whole loaf.

Monitoring your daily caloric intake is important to keep healthy, maintain, or lose weight. Weight loss requires you to achieve a successful calorie deficit where you burn more calories than you take in. You will struggle to create a calorie deficit if you regularly eat high-calorie foods like meatloaf.

A moderate amount of carbohydrates

Meatloaf has a fair amount of total carbs and net carbs. Meatloaf does not match a low-carb diet or ketogenic diet because it is not a low-carb food. Reducing your carbohydrate intake helps your body tap into fat stores, which speeds up fat-burning and helps you lose weight.

Many dieters prefer to cut back on carbs to encourage weight loss. However, a healthy diet doesn’t necessarily mean restricting your intake. It depends on your personal goals and what you want to achieve. To boost your health by entering and staying in ketosis, you should avoid eating meatloaf.

According to dietary guidelines, a healthy adult can take 45–65% of total daily calories from carbohydrates. That’s about 225–325g of carbohydrates per day.

High in fats

Meatloaf has a fair amount of fat, with 18.6g of total fat and 6.19g of saturated fats in a 100g portion. Dietary fats do have health benefits, but you must be mindful about eating good and bad fats.

Again, you can create a healthy meatloaf recipe and reduce the fat content by selecting lean ground beef and poultry for your meat mixture. Poultry is considered more heart-healthy than ground beef and pork.

Lots of recipes use milk to retain moisture. Another way to cut down is by swapping whole milk for skim or nonfat milk. If you want to lose weight, you should choose the best milk for weight loss to go in your recipe.

Low in cholesterol

Classic meatloaf has zero cholesterol. A diet that is entirely free from cholesterol is not healthy. However, a low cholesterol diet can help lower cholesterol in people with high levels.

With high LDL cholesterol levels (the bad kind), fatty deposits can develop within your blood vessels. This makes blood flow difficult and can lead to heart attack and stroke. It is critical to take steps to reduce high cholesterol to keep your health in check.

You can lower your levels by eating a nutritious diet with less saturated and trans fats and increasing your soluble fiber intake. Aerobic exercise can also reduce total cholesterol and coronary artery disease risk. You could try swimming or running.

Healthy Recipe for Meatloaf

So, meatloaf isn’t the most healthful dish, but you can improve its nutritional value with a few simple changes when you make it at home. All you need to do is slash the sodium, fat, and calories. Don’t worry; healthy meatloaf can be just as tasty!

See our healthy meatloaf recipe below. 

Ingredients (1 serving):

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, diced
  • 0.5 cup of diced onion (yellow onion for sweetness)
  • 0.5 tsp of minced garlic
  • 1lb of extra-lean ground beef
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs (you can use gluten-free oats instead of breadcrumbs for a gluten-free option or almond flour as a substitute)
  • 3/4 cup of shredded carrot
  • 3/4 cup of shredded zucchini
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup of tomato paste or homemade sugar-free ketchup

Cut the salt entirely (including Worcestershire sauce which is high in sodium) and add your favorite herbs, such as basil, sage, thyme, parsley, and chives for delicious flavors.

You can also add spices if you prefer a kick. For extra ingredients that give your meatloaf recipe a super-healthy boost, try adding chia seeds or sunflower seeds.

Directions:

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 400ºF and add cooking spray to your loaf pan. Alternatively, you can line the pan with parchment paper.

Step 2

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and pepper to the skillet and cook until the pepper softens and the onion becomes translucent (approximately 5–10 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for another 1–2 minutes before removing the skillet from the heat.

Step 3

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, eggs, bread crumbs, carrot, and zucchini. Add the mixture from the skillet to the bowl and add some freshly ground black pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly and press the meat mix neatly into the loaf pan.

Step 4

Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake in the center for 35–40 minutes until the meat is no longer pink. A thermometer should read at least 160ºF.

FAQs

Is meatloaf good or bad for you?

Meatloaf is not a particularly healthy dish. The heavy combination of ground fatty meats, bread crumbs, and sugar-rich ketchup makes meatloaf a high-calorie, high-fat food with too much sodium and sugar. However, you can make your own healthy meatloaf.

Is meatloaf high in sodium?

Generally speaking, yes, meatloaf is high in sodium. One serving or a slice of meatloaf can have as much as 400mg of sodium. To moderate your sodium intake, you should make this comforting dish at home using a healthy meatloaf recipe that limits or eliminates sodium.

How long should meatloaf cook?

Meatloaf is typically cooked for around 40 minutes in the oven at a high temperature. You should cook it until the meat is no longer pink in the middle. Use a thermometer and check the internal temperature, ensuring your meatloaf is piping hot through.

A Word From a Nutritionist

Meatloaf is a classic dish and many people’s favorite. Although it is regularly consumed in the U.S., meatloaf is not the most healthy meal. When served in diners and restaurants, it tends to have a high amount of fats, sodium, sugar, and calories.

Despite its reputation as a high-calorie meal, you can turn meatloaf into a lower-calorie, more nutritious option. It is easy to make at home following a healthy meatloaf recipe. With a handful of ingredient swaps, you can enjoy this food without worrying about the calories.

As most of the fat comes from the choice of meat, selecting leaner meat reduces its fat content. Fattier cuts of meat add excess calories to your diet you don’t need. Additionally, high-fat processed meats are linked with an increased risk of cancer.

The possible health benefits of eating meatloaf come from protein and iron. Adequate dietary protein is vital for growth, development, muscle repair, and maintaining lean body mass. Iron is critical for making red blood cells and transporting oxygen.

Remember, you don’t need to finish the whole loaf in one sitting. You can extend the shelf life of meatloaf by wrapping it securely in plastic wrap or wax paper and storing it in the freezer.

Conclusion

Meatloaf can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, but you should limit your consumption of meatloaf that is high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fats. The best solution for transforming this heavy, hearty food into a nutritious meal is by making it at home.

You can get plenty of protein and iron from eating meatloaf. Remember – even with a healthy meatloaf recipe, this food contains a fair amount of calories. You can safely enjoy a slice of meatloaf for dinner on occasion, just don’t eat the entire loaf!

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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