13 Surprising Facts You Don’t Know About of Lamb Meat

1. Nutritional Profile*

  • Energy value (calories per serving): Moderate
  • Protein: High
  • Fat: Moderate
  • Saturated fat: High Cholesterol: Moderate to high Carbohydrates: None
  • Fiber: None
  • Sodium: Moderate
  • Major vitamin contribution: B vitamins
  • Major mineral contribution: Iron

  2. About the Nutrients in This Food

Like other foods from animals, lamb is a good source of high-quality proteins with sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids. Like other meats, it is high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, an excellent source of B vitamins plus heme iron, the form of iron most easily absorbed by the body.

One three-ounce serving of roasted domestic (U.S.) lean leg of lamb has 10.6 g fat (4.3 g saturated fat, 4.65 g monounsaturated fat, 0.7 g poly- unsaturated fat), 76 mg cholesterol, 1.7 mg iron (9 percent of the RDA for a woman, 21 percent of the RDA for a man), and 4 mg zinc (5 percent of the RDA for a woman, 3.6 percent of the RDA for a man).

One three-ounce serving of roasted frozen imported New Zealand leg of lamb has 11.9 g fat (5.7 g saturated fat, 4.5 g monounsaturated fat, 0.6 g polyunsaturated fat), 86 mg cholesterol, 1.8 mg iron (10 percent of the RDA for a woman, 23 percent of the RDA for a man), and 3.1 mg zinc (39 percent of the RDA for a woman, 28 percent of the RDA for a man).

3. The Most Nutritious Way to Serve This Food

Broiled or roasted, to allow the fat to melt and run off the meat. Soups and stews that contain lamb should be skimmed.

4. Values are for lean roasted lamb.

With tomatoes, potatoes, and other foods rich in vitamin C to increase your body’s absorption of iron from the meat.

5. Diets That May Restrict or Exclude This Food

  • Controlled fat, low-cholesterol diet
  • Low-protein diet (for some forms of kidney disease)

6. Buying This Food

Look for: Lamb that is pink to light red, with a smooth, firm texture and little fat. The color of the fat, which may vary with the breed and what the animal was fed, is not a reliable guide to quality. Meat labeled baby lamb or spring lamb comes from animals less than five months old; lamb comes from an animal less than a year old; mutton comes from an animal older than a year. The older the animal, the tougher and more sinewy the meat.

7. Storing This Food

Refrigerate fresh lamb immediately, carefully wrapped to prevent its drippings from contam- inating other foods. Refrigeration prolongs freshness by slowing the natural multiplication of bacteria on the surface of the meat. Left on their own, these bacteria convert proteins and other substances on the surface of the meat to a slimy film and change the meat’s sulfur- containing amino acids methionine and cystine into smelly chemicals called mercaptans. When the mercaptans combine with pigments in meat, they produce the greenish pigment that gives spoiled meat its characteristic unpleasant appearance.

8. Preparing This Food

Trim the meat carefully. By judiciously cutting away all visible fat, you can significantly reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol in each serving. Lamb and mutton are covered with a thin paperlike white membrane called a “fell.” Generally, the fell is left on roasts because it acts as a natural basting envelope that makes the lamb juicier.

Do not salt lamb before you cook it; the salt will draw moisture out of the meat, mak- ing it stringy and less tender. Add salt when the meat is nearly done.

When you are done, clean all utensils thoroughly with soap and hot water. Wash your cutting board, wood or plastic, with hot water, soap, and a bleach-and-water solution. For ultimate safety in preventing the transfer of microorganisms from the meat to other foods, keep one cutting board exclusively for raw meat, fish, or poultry, and a second one for every- thing else. Don’t forget to wash your hands.

9. What Happens When You Cook This Food

Cooking changes the lamb’s flavor and appearance, lowers its fat and cholesterol content, and makes it safer by killing the bacteria that live naturally on the surface of raw meat.

Browning lamb before you cook it won’t seal in the juices, but it will change the flavor by caramelizing proteins and sugars on the surface of the meat. Because the only sugars in lamb are the small amounts of glycogen in its muscles, we often add sugar in the form of marinades or basting liquids that may also contain acids (lemon juice, vinegar, wine, yogurt) to break down muscle fibers and tenderize the meat. (Note that browning has one minor nutritional drawback. It breaks amino acids on the surface of the meat into smaller com- pounds that are no longer useful proteins.)

When lamb is heated, it loses water and shrinks. Its pigments, which combine with oxygen, are denatured by the heat. They break into smaller fragments and turn brown, the natural color of well-done meat. The pigments also release iron, which accelerates the oxida- tion of the lamb’s fat. Oxidized fat is what gives cooked meat its characteristic warmed-over flavor. Cooking and storing meat under a blanket of antioxidants—catsup or a gravy made of tomatoes, peppers, and other vitamin C-rich vegetables—reduces the oxidation of fats and the intensity of warmed-over flavor. So will reheating the meat in a microwave rather than a conventional oven.

10. How Other Kinds of Processing Affect This Food

Canning. Canned lamb does not develop a warmed-over flavor because the high temperatures used in canning food and alter the structure of the proteins in the meat so that the proteins act as antioxidants. Once the can is open, however, lamb fat may begin to oxidize again.

Freezing. Defrosted frozen lamb may be less tender than fresh lamb. It may also be lower in B vitamins. When you freeze lamb, the water inside its cells freezes into sharp ice crys- tals that can puncture cell membranes. When the lamb thaws, moisture (and some of the B vitamins) will leak out through these torn cell walls. Freezing may also cause freezer burn—dry spots left when moisture evaporates from the lamb’s surface. Waxed freezer paper is designed specifically to protect the moisture in meat; plastic wrap and aluminum foil may be less effective.

11. Medical Uses and/or Benefits

Treating and/or preventing iron deficiency. Without meat it is virtually impossible for a woman of childbearing age to get the 18 mg iron/day she requires unless she takes an iron supplement.

12. Adverse Effects Associated with This Food

Increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Like other foods from animals, lamb is a significant source of cholesterol and saturated fats, which increase the amount of cholesterol circulating

in your blood and raise your risk of heart disease. To reduce the risk of heart disease, the National Cholesterol Education Project recommends following the Step I and Step II diets.

The Step I diet provides no more than 30 percent of total daily calories from fat, no more than 10 percent of total daily calories from saturated fat, and no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day. It is designed for healthy people whose cholesterol is in the range of 200–239 mg/dL.

The Step II diet provides 25–35 percent of total calories from fat, less than 7 percent of total calories from saturated fat, up to 10 percent of total calories from polyunsaturated fat, up to 20 percent of total calories from monounsaturated fat, and less than 300 mg cho- lesterol per day. This stricter regimen is designed for people who have one or more of the following conditions:

  • Existing cardiovascular disease
    • High levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs, or “bad” cholesterol) or low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs, or “good” cholesterol)
    • Obesity
    • Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes, or diabetes mellitus)
    • Metabolic syndrome, a.k.a. insulin resistance syndrome, a cluster of risk fac- tors that includes type 2 diabetes (non-insulin-dependent diabetes)

Increased risk of some cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a diet high in red meat (beef, lamb, pork) increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 15 percent for every 1.5 ounces over 18 ounces consumed per week. In 2007, the National Cancer Institute released data from a survey of 500,000 people, ages 50 to 71, who partici- pated in an eight-year AARP diet and health study identifying a higher risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, liver, lung, and pancreas among people eating large amounts of red meats and processed meats.

Decline in kidney function. Proteins are nitrogen compounds. When metabolized, they yield ammonia that is excreted through the kidneys. In laboratory animals, a sustained high-pro- tein diet increases the flow of blood through the kidneys, accelerating the natural age-related decline in kidney function. Some experts suggest that this may also occur in human beings.

13. Food/Drug Interactions

False-positive test for occult blood in the stool. The active ingredient in the test for hidden blood in the stool is alphaguaiaconic acid, a chemical that turns blue in the presence of blood. Because the test may react to blood in meat you have eaten, producing a positive result when you do not really have any gastrointestinal bleeding, lamb and other meats are excluded from your diet for three days before this test.

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