Are you tempted to have some lamb chops for dinner tonight but wondering about its health risks? Lamb meat is known for its soft, tender, meaty texture, and rich velvety taste worldwide.
When consumed in moderation, organic and grass-fed lamb meat can prove to be an amazing protein source that offers a wide range of concentrated and health-boosting nutrients. Having said that, you must be aware of the impact of lamb meat consumption on your health and the environment as well. In this article, we delve deeper into lamb nutrition, its health benefits, potential health, and environmental concerns, and a few recipes to get you started.
What Is Lamb?
Lamb refers to the meat of domesticated sheep less than a year old. Meat from sheep older than a year is known as mutton. Lamb meat is more tender and flavorful when compared to mutton.
Lamb is classified as red meat because of its rich red color due to the high presence of the protein myoglobin (1). Myoglobin with its iron-rich non-protein component “heme” is known to bind to oxygen in the striated meat muscles. The more the myoglobin, the richer, more dense red, the meat is. Other red meats usually consumed are beef, pork, and veal.
Raw lamb ranges in color from soft pink to deep red. The color of fresh lamb cuts looks clean and bright with some white fat running through or around it depending on the cut. On being completely cooked, lamb becomes a rich reddish-brown shade, or a pinkish hue at the center of the meat when it’s cooked until medium-rare.
Lamb has a rich, dense taste. Once it is well cooked, it is soft and tender and adds a gamey richness to the gravy. Lamb flavor can differ according to the meat cut you go for. It can range from being mildly savory to wild and gamey that might not be preferred by all. In case you are trying lamb for the first time, you might want to start with conventional, tastier cuts like rib or loin chops. You can also choose to opt for American lamb that tends to be milder in flavor than the New Zealand lamb.
Lamb is usually found as five basic cuts at the supermarket or grocery store. They are:
Legs and racks make for large lamb portions and are ideal choices for family dinners or large gatherings. Lamb cuts such as lean rib chops, loin chops, or riblets are better suited for individual portions. Rack/rib and loin cuts are usually more tender and tastier cuts of meat and hence, more expensive too. Shoulder or leg-cut portions might be cheaper and equally tender when cooked in the right way.
Lamb Nutrition Facts
Lamb is very nutrient-dense meat and an important source of protein, iron, and vitamins. As per the USDA, just 3 oz of cooked lamb meat contains more than 20gms of protein which is almost half the recommended daily intake for adults (2).
|Total Lipid (Fat)||16.7 g|
|Total Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA)||6.9 g|
|Total Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA)||7.07 g|
|Total Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA)||1.19 g|
|Vitamin B-12||12 µg|
|Vitamin B-6||0.14 mg|
Lamb being rich in protein is ideal for sportsmen and athletes and even for people following a low carb, moderate protein intake weight-loss diet (3). Apart from that, lamb is also a good source of important nutrients and minerals like calcium, zinc, and phosphorus that are important for your vital body functions, immune support, and bone health (4), (5). Lamb also contains a good portion of monounsaturated fatty acids that help reduce the levels of the bad “LDL” cholesterol preventing their buildup and associated risk of coronary heart disease and stroke (6).
Going further, let’s take a look at some of the key health benefits of lamb.
Health Benefits Of Lamb Meat
Lamb being nutrient-dense meat, provides us with certain important health benefits.
- Excellent Source Of Iron
As lamb is red meat, it is richer in iron as compared to chicken or fish (2). Additionally, lamb being an animal source of iron, contains the more easily absorbable heme iron as compared to the non-heme iron found in plants. Hence, lamb meat may potentially help improve and prevent iron deficiency and anemia symptoms (7).
- Immunity Booster
Lamb is a good source of immune-boosting zinc (2). Zinc is not only vital for your optimal immune health but also is instrumental in wound healing, DNA and protein synthesis, as well as growth and development in children. Your immune system tends to get weakened and doesn’t perform optimally when there’s a deficit of zinc. Lamb with its significant zinc content could potentially help balance the same keeping your immune system strong and functioning optimally (4), (8).
- Rich Source Of Healthy Fats
A significant portion of fat found in grass-fed lamb meat is rich in healthy fats. It is an important source of the beneficial
- Omega-3 fatty acids (9), (10)
- Monounsaturated fatty acids help reduce bad LDL cholesterol (11).
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that aids weight loss, improves lean muscle mass, and could potentially help prevent cancer as per a few animal studies (12), (13).
- Protein Powerhouse
Lamb is an important source of animal meat proteins. A 3 oz serving of cooked lamb meat contains over 21 grams of protein (2). Proteins are the building blocks of our body and are essential in the growth, build, and repair of our body tissues and muscles. Lamb meat provides you with all the essential nine amino acids fulfilling the protein requirements of your body (14).
If you want to add lamb to your diet and are concerned about its high saturated fat content, you should trim away the excess visible fat and use lean lamb meat each time. Let’s understand further if you should include lamb in your diet if you are looking to lose weight.
Weight Loss And Diets
Lamb is high in the natural trans-fat named conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Unlike synthetic trans-fats, these have actually been found to be beneficial in reducing body fat mass (15). In a study, obese people in the age group of 18-44 years, when given 3.2 g of CLA per day for 6 months, reported a reduction in body fat with no further weight gain unlike the group of placebo-administered individuals (16). With about 19 gm of CLA per gm of meat, lamb meat has a higher CLA content than pork or beef (17). Lamb lean meat can thus aid weight loss when consumed in moderation.
While lamb intake may seem beneficial with the above-mentioned insights, it is also important to understand the possible risks of the same.
Possible Risks Of Eating Lamb
Lamb, being red meat, comes with its share of health risks. Studies have found that a higher intake of red meat variants like lamb, beef, veal, pork, and mutton can increase your risk of chronic health issues like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. (18).
People who eat red meat regularly have been shown to have an increased risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, and a few others (19). Few other substances found in red meat might increase the potential cancer risk. One of these is heterocyclic amines. These are formed when meat is exposed to high heat and temperatures upon grilling, frying, baking, or barbeque (20).
Though more research is still warranted, given the above concerns, it is better to avoid overcooked and burned meat preparations. Hence, lamb exposed to and cooked under mild heat is preferably healthier and safe when consumed in moderation.
- High Cholesterol And Coronary Heart Disease
Frequent consumption of fatty portions of red and processed meat has been often linked with an increase in blood cholesterol levels. Lamb, when cooked and consumed, delivers almost equal amounts of monounsaturated and saturated fats. While the former helps lower blood cholesterol levels, saturated fatty acids can increase them (21). A high intake of saturated fat can increase the levels of low-density protein (LDL) or bad cholesterol in the body. LDL cholesterol tends to pile up in your arteries that might lead to clogged arteries and stroke (22).
While that is true, there are ways you can avoid that. Lamb might have saturated fat, but opting for a leaner cut of meat means you get less of it. Tenderloin, legs, or loin chops are good options for the same. Trimming off the excess fat lining the meat helps get rid of most of the visible fat (23), (24). Also cooking the meat in a healthy way like grilling, roasting, or baking with a drip tray beneath it makes sure the meat is as fat-free as possible.
- Food-borne Illnesses
You should handle raw lamb carefully and prepare it properly to avoid any chances of food-borne illnesses like E.coli infections or salmonellosis (25). Raw lamb should be kept refrigerated and away from other foods to avoid any cross-contamination. Make sure to wash your hands before and after handling raw red meat.
Ground lamb and patties along with other muscle-meat portions and organ meat like liver, kidney, and brain, etc. should be cooked to a minimum of 160℉ to make sure they’re safe to consume. You should cook the lamb steaks, roasts, and chops to a minimum temperature of 145℉ (as measured with a food thermometer) and allow it to rest for 3-5 minutes before consumption to ensure its safety.
Apart from the above concerns of lamb intake regarding your health, there are certain significant consequences of frequent lamb meat intake on the environment as well. Let’s take a look at what they are:
Impact On The Environment
While consumption of lamb and other meat products has been deemed essential as a vital source of nutrients (iron, protein, and vitamins), the environmental impact of the same is also glaringly clear. While raising livestock and animal husbandry adds significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, these also affect the water footprint, water pollution, and availability (26).
In light of the above effects of consuming lamb and other meats on human health as well as on the planet as a whole, it becomes imperative to bring about changes in our lifestyle and dietary habits. While meat provides and compensates for important nutrients, you should have it in moderation and be mindful of the amount consumed, for the betterment of your health as well as to reduce its effect on global environmental health (27).
Having understood that, let’s now see how you can include lamb in your diet with these easy-to-make lamb recipes.
One of the healthiest ways to cook lamb meat is to trim the excess fat and grill, boil, or roast it in the oven. Be careful not to overcook or burn the meat. Minced and ground lamb meat can be used to make lamb burgers, meatloaf, kebabs, or even stir-fries. Here, we have two amazing recipes to get you started.
1. Lamb Koftas
- Lamb mince – 500g
- Cumin powder – 1 teaspoon
- Coriander powder – 2 teaspoons
- Garlic cloves (crushed) -2
- Mint (chopped) – 2 tablespoons
- Oil for brushing
- Mix all the ingredients until well combined.
- Divide the mixture into eight balls, and roll each ball to an oval shape on a board with cupped hands.
- Thread the oval balls onto four metal skewers and apply oil with a brush.
- Heat a griddle pan until steaming hot. Keep the skewers on top and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side.
- Don’t turn them around repeatedly until the meat is well sealed.
- Season as per preference and serve with spiced yogurt and flatbreads.
2. Lamb Burger
- Jalapeño (deseeded, sliced lengthwise) – 1
- Red onion (medium, sliced)
- Garlic clove (peeled) – 1
- Lean lamb (minced) – 1 lb
- Lean beef (ground) – 1lb
- Raw aged sharp cheddar (small cubed) -½ cup
- Sea salt -½ teaspoon
- Cumin powder -½ teaspoon
- Chili powder -½ teaspoon
- Paprika (smoked) -¼ teaspoon
- Dried oregano -1 teaspoon
- Coconut oil -½ teaspoon
- In a food processor, pulse and finely chop the jalapeno, garlic, and onion.
- Add in the above mixture to minced lamb and ground beef in a large mixing bowl.
- Add in the cheese and spices.
- Combine everything well using your hands.
- Divide and form the mixture into 8 patties.
- Leave them in the refrigerator for 15–20 minutes to make them firm.
- Take a large nonstick skillet and melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat.
- Slide in the patties and cook for 7–8 minutes on each side.
- They should become nicely browned and firm to touch.
- Layer a patty in between burger buns and assemble with your toppings of choice.
As we see from the lamb nutrition data above, it is rich in protein and is an important source of vitamins and minerals as well. Handling and cooking the lamb meat properly is essential to incorporate it into your diet. Being red meat, lamb comes with certain inherent health concerns. When consumed in moderation, you can avoid its potentially harmful effects on your health, and the health of the planet as well.
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- Myoglobin chemistry and meat color
- \’Lamb\’ \’Ground\’ \’Cooked\’ Broiled
- Ketogenic Diet
- Zinc as a Gatekeeper of Immune Function
- \’The role of nutrients in bone health\’ from A to Z
- Monounsaturated fatty acids and cholesterol metabolism: implications for dietary recommendations
- Absorption of Heme Iron
- Enhancing the Nutritional Value of Red Meat through Genetic and Feeding Strategies
- Increasing Omega-3 Levels in Meat from Ruminants under Pasture-Based Systems
- Enhanced Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Contents in Muscle and Edible Organs of Australian Prime Lambs Grazing Lucerne and Cocksfoot Pastures
- High-Monounsaturated Fatty Acid Diets Lower Both Plasma Cholesterol and Triacylglycerol Concentrations
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid Supplementation for 1 Y Reduces Body Fat Mass in Healthy Overweight Humans
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid As A Potential Protective Factor in Prevention of Breast Cancer
- The Value Of The Lamb Meat In Human Nutrition
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid (Cla): Good or Bad Trans Fat?
- The Role of Conjugated Linoleic Acid in Reducing Body Fat and Preventing Holiday Weight Gain
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid in Meat and Meat Products: A Review
- Potential Health Hazards of Eating Red Meat
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- Diet for Stroke Prevention
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- Meat Consumption: Which are the Current Global Risks? A Review of Recent (2010–2020) Evidences
- The Effects of Meat Consumption on Global Health
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