Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
Q: I know that I should avoid fatty cuts of beef and pork, but what about lamb? Is it okay?
— Kristin Strand, Waseca, Minnesota
A: There's no overriding health reason to stay away from lamb. Its nutritional value is influenced by the cut, and the leanest choices include loin, shank, and leg, all of which are often comparable to beef or pork in terms of calories and fat—about 150 to 170 calories per 3-ounce serving, and 2 to 3 grams of saturated fat. However, some cuts of lamb—blade as well as ground lamb—can be 20 to 30 calories per serving higher than their beef counterparts.
One advantage is that lamb tends to have less marbling than beef, so when you trim the fat around the edges after cooking, the meat ends up much leaner.
Another important factor is how the animal was raised. We all know the expression "You are what you eat," and it is just as true for animals. The majority of cattle and lambs are grain-fed to help fatten them up, but their natural food is grass. More and more farmers are raising their animals on grass in pastures, which can improve the nutritional quality of the meat. One study found cuts from grass-fed animals can have up to a third of the fat of grain-fed. And grass-fed animals tend to have much higher amounts of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids; grain-fed contain so little that we've come to think of fish as the only source.
Finally, how you prepare meat will influence its healthfulness. Grilling, broiling, and roasting, for example, tend to reduce fat; pan-frying will increase it.
In general, I recommend making meat a limited part of your diet—try to eat it no more than one to two times a week. A mostly plant-based diet is healthier, as is eating fish. But if you eat meat, be sure to pick the right cut, consider how the animal was raised, and choose a healthy cooking method, and you should be fine.