Few meats are as quintessentially Australian as lamb, but it's more than a tasty Australia Day meat. The health benefits of eating lamb as part of a balanced diet include maintaining muscle mass and brain health, reducing your risk of anaemia, and aiding oxygen transport in your blood.
What Is Lamb?
Lamb is a type of red meat produced from sheep aged one to 12 months. Compared to mutton, which comes from older sheep, lamb is more tender and has a milder flavour. Lamb is often eaten roasted, fried or slow-cooked. Popular cuts include shank, leg, ribs and rack.
What Nutrients Are in Australian Lamb Meat?
Lamb is a nutrient-dense food. While the nutritional content can vary between cuts, a University of Wollongong report shows that per 100g of lean meat, Australian lamb contains:
- Energy: 546kJ
- Protein: 21.9 grams
- Fat: 4.7 grams
- Cholesterol: 66mg
Lamb also contains vitamin A, B-group vitamins, iron, and zinc.
The Health Benefits of Eating Lamb
Eating lamb in moderation can be beneficial to your health.
Protein for Tissue Growth and Repair
Protein is lamb's biggest macronutrient, comprising around 25% of lean, cooked meat. As a complete protein food, lamb contains all the essential amino acids your body needs for healthy tissue growth and maintenance.
Eating enough protein has various health benefits, including:
- Increasing muscle mass and strength
- Maintaining bone health
- Helping you feel full and reducing cravings
- Maintenance of a healthy weight
- Helping your body recover from injury
- Keeping cells healthy and creating new ones
Fat for Energy and Vitamin Absorption
The University of Wollongong report notes that Australian lamb contains 4.7g of fat per 100g of lean meat, which is much leaner than what you'll get overseas because almost all Australian animals are pasture (grass) fed rather than grain fed.
A small amount of fat is a vital component of a healthy diet, as it provides essential fatty acids and enables the body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E.
The report adds that Australian lamb has a healthier fat profile than some meats, with less unhealthy saturated fat content (1.73g per 100g), than healthier monounsaturated fat (2.066g per 100g) and polyunsaturated fat (0.603g per 100g).
A CSIRO study, published in journal Animal Production Science, showed that lambs from Australian sites had an average omega-3 fatty acid content of 23.5 mg per 100g - higher than the level required to claim lamb as an omega-3 source.
Omega-3 fatty acids have health benefits including maintaining healthy cell membranes, especially in the eye, brain, and sperm cells. They also provide energy and assist with function in your lungs, heart, blood vessels, immune system, and endocrine gland system.
Vitamins and Minerals for Healthy Cell Function
Lamb is a source of several vitamins and minerals, including bioavailable vitamin B12, which is essential for maintaining the brain and nerves and making DNA and red blood cells. It also helps prevent a type of anaemia that can make you feel weak and tired. Lamb also contains riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and pantothenic acid.
Iron for Oxygen Transport and Immune Function
When it comes to minerals, lamb meat is one of the richest sources of iron, which is necessary for healthy body function, including:
- Oxygen transport - Iron forms a key part of haemoglobin, a vital component of the red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body.
- Enzyme function - Enzymes are necessary for many chemical reactions in your body, including energy production.
- Immune function - Healthy immune function relies partly on sufficient iron.
- Muscle health - Myoglobin is an iron-containing protein that helps store oxygen in muscle cells.
The CSIRO study found that the average iron level in lamb muscle was 2.05mg/100 g, or 103% of that required to claim lamb as a 'good source' of iron for men of all ages and women older than 50 years. The iron from lamb meat is mostly the well-absorbed haem-iron variety.
Zinc for Growth and Healing
Lamb also contains zinc, with average levels of 2.31 mg per 100 g, or 116% of that required to claim lamb as a 'good source' of zinc for women, although insufficient to make this claim for men.
Zinc is necessary for numerous body processes, including:
- Creation of DNA
- Enzyme reactions
- Immune function
- Building proteins
- Wound and tissue healing
- Growth and development
The University of Wollongong study adds that red meats are good sources of selenium, which is important for thyroid gland function, DNA production, immune function, reproductive health, and protecting your body from free radical damage.
Healthy Lamb Cuts and Cooking Methods
When choosing to eat lamb for health, look for lean cuts. Diced pieces, leg roast and easy-carve shoulder have less fat than loin chops. You can also reduce fat content by trimming off visible fat and draining or skimming fat during cooking. Obviously, cooking with fat (for example, roasting or frying) will change the nutrient content of your meal.