Lamb is a delicious and versatile red meat. It’s common in Mediterranean and American diets. If you’re trying to watch your cholesterol levels, lamb can be safe to eat in moderation. That is, as long as you choose the right cut and prepare it in a healthy way.
This is because lamb is a relatively lean and nutrition-packed meat. A three-ounce cut of cooked lamb delivers about 25 grams of protein, plus good quantities of potassium and vitamin B-12. It’s also a good source of iron, magnesium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
While that’s good news, lamb is also a source of saturated fat. Cooked lamb delivers just about equal amounts of monounsaturated fats and saturated fats. Monosaturated fatty acids can lower cholesterol levels, but saturated fatty acids can increase them. And many cuts get over half their calories from fat. A high intake of saturated fat can raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is otherwise known as “bad” cholesterol.
What that means for your diet? Don’t eat lamb every day, and choose lean cuts when possible. Preparing lean cuts of lamb sensibly and eating them in moderation can help maintain a healthy diet and healthy cholesterol levels.
The cholesterol factor
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is made in your liver and found in your cells. It helps with digestion, hormone production, and vitamin D production. While we need cholesterol, the body is able to make all that it requires. A high intake of trans and saturated fats may lead to too much cholesterol in the body.
Cholesterol travels in our bodies in lipoproteins, which are protein-covered fats. There are two main types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). You need healthy levels of both for good health.
LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol. High levels of it can build up in arteries of the body. This can narrow the arteries in the body and limit the flow of blood to and from your heart and brain. This may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
HDL is referred to as the “good” kind of cholesterol. It takes cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which helps manage cholesterol or removes it from your body.
Know your cholesterol levels
While it is more important to focus on overall risk, it is helpful to have some cholesterol guidelines. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the optimal LDL level in the body is less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). A level of 130 to 159 mg/dL is considered borderline high.
Unlike LDL, having high HDL cholesterol is protective. A higher number is better. The AHA recommends an HDL level of at least 60 mg/dL.
Lamb a healthier way
Lamb may have saturated fat, but choosing a lean cut means you get less of it. Look for tenderloin, loin chops, or legs.
The way you prepare the meat can also make it a healthier option. Before cooking, trim off as much fat as possible. Don’t fry the meat. It adds more fat and is typically a less-healthy method of cooking. Instead, grill, roast, broil, or bake the meat. Put a rack underneath the meat while cooking to capture fat drippings. This way, the meat does not cook in the fat.
Following these guidelines will allow you to enjoy lamb as part of a health-conscious diet.