According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans consume around 0.7 pounds of lamb meat each year. In other countries around the world, such as Greece, lamb is eaten much more regularly than in the United Sates. Maybe you have never given lamb a try or maybe you already love it, but either way, you may be wondering if lamb is a healthy meat choice.
So is lamb healthy? In moderation, lamb is an excellent source of protein and vital nutrients like iron, zinc, selenium and vitamin B12. Is lamb red meat? Yes, lamb is a type of red meat and you probably know that red meat often gets a bad rep, but high-quality red meats like grass-fed beef and grass-fed lamb are excellent and truly healthy protein sources in moderation.
Is Lamb Red Meat? Is Lamb Healthy? Lamb Meat Nutrition
Lamb does fall into the red meat category. What makes a meat a “red meat”? The amount of myoglobin in animal muscles determines the color of the animal’s meat. Red meats have a high myoglobin content, which is a protein found in muscle that changes to red when it’s mixed with oxygen. As a red meat, lamb inherently contains more zinc and iron than non-red meats.
One ounce of regular lamb (not grass-fed) has the same number of calories as grass-fed beef but actually has more health-promoting omega 3 fatty acids. People also get worried about lamb’s fat content, but lamb actually can have less marbling of fat within the meat compared to beef. Most of lamb meat’s fat is around the outside and can easily be trimmed.
What is lamb? Lamb, yearling mutton (or hogget) and mutton all come from the same animal, which is the domestic sheep (Ovis aries). What sets these names or classifications apart is the sheep’s age. A baby lamb is a sheep that’s under one year old, and the meat that comes from a sheep at this young age is called lamb. So if someone asks, “Lamb vs. sheep, what’s the difference?” — now you know that lamb is a baby version of a sheep, the meat is called lamb and the animals at this age are also called lambs.
Lamb typically has a milder flavor compared to mutton. So what is mutton then? The common mutton definition is flesh of a mature sheep at least one year old. So mutton is the meat of a sheep that’s over the age of one. There’s also yearling mutton or hogget, which are usually between one and two years of age.
As for lamb meat, lamb nutrition is highly impressive. For example, just three ounces of lamb contains approximately the following:
23.5 grams protein
6.6 grams fat (2.7 grams monounsaturated fat)
2.7 micrograms vitamin B12 (45 percent DV)
4.4 milligrams zinc (30 percent DV)
4.9 milligrams niacin (24 percent DV)
0.4 milligram riboflavin (21 percent DV)
0.4 milligram vitamin B6 (20 percent DV)
201 milligrams phosphorus (20 percent DV)
9.2 micrograms selenium (13 percent DV)
2.1 milligrams iron (12 percent DV)
301 milligrams potassium (9 percent DV)
0.1 milligram thiamine (8 percent DV)
0.8 milligram pantothenic acid (8 percent DV)
0.1 milligram copper (7 percent DV)
22.1 milligrams magnesium (6 percent DV)
5 Lamb Meat Health Benefits
1. Excellent Iron Source
As a red meat, lamb inherently has a lot more iron than other protein sources like chicken or fish. In addition, since lamb is an animal source of iron, it contains heme iron rather than the non-heme iron found in plants. Heme iron is the more absorbable form of iron so consuming red meat like lamb can help to improve and prevent iron deficiency and anemia symptoms.
How much more absorbable is the heme iron in lamb meat than non-heme plant iron? According to the National Institutes of Health, the bioavailability of iron is approximately 14 percent to 18 percent when someone consumes a diet that includes significant quantities of meat, seafood as well as vitamin C, which boosts iron absorption. For vegetarian eaters, the bioavailability of iron from their meat-free diets is significantly lower at only 5 percent to 12 percent.
2. Nervous System Health Promoter
The National Institute of Health’s Dietary Office estimates that somewhere between 1.5 percent to 15 percent of people in the U.S. are deficient in vitamin B12. Other studies, like one published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000, indicate that this number might be even higher, with up to 39 percent of the population possibly suffering from a vitamin B12 deficiency. Lamb is an awesome source of B12 with just three ounces of lamb meat providing just under half of most people’s daily B12 requirements.
But that’s not all — lamb is also loaded with other essential B vitamins, including vitamin B6, niacin (vitamin B3), riboflavin (vitamin B2) and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). Vitamin B12 as well as these other B vitamins help our nervous systems function as they should, and vitamin B12 ensures that the actual nerve cells are in a healthy state. In case you’re not entirely sure why the nervous system is so important, this system is essentially the body’s electrical wiring that’s responsible for helping the entire body properly communicate and function.
As you can see from the nutrition info in this article, lamb is also loaded with immune-boosting zinc. This nutrient can be found in cells throughout our bodies, and it’s absolutely essential to optimal immune health, along with wound healing, DNA and protein synthesis, as well as growth and development in children.
When it comes to immune health, if you don’t get enough zinc on a regular basis, your immune system is not going to function as it should, which means you’re more likely to have all kinds of health problems ranging from the common cold to more serious infections like pneumonia. Consuming lamb meat and other zinc-rich foods can help keep your zinc levels in a healthy place and boost your overall immune function. In addition, zinc helps enable optimal senses of taste and smell (two very important things when you’re consuming some tasty lamb meat).
4. Rich Source of Healthy Fats like Omega-3 Fatty Acids and CLA
Lamb does contain fat, but a significant portion of that fat is anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, most pieces of lamb contain even more omega-3s than beef. Many people are aware of the many benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, but not too many realize that lamb meat is a noteworthy source of these healthy fatty acids.
Grass-fed lamb meat also provides its consumers with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is the name given to group of chemicals found in the fatty acid called linoleic acid. Why is it so awesome that lamb contains this group of chemicals? For starters, CLA has been shown to help aid fat loss, improve lean muscle mass and animal studies have even shown it may be a potential cancer fighter (especially breast cancer) in humans.
5. Protein Powerhouse
As a type of meat and, more specifically, a type of red meat, lamb is loaded with vital protein. Just one three-ounce serving of lamb meat contains over 23 grams of protein. Protein intake is important to everyone, but the more active you are, the more important it is that you get enough protein in your diet. Protein does so much for the body, including providing it with slow-burning, sustainable fuel. It also helps your body build, repair and maintain muscle mass.
The protein found in lamb meat is made of essential amino acids, which can only be obtained through our diets. Animal protein sources like lamb meat are considered “complete proteins” because they contain all essential amino acids. Other non-meat protein sources, like vegetables, grains and nuts, typically do not contain at least one or more essential amino acids.