Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a health supportive omega-6 fatty acid that has surprised researchers in terms of its health benefits. Since the average U.S. adult consumes too many omega-6 fatty acids in relationship to omega-3s, research studies often fail to show health benefits for increased amounts of individual omega-6 fatty acids. In addition, CLA is not only an omega-6 fatty acid but also a trans fatty acid. As a general rule, it is best to keep your intake of trans fats as low as possible. Yet, CLA appears to be an exception to the rule about omega-6s and trans fat because an ever-increasing number of studies show increased intake of CLA to be associated with improved immune and inflammatory function, improved bone mass, improved blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat, and better maintenance of lean body mass. Recent studies show that grass-fed lamb contains nearly twice as much CLA as conventionally fed lamb. Interestingly, lambs grazing during the spring and summer months store more CLA than lambs grazing during the fall and winter; higher CLA storage is also found for lambs grazing on highland and mountain pastures. Studies have also shown intake of fresh pasture grasses to be associated with significantly more CLA in lamb than feeding of the same grasses in dried form. In our nutrient profile for grass-fed lamb, we use a very conservative estimate of CLA of 25 milligrams in 4 ounces. We've seen some studies showing two to seven times this amount, depending on the specific feeding and lifestyle circumstances.
Because lamb has received much less attention in the research literature than its fellow ruminant meat—namely, beef—we have been unable to find large-scale research studies on humans that analyze lamb intake and its relationship to disease. Another factor involved with the absence of health research on lamb within the U.S. has been the very limited consumption of lamb by U.S. adults (less than one pound per year).
When smaller scale studies of food and health have included lamb, this food has traditionally been lumped together within a category called "red meats," and the meats examined in these smaller studies have typically come from conventionally fed animals. Because grass feeding improves the nutritional value of both beef and lamb, and because lambs are smaller ruminants than cows with different physical characteristics, we would expect studies of grass-fed lamb to show unique results and some unique health benefits.
The first area of expected health benefits involves cardiovascular diseases. Our reasons for expected specific health benefits in this area are as follows:
A second area where we would expect to see health benefits from lamb consumption would involve blood sugar regulation. Lamb has long been a part of menus and recipes endorsed by the American Diabetic Association, who view it as a lean meat that is high in protein and one which can be beneficially incorporated into recipes in amounts of three to four ounces per serving. Lamb is often unranked on lists of glycemic index (GI) values due to its virtually non-existent carb content. This absence of carbs in lamb might allow the very broad B-vitamin content of lamb to help support metabolism of other carbs provided by other foods that were consumed alongside of the lamb. (Vitamins B1, B2 and B3 are especially important in the optimal functioning of enzymes in carbohydrate metabolism.)
Americans eat a fraction of the amount of lamb consumed in many other countries in the world. 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.
"Rack of lamb" usually refers to a rib cut that includes nine ribs and can be split into rib roasts. Lamb "chops" can come from several different cuts. For example, "rib chops" come from the rib and "loin chops" come from the loin. You might also see "blade" and "arm" chops in the meat section of the grocery; those chops come from the shoulder. Sirloin chops are another type of chop that you might see; these come from the leg. Additionally, many stores sell lamb that has already ground and which is used to make burgers, meat loaf, or sauces.
Lamb belongs to the group of mammals known as ruminants that have unique digestive systems that enable them to stay healthy on a diet of grasses and forage plants. More specifically, lamb belongs to the special group of ruminants that are cloven-hoofed. This group is often referred to as the "bovid" group since the scientific name for its family is the Bovidae. Alongside of lamb, the bovids include bison, buffalo, antelope, gazelle, goats, and domestic cattle. The word "lamb" refers to meat from a baby sheep that was less than 12 months in age prior to slaughter. (Meat from adult sheep is called "mutton.") Many lambs are brought to slaughter earlier, however, and often between six and eight months of age. The genus and species for lamb is Ovis aries.
Lambs are initially nursed by their mothers until weaning, and studies have shown that the quality of the mother's diet plays an important role in the eventual nutrient quality of the lamb. Grass feeding by the mother provides nutritional benefits for the nursing lamb as well as for humans who eventually consume the lamb meat. When young lambs are weaned from their mother's milk and begin consuming solid foods, research once again shows that feeding in pasture provides the best nutritional option for the lambs. Conventionally raised lambs do not usually experience either of these (nursing from a mother who grazes on pasture, or grazing on pasture themselves after weaning.) Both of these factors enter into our recommendation of 100% grass-fed lamb.
Sheep were among the first animals ever to be domesticated by humans, occurring more than 10,000 years ago. The domestication of sheep most likely started out in the Middle East, in what is now Turkey. 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 remains 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 Hernán Cortés brought sheep with them on their explorations.
What was most prized by early civilizations was not the meat obtainable from sheep but rather their wool. In Babylonia, Sumaria, and Persia, the raising of sheep for their fleece became an important industry to such an extent that flocks of sheep were used as the medium of exchange between countries engaging in barter. In Greek mythology, fleece from sheep—known as "the gold-haired winged ram"—played a pivotal role in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, as the quest for it related to Jason proving his worthiness of kingship to King Pelias. 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 commemoration 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, Africa, and countries of the Middle East. In the U.S., per capita consumption of lamb is much lower than in the rest of the world, averaging 14 ounces per year. By contrast, world consumption averages 4 pounds per person, African consumption averages 5.5 pounds per person, and consumption in Australia and New Zealand averages 25 pounds per person.
Lamb farming reached its peak in the U.S. in 1884 with 51 million head of sheep. Today, lamb farming involves about 6 million head. The U.S. produced about 161 million pounds of lamb and mutton in 2011 (as compared with 50 billion pounds of all red meats, including veal, beef, and pork). Australia, with 70 million head of sheep, and New Zealand, with 32 million head, export more lamb than any other countries. In 2011, for example, these two countries combined exported nearly 1.4 billion pounds of lamb. Half of all lamb consumed in the U.S. is imported, and within this category of imported lamb, nearly 68% comes from Australia and 30% from New Zealand.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires inspection of lamb for overall wholesomeness. However, grading of lamb is voluntary, and not all cuts of lamb in the grocery will carry a USDA Grade. The USDA currently authorizes five grades for lamb, including prime, choice, good, utility, and cull. Prime and choice are usually the only grades that you will find in the supermarket. Prime and choice grades of lamb are similar in terms of tenderness and juiciness, and are higher in fat than the lower three grades. If you want to lower your total fat intake while including lamb on a regular basis in your diet, you may want to choose lamb that's been graded as "choice" over lamb that's been graded as "prime" since choice lamb does have slightly lower marbling (and total fat content) than prime lamb.
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, fine textured and pink in color. Any fat surrounding or marbled throughout the lamb should be white, not yellow. Of course, we always recommend 100% grass-fed lamb regardless of the grade or cut.
"Spring lamb" is label that used to be helpful in determining a particular type of lamb; yet now it has come to be as confusing as it is helpful. Originally, "spring lamb" was a description used for breeds of sheep that gave birth in the late fall, nursed newborns through the winter, and moved out to pasture in early spring. Over time, the term "spring lamb" also started to be used for lambs that were born in the spring and raised during summer and early fall. To make matters even more complicated, lengthened breeding seasons and more flexible pasture options have expanded the time of availability for fresh lamb, and the term "spring lamb" is now sometimes used when there is no unique relationship between spring and the animal's upbringing! In many cases, "spring lamb" is a term that does still apply to locally grown lamb that has pastured in early spring and goes to market in spring or summer, often at local farmer's markets.
Since lamb is highly perishable, it should always be kept at cold temperatures, either refrigerated or frozen. After purchasing lamb, you'll want to get it home as soon as possible and refrigerate it immediately at 40°F/4°C or below. Refrigerate the lamb in the original store packaging, if it is still intact and secure, to 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 freezer paper or plastic freezer wrap, wrap the lamb carefully so that it is as tightly packaged as possible. If you plan to freeze for one week or longer, it's a good idea to overwrap it with a second layer or place the already-wrapped lamb into a freezer bag to prevent freezer burn. Ground lamb should be able to keep for three to four months while roasts and chops will keep for about six to nine months.
When handling raw lamb be extremely careful that it does not come in contact with other foods, especially those that will be served uncooked because raw meats can contain E. coli bacteria. It is best to use a separate plastic cutting board for meats. Be sure you wash you hands and cutting board very well with hot soapy water after handling lamb. It is a good idea to add 2 TBS of bleach to two cups of water in a spray bottle and use this mixture to clean your cutting board after use.
Thaw uncooked frozen lamb in the refrigerator. You'll need to plan well ahead if you want to take advantage of this safest method of thawing since lamb thawing in the refrigerator will typically take about 24 hours. After defrosting raw cuts of lamb in this way they will be safe in the refrigerator for up to three or four days. If defrosting ground lamb, the safety margin in the refrigerator goes down to one to two days.
There are two alterative methods that you can use for lamb thawing, although neither method is as safe since more handing and quicker changes in temperature are involved. You can put the frozen lamb (still tightly sealed in a freezer wrap or placed in a tightly-sealed bag) and submerge it in a sink or pot filled with cold water. After 30 minutes, drain all of the water and refill the sink or pot. Continue with this fill-and-drain approach every 30 minutes until the lamb is thawed. This thawing method for lamb is far quicker than the refrigerator method but has less margin of safety due to increased handling and quicker changes in temperature. If using this method to thaw your lamb, you should also plan to cook it immediately after thawing.
Lamb can also be thawed in the microwave, using microwave settings as indicated by the manufacturer. Once again, this method is not as safe as refrigerator thawing due to increased handling and quicker temperature change. Like cold water thawing, plan to cook your lamb immediately after thawing in the microwave.
Regardless of thawing method, make sure to wash your hands and any potential lamb contact surface immediately after use. We do not recommend thawing of lamb or any other meat at room temperature under any circumstance due to unevenness of temperature changes and microbial contamination risk. Studies show that thawing at room temperature increases risk of growth of unwanted bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter. One further recommendation about the preparation of lamb pre-cooking: it is best to trim the fat from lamb before cooking not only to remove unhealthy fat, but to avoid producing an overly strong flavor in the lamb.
The best way to cook lamb is to use methods that will keep it moist and tender. Lamb can be easily overcooked and become dry so be sure to watch your cooking times. Different cuts of lamb are best prepared using different methods:
One of our favorite ways to prepare lamb is to "Quick Broil" lamb chops by preheating the broiler on high and placing an all stainless steel skillet (be sure the handle is also stainless steel) or cast iron pan under the heat for about 10 minutes to get it very hot. Place lamb on hot pan and broil for 7-10 minutes, depending on thickness. You do not need to turn the lamb. (See our 10-Minute Rosemary Lamb Chops recipe for details on how to prepare "Quick Broiled" lamb chops.)
Grass-fed lamb is seldom mentioned as a significant source of omega-3 fats, but can provide a valuable amount in the diet, at approximately 50% the amount provided by cod fish or tuna on an ounce-for-ounce basis. Grass-fed lamb can also contain valuable amounts of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a health supportive fatty acid. Grass-fed lamb is an excellent source of vitamin B12 and a very good source of protein, selenium and niacin. It is also a good source of zinc and phosphorus.
Lamb, grass-fed, lean loin, roasted
GI: very low
|vitamin B12||2.51 mcg||105||6.1||excellent|
|protein||25.57 g||51||3.0||very good|
|selenium||27.90 mcg||51||2.9||very good|
|vitamin B3||8.05 mg||50||2.9||very good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%
|Lamb, grass-fed, lean loin, roasted|
(Note: "--" indicates data unavailable)
|GI: very low|
|BASIC MACRONUTRIENTS AND CALORIES|
|Fat - total||23.13 g||30|
|Dietary Fiber||0.00 g||0|
|MACRONUTRIENT AND CALORIE DETAIL|
|Total Sugars||0.00 g|
|Soluble Fiber||0.00 g|
|Insoluble Fiber||0.00 g|
|Other Carbohydrates||0.00 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||10.98 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||0.54 g|
|Saturated Fat||11.61 g|
|Trans Fat||-- g|
|Calories from Fat||208.17|
|Calories from Saturated Fat||104.51|
|Calories from Trans Fat||--|
|Vitamin B1||0.11 mg||9|
|Vitamin B2||0.27 mg||21|
|Vitamin B3||8.05 mg||50|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin Equivalents)||13.04 mg|
|Vitamin B6||0.12 mg||7|
|Vitamin B12||2.51 mcg||105|
|Folate (DFE)||21.55 mcg|
|Folate (food)||21.55 mcg|
|Pantothenic Acid||0.74 mg||15|
|Vitamin C||0.00 mg||0|
|Vitamin A (Retinoids and Carotenoids)|
|Vitamin A International Units (IU)||340.23 IU|
|Vitamin A mcg Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE)||17.12 mcg (RAE)||2|
|Vitamin A mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)||0.00 mcg (RE)|
|Retinol mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)||34.23 mcg (RE)|
|Carotenoid mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)||34.23 mcg (RE)|
|Beta-Carotene Equivalents||0.00 mcg|
|Lutein and Zeaxanthin||0.00 mcg|
|Vitamin D International Units (IU)||2.27 IU||1|
|Vitamin D mcg||0.11 mcg|
|Vitamin E mg Alpha-Tocopherol Equivalents (ATE)||0.98 mg (ATE)||7|
|Vitamin E International Units (IU)||1.47 IU|
|Vitamin E mg||0.98 mg|
|Vitamin K||5.33 mcg||6|
|INDIVIDUAL FATTY ACIDS|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||0.16 g||7|
|Omega-6 Fatty Acids||0.38 g|
|14:1 Myristoleic||-- g|
|15:1 Pentadecenoic||-- g|
|16:1 Palmitol||0.78 g|
|17:1 Heptadecenoic||-- g|
|18:1 Oleic||9.85 g|
|20:1 Eicosenoic||-- g|
|22:1 Erucic||-- g|
|24:1 Nervonic||-- g|
|Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids|
|18:2 Linoleic||0.37 g|
|18:2 Conjugated Linoleic (CLA)||0.03 g|
|18:3 Linolenic||0.14 g|
|18:4 Stearidonic||0.00 g|
|20:3 Eicosatrienoic||0.00 g|
|20:4 Arachidonic||0.01 g|
|20:5 Eicosapentaenoic (EPA)||0.01 g|
|22:5 Docosapentaenoic (DPA)||0.01 g|
|22:6 Docosahexaenoic (DHA)||0.00 g|
|Saturated Fatty Acids|
|4:0 Butyric||-- g|
|6:0 Caproic||-- g|
|8:0 Caprylic||-- g|
|10:0 Capric||0.07 g|
|12:0 Lauric||0.11 g|
|14:0 Myristic||1.05 g|
|15:0 Pentadecanoic||-- g|
|16:0 Palmitic||5.85 g|
|17:0 Margaric||-- g|
|18:0 Stearic||3.67 g|
|20:0 Arachidic||-- g|
|22:0 Behenate||-- g|
|24:0 Lignoceric||-- g|
|INDIVIDUAL AMINO ACIDS|
|Aspartic Acid||2.25 g|
|Glutamic Acid||3.71 g|
|Organic Acids (Total)||0.00 g|
|Acetic Acid||0.00 g|
|Citric Acid||0.00 g|
|Lactic Acid||0.00 g|
|Malic Acid||0.00 g|
|Sugar Alcohols (Total)||0.00 g|
|Artificial Sweeteners (Total)||-- mg|
Note:The nutrient profiles provided in this website are derived from The Food Processor, Version 10.12.0, ESHA Research, Salem, Oregon, USA. Among the 50,000+ food items in the master database and 163 nutritional components per item, specific nutrient values were frequently missing from any particular food item. We chose the designation "--" to represent those nutrients for which no value was included in this version of the database.