The World's Healthiest Foods
Lamb, loin

While lamb makes up only a fraction of the meat eaten in the United States, it is used in a myriad of wonderful recipes throughout the world. When lamb is labeled as "spring lamb" it signifies that lamb that was brought to market during the spring and summer months which was formerly the season for fresh lamb. However, lamb is now available throughout the year, and the label “spring lamb” does not necessarily connote additional quality.

Lamb is the meat from young sheep that are less than one year old.

 


Health Benefits

Although high in saturated fat, lamb is a very good source of protein, providing 60.3% of the daily value for protein along with 21.1% of the DV for saturated fat in four ounces. The structure of the human body is built on protein. We use animal and plant sources of protein for our amino acids and rearrange the nitrogen to make the pattern of amino acids we require.

Zinc for Healthy Immune Function

Lamb is also a good source of zinc, a mineral that affects many fundamental processes, perhaps the most important of which is immune function. If one mineral were singled out for its beneficial effects on the immune system, zinc would lead the pack. A cofactor in a wide variety of enzymatic reactions, zinc is critical not only to immune function, but for wound healing, and normal cell division. Zinc also helps stabilize blood sugar levels and the body's metabolic rate, and is necessary for an optimal sense of smell and taste.

Zinc is an especially important nutrient for men. In addition to maintaining prostate health, another reason for older men to make zinc-rich foods, such as lamb, a regular part of their healthy way of eating is bone mineral density. Although osteoporosis is often thought to be a disease for which postmenopausal women are at highest risk, it is also a potential problem for older men. Almost 30% of hip fractures occur in men, and 1 in 8 men over age 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture. A study of 396 men ranging in age from 45-92 that was published in the September 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a clear correlation between low dietary intake of zinc, low blood levels of the trace mineral, and osteoporosis at the hip and spine.(October 18, 2004) A four-ounce serving of lamb contains 38.3% of the daily value for zinc.

B vitamins for Energy and Cardiovascular Protection

Meat products, like lamb, are a good source of vitamin B12. This vitamin supports production of red blood cells and prevents anemia, allows nerve cells to develop properly, and helps your cells metabolize protein, carbohydrate, and fat. In addition, Vitamin B12 plays a critical role as a methyl donor. Methylation is a basic cellular process in which methyl groups are transferred from one molecule to another, resulting in the formation of a wide variety of very important active molecules. When levels of B12 are inadequate, the availability of methyl groups is also lessened. One result of the lack of methyl groups is that molecules that would normally be quickly changed into other types of molecules not only do not change, but accumulate. One such molecule, homocysteine, is so damaging to blood vessel walls that high levels are considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease (homocysteine is also associated with osteoporosis, and a recent study found that osteoporosis occurred more frequently among women whose vitamin B12 status was deficient or marginal compared with those who had normal B12 status.) Just four-ounces of lamb supplies 40.8% of your daily needs for vitamin B12..

Protection against Alzheimer's and Age-related Cognitive Decline

Research published in the August 2004 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates regular consumption of niacin-rich foods like lamb provides protection against Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline.

Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project interviewed 3,718 Chicago residents aged 65 or older about their diet, then tested their cognitive abilities over the following six years. Those getting the most niacin from foods (22 mg per day) were 70% less likely to have developed Alzheimer's disease than those consuming the least (about 13 mg daily), and their rate of age-related cognitive decline was significantly less. (August 23, 2004)

Description

Americans eat a fraction of the amount of lamb consumed in many other countries in the world. And that’s too bad since this red meat is very healthful and extremely delicious, having a very tender and buttery quality.

Lamb is the meat from young sheep that are less than one year old. It is usually available in five different cuts including the shoulder, rack, shank/breast, loin and leg. Additionally, many stores sell it already ground to be used to make burgers, meat loaf or sauces.

History

Currently the most abundant livestock in the world, sheep were originally domesticated in the Middle East and Asia more than 10,000 years ago. As a source of not only food, but also textiles (wool), sheep were introduced and became popular throughout many regions of the world. The Romans introduced sheep into Great Britain, where lamb is very popular, over 2,000 years ago. Lamb was not introduced into the Western Hemisphere until the early 16th century when the armies of the Spanish explorer Cortez brought sheep with them on their explorations.

Since ancient times, lamb has been regarded as a religious symbol. It was commonly used as a sacrifice, and a symbol of sacrifice, in many religions including Judaism. In many countries, lamb is a traditional dish at Easter in commeration of the Last Supper at which lamb was likely served. Jesus is often referred to as the “Lamb of God”.

Lamb is a staple in cuisines throughout the world including Turkey, Greece, New Zealand, Australia and countries of the Middle East.

How to Select and Store

While USDA inspection of lamb is mandatory, grading is voluntary, so therefore not all lamb will be labeled with a grade. Those that are carry the titles Prime, Choice and Select. Prime and Choice are the most tender and flavorful, but also have the higher fat content.

Although lamb is generally a very tender meat, there are still signs you can look for to better ensure high quality. Purchase lamb whose flesh is firm and fine textured and pink in color. Any fat surrounding or marbled throughout the lamb should be white, not yellow.

Oftentimes, you will see lamb labeled as “spring lamb”. This moniker signifies that lamb is brought to market during the spring and summer months, the main season that fresh lamb used to be available. Since lamb is now available throughout the year, “spring lamb” does not necessarily confer additional connotations of quality.

Since lamb is highly perishable, it should always be kept at cold temperatures, either refrigerated or frozen. Refrigerate the lamb in the original store packaging, if it is still intact and secure, as this will reduce the amount of handling involved. If the lamb has a “Use-By” date, follow that for guidelines as to how long it will stay fresh. If it does not, then follow these simple guidelines: lamb roasts and chops can stay fresh in the refrigerator three to five days while ground lamb will only stay fresh for up to two days.

If you have more lamb than you can use within this period of time, you can freeze it. Using either aluminum foil or freezer paper, wrap the lamb carefully so that it is as tightly packaged as possible. Ground lamb should be able to keep for three to four months while roasts and chops will keep for about six to nine months.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Place bite size pieces of lamb on a skewer with your favorite grilling vegetables and make lamb shish kebobs.

Ground lamb makes delicious burgers. Season and cook as you would a hamburger.

Braise lamb loin pieces in red wine, garlic and rosemary.

The hearty flavor of lamb makes it a wonderful meat to be featured in a stew.

For a healthy twist on the traditional food pairing, serve lamb with a mint yogurt sauce, made from plain yogurt, mint leaves, garlic, and cayenne.

Safety

Red meat is a significant source of dietary saturated fat and cholesterol. These two compounds have been associated with development of various chronic diseases, including heart disease and some forms of cancer.

In a paper which examined over 4,500 scientific studies on the links between nutrition and cancer, researchers made public health goals and recommendations to individuals to help reduce cancer risk. Scientists advised that if eaten at all, red meat intake should be limited to less than 3 ounces daily. Choices for animal protein should be from fish, poultry or meat from non-domesticated animals (like venison) instead of domesticated red meats (beef, lamb and pork).

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Lamb, Loin, Roasted
4.00 oz-wt
229.07 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
tryptophan 0.35 g 109.4 8.6 excellent
protein 30.15 g 60.3 4.7 very good
selenium 34.36 mcg 49.1 3.9 very good
vitamin B12 (cobalamin) 2.45 mcg 40.8 3.2 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 7.75 mg 38.8 3.0 good
zinc 4.60 mg 30.7 2.4 good
phosphorus 233.60 mg 23.4 1.8 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, nutrition and the prevention of cancer: A global perspective. American Institute for Cancer Research 1997.
  • Dhonukshe-Rutten RA, Lips M, de Jong N et al. Vitamin B-12 status is associated with bone mineral content and bone mineral density in frail elderly women but not in men. J Nutr. 2003 Mar; 133(3):801-7.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Hyun T, Barrett-Connor E, Milne D. Zinc intakes and plasma concentrations in men with osteoporosis: the Rancho Bernardo Study. Am J Clin Nutr, Sept. 2004:80(3):715-721.
  • Margen S and the Editor, Univ of California at Berkley Wellness Letter. The Wellness Encyclopedia of food and nutrition. New York: Health Letter Associates 1992.
  • Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Scherr PA, Tangney CC, Hebert LE, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N. Dietary niacin and the risk of incident Alzheimer's disease and of cognitive decline. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;75(8):1093-9.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-20 14:50:57
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation