Lamb, grass-fed

Shopping for Lamb
Stick with organic Organic standards help lower risk of contaminated feed and organic lamb usually has higher nutrient quality. However, remember that organic by itself does not guarantee a natural lifestyle for the lambs.
Ask for 100% grass-fed Go beyond organic by asking for 100% grass-fed. Don't get sidetracked by the confusing array of labeling terms like natural" or "pasture-raised." Labeling laws allow products to display these terms even if lambs spend little or no time outdoors in a pasture setting. Unfortunately, even the term "grass-fed" is not sufficient since grass-fed lambs may have spent a relatively small amount of time grass feeding. The standard to look for on the label is "100% grass-fed." Talk to your grocer or the lamb farmer and find out how the animals were actually raised. In addition, if you would like more information about the practice of grass-feeding, please click here.
Consider local farmsOrganic, 100% grass-fed lamb may be available from local farms with small flocks, which provide a natural lifestyle for their lambs. Two websites that can help you find small local farms in your area are www.localharvest.org and www.eatwild.com. Both sites are searchable by zip code.

What's New and Beneficial about Lamb

Lamb, grass-fed, lean loin, roasted
4.00 oz
(113.40 grams)
Calories: 310
GI: very low

NutrientDRI/DV

 vitamin B12105%

 protein51%

 selenium51%

 vitamin B350%

 zinc35%

 phosphorus29%

Health Benefits

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.

Potential Support for Heart Health

The first area of expected health benefits involves cardiovascular diseases. Our reasons for expected specific health benefits in this area are as follows:

Additional Potential Health Benefits

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.)

Description

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.

History

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.

How to Select and Store

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.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

WHFoods Recipes That Feature Lamb

Safety

Other Controversies

Some animal foods and some plants foods have been the subject of ongoing controversy that extends well beyond the scope of food, nutrient-richness, and personal health. This controversy often involves environmental issues, or issues related to the natural lifestyle of animals or to the native habitat for plants. Lamb has been a topic of ongoing controversy in this regard. Our Controversial Foods Q & A will provide you with more detailed information about these issues.

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. Read detailed information on our
Food and Recipe Rating System.

Lamb, grass-fed, lean loin, roasted
4.00 oz
113.40 grams
Calories: 310
GI: very low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin B122.51 mcg1056.1excellent
protein25.57 g513.0very good
selenium27.90 mcg512.9very good
vitamin B38.05 mg502.9very good
zinc3.87 mg352.0good
phosphorus204.12 mg291.7good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

References

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