Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: January 2, 2023

Although I’ve been eating lamb chops and ground lamb regularly as part of my carnivore diet, I never thought about lamb classification and whether it counts as red meat.

To get to the bottom of this, I had a chat with my local butcher and researched the topic extensively.

Here’s what I discovered.

Quick Summary

  • Red meat is defined differently by chefs and nutritionists.
  • Nutritionists consider lamb a type of red meat because it has more myoglobin than white meat does.
  • In culinary terms, lamb is a type of white meat because it comes from a young mammal.

Is Lamb Red Meat?

An image of raw lamb chops meat

Lamb is red meat, although culinarians would quibble. This is because it’s more nutritionally similar to beef and pork than to chicken or turkey. Simply put, lamb has more of the qualities of other red meats than it does white meat, so it is best to label it as such.

The idea of red and white meat is not as clear-cut as one might think. And that is because culinary experts and nutritionist experts have different definitions for them.

For example, the World Health Organization says that red meats are any meat that comes from a mammal [1].

This includes meat from cows, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, deer, buffalo, and anything in between. On the other hand, all fish and poultry are considered white meat.

Meanwhile, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines red meat according to the myoglobin content of the animal's muscles [2].

Myoglobin is an oxygen-carrying protein found in muscle cells, giving the flesh its dark-red color. If an animal has a high amount of myoglobin in its muscles, it is considered to have red meat.

"Lamb is called a red meat because it contains more myoglobin than chicken or fish."
- United States Department of Agriculture

White meat is any meat with low amounts of myoglobin in its muscles. This includes chicken, turkey, and fish.

Culinarians, though, have different definitions of red and white meat. To them, the animal's origin and age determine whether it is white or red meat.

Under their definition, white meat comes from fowl and young mammals, while red meat comes from older mammals. Think of veal rather than beef.

This means that mutton, which comes from adult sheep, or yearling mutton, a year or older, would be red meat, while lamb comes from young sheep.  Lamb has a milder flavor than mutton, and most lamb is slaughtered at six to eight months.

Clinical Nutrition Information

A close up image of raw lamb meat

Different parts of the lamb have different amounts of fat and calories [3].

However, a standard cut is a lamb chop which has the following nutritional content:

  • Calories: 250 kcal
  • Protein: 22 g
  • Fat: 17 g
  • Saturated Fat: 7 g
  • Carbs: 0 g
  • Fiber: 0 g

Lamb chops are also a significant source of many vitamins and minerals.

These include:

  • Vitamin B12. This vitamin is essential for proper brain and nervous system function.
  • Iron. Iron helps carry oxygen in red blood cells, keeping muscles strong and making it easier to do physical activity.
  • Zinc. This mineral is vital for wound healing and maintaining a healthy immune system. Lamb contains more zinc than non-red meat sources or vegetables.
  • Selenium. This mineral supports thyroid health, which helps keep the body's metabolism running smoothly.
  • Niacin. This B vitamin is essential for converting food into energy.
  • Phosphorus. Phosphorous helps build strong bones and teeth [4].

Health Benefits of Lamb

An image of a person slicing raw lamb red meat

Lamb meat is a superior source of high-quality protein, and lamb contains many other important nutrients. As such, it provides some impressive health benefits.

  • For example, lamb meat consumption can help you maintain your muscle mass as you age. The large quantity of high-quality protein contains all the essential amino acids necessary for muscle growth.
  • This red meat also is a good source of the amino acid beta-alanine, a carnosine precursor. Carnosine is a compound that helps buffer the acidity in muscle tissue and has been shown to increase physical performance and reduce fatigue [5].
  • Additionally, lamb meat is an excellent heme iron source, which is found in animal-based proteins [6]. The body absorbs this form of iron more readily than non-heme iron found mostly in plant-based foods.
  • Lamb also provides more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than even grass-fed beef does [7]. Conjugated linoleic acid is a type of fat that has been linked to a decreased risk of certain illnesses and better metabolic health. Healthy fats like CLA may protect against heart disease and cancer.

Having an adequate amount of heme iron is critical in preventing anemia, particularly anemia caused by an iron deficiency.

Anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath. Having bioavailable iron helps to prevent this condition.

Potential Risks of Lamb and Red Meat

Although lamb has several health benefits, it has some risks as well. None of these are specifically due to lamb itself, but they arise from lamb being a form of red meat.

1. Risk of Heart Disease

A person who is slicing meat on a cutting board

Some observational studies have found an association between eating meat and an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease [8]. The specific reason for this association remains unclear, but a few theories have been suggested.

Some people think a high consumption of red meat and heart disease are linked because this type of meat is higher in saturated fats and cholesterol than white meat.

This may create a situation where there are too many lipids in your blood, which can contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries and result in heart disease.

However, given the higher levels of healthy monounsaturated fats in lamb, not all researchers believe that the fat content is the root cause of the problem.

2. Iron Build-Up

People with hemochromatosis should also be aware that consuming large amounts of iron-rich foods, such as lamb, could lead to an iron overload and increase their risk for liver disease, heart failure, and diabetes [9].

Also, cooking red meat on high heat or at high temperatures may cause chemical changes that lead to cancer.

3. Risk of Cancer

An image of a couple eating cooked lamb dish

Finally, some studies have suggested that eating red meat may be linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

This is particularly true for processed meats like jerky, bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats. Other protein sources of unprocessed meat do not appear to have the same risk of causing various cancers.

The risks associated with eating red meat may be mitigated by following a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and not smoking.

Additionally, when you eat a healthy diet and limit your consumption of processed red meats, you may also help reduce your risk as an average person.

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FAQs

Is Lamb an Inflammatory Food?

Lamb is not an inflammatory food. Lamb typically contains saturated and monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory in nature. It also is a rich source of taurine, an antioxidant amino acid that helps reduce inflammation [10].

Is Lamb Healthier Than Chicken?

No, lamb is not necessarily healthier than chicken. Both have health benefits but contain different nutrient profiles, vitamins, and minerals. Lamb is a better source of heme iron, vitamin B12, and zinc than poultry. Poultry is lower in fat, saturated fat, and kilocalories [11].

Is Lamb Good for Heart Diet?

Lamb is good for heart diet, as it contains healthy animal fat such as omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, lamb meat is a rich source of iron and B vitamins which are essential for cardiovascular health.

Lamb: Red Meat or Not?

So yes, lamb is a type of red meat that can be a delicious part of a balanced diet. But it is not always easy to get grass-fed lamb at the local grocery store.

That is why I will often use a meat delivery service since they have a great selection that they will bring directly to your door. These companies offer grass-fed and sustainably raised meat, free of antibiotics and GMOs. To see a list of the best services out there, click here.


References:

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/cancer-carcinogenicity-of-the-consumption-of-red-meat-and-processed-meat
  2. https://foodandnutrition.org/january-february-2013/color-confusion-identifying-red-meat-white-meat/
  3. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/sites/default/files/import/Pork_Lamb_Nutrition_Facts.pdf
  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/lamb
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257613/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3662193/
  7. https://extension.psu.edu/conjugated-linoleic-acid-cla-in-animal-production-and-human-health
  8. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/increased-heart-disease-risk-from-red-meat-may-stem-from-gut-microbe-response-to-digestion
  9. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14971-hemochromatosis-iron-overload
  10. https://www.spandidos-publications.com/10.3892/mmr.2021.12242
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