Although I’m not a huge meat eater, I’m Italian and love making healthy baked meatballs. First of all, they are amazing with the right marinara sauce and pasta – always a crowd-pleaser!
But baked meatballs don’t just add deliciously hearty flavor to pasta – they also can make pasta healthier (see #5 below)…
How to Make Healthy Meatballs with Pasta
As a cardiologist and anti-aging doctor, I’ve seen the dark sides of both pasta and meat. But it’s not all or nothing with these foods – moderation and smart choices are the name of the game. You can still indulge in Italian comfort food without compromising your health by following these 7 essential rules:
1. Eat meat in moderation.
Stick to the 80/20 rule; that is, make 80 percent of what you eat fresh veggies and fruits, legumes, olive oil, avocados, nuts and even some whole grains. Limit meat and other animal protein to about 20 percent. Instead of eating a whole bowl of meatballs, limit yourself to 1-1.5 large meatballs or 3-5 small ones.
2. Go with grass-fed or organic beef or bison.
Whenever possible, choose locally raised, grass-fed, or organic beef over conventionally produced meats to get a cleaner, more natural product that has not been produced with added hormones and preventative antibiotics. The meat is more nutritious and a bit leaner, and I also think it tastes better.
3. Bake meatballs in the oven at a medium temp, don’t fry them.
When you fry meatballs on the stove at a high temp, it’s hard to know exactly how hot the oil is getting. This is important because you don’t want to reach or exceed the oil’s smoke point (the point at which it oxidizes and generates free radicals). Since the smoke point of olive oil is about 400 degrees F, baking the meatballs in the oven at 350 degrees F, then, is a safer bet than frying them on the stove.
The secret to amazing Italian meatballs is the tomato sauce. Tomato sauce, itself, contains potent antioxidant nutrients that are great for the body. To get the best nutritional bang for your buck, go with a high quality sauce…One that is made with only the purest, most natural and unrefined ingredients, and doesn’t contain too much salt or any added sugars. Choose an organic sauce to avoid pesticides.
I like a high vibrational sauce, one that is bright red in color and offers flavors that are fresh, vibrant, and 100 percent natural, not masked by refined sugar. I couldn’t find a sauce on the market that met all these ideals, so I created my own organic tomato sauces – a marinara and an arrabbiata.
5. Limit pasta portion size.
If you’re eating traditional, high-carb, white pasta, limit yourself to about a cup of cooked pasta (an appetizer portion, if you will). White flour pasta is carb-heavy and can cause insulin levels to spike if you eat too much of it in one sitting.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of eating in a way that prevents excess insulin from flooding our bloodstreams. When there’s too much insulin in the blood too often, it sets the stage for weight gain and health problems. Limiting pasta portion size and adding protein-rich meat will help keep blood sugar and insulin levels in a healthy zone. If you don’t eat meat, add white beans or cheese for added protein.
Of course there are times when you might just feel like having a bigger bowl of pasta (I know I do – having grown up in an Italian family, I am virtually programmed to love pasta!). So when the pasta craving strikes…
6. Have a high-protein pasta instead of high-carb white pasta.
Look for one that offers enough protein to balance the carbs and supports a healthy blood sugar response. My favorites are organic red lentil and chickpea pastas, which are naturally high in protein (11+ grams of protein per serving) and also contribute healthy fiber to the meal. With any pasta (especially wheat-based), I recommend organic varieties to avoid toxic herbicides like glyphosate.
Now, if you’re going with a small portion of regular high-carb pasta, you probably won’t be satisfied with just one cup with 3 or 4 little healthy meatballs when you’re hungry. Hence this last rule…
7. Fill up on lots of veggies and healthy fats.
Think steamed veggies finished with a little salt and a generous drizzle of olive oil. I’m a huge fan of cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts because they are packed with powerful cancer-fighting nutrients, but green beans and even celery are good too.
Or, go with a big leafy green salad, preferably a spinach or arugula salad, with a homemade olive oil-based dressing. For a heartier salad, add avocado or walnuts. I also love red pepper, red onion, celery, cucumbers and even apples.
Healthy, Baked Meatball Recipe
Ready to make some delicious and healthy meatballs? I forgot to mention, these baked meatballs are also gluten-free (if you feel lost without gluten, then just substitute regular bread crumbs for the oat flour).
Baked Meatball Ingredients:
- 1 lb grass fed or organic beef or bison
- ½ medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 to 3 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup oat flour (you can make this by pulsing rolled oats in blender until a grainy powder)
- 1 large organic / free range egg
- 1/3 cup of organic milk
- 2 tsp Italian Seasoning & Dipping Blend
- ½ tsp Salt Blend
- 1 tsp Pepper Blend
- 1 jar Organic Marinara Sauce
- 1 box pasta, preferably organic red lentil or chickpea pasta
- Flavored olive oil: rosemary, basil, or garlic.
How to Make Baked Meatballs:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the egg and milk together, then add in the garlic, parsley, onion, oat flour, Italian Seasoning, salt and pepper and mix well. Crumble in the ground beef and mix together well (with a fork or your clean hands).
Grease a baking pan with some olive oil. Shape the meat mixture into 1” balls and place them on the baking sheet, leaving a little bit of space in between each one. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
Make the pasta according to the directions on the box or bag, and heat the sauce in a medium saucepan. When the meatballs are done, add them into the sauce.
Serve the meatballs over the pasta, then finish with a drizzle of flavored olive oil.
More Healthy Pasta Tips
Want lots more tips on how to make pasta a part of a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet? Download my free Pasta Diet Ebook.
Here are some other healthy comfort food recipes – I hope you like them!:
- Meatloaf (gluten-free)
- Mediterranean Pasta Salad (Vegetarian with Vegan version)
- Mediterranean Chicken Lentil Pasta
- Shrimp Fra Diavolo
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From my heart to yours,
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