Lamb vs. Beef — Health Impact and Nutrition Comparison
Lamb is higher in calories, and fats, including saturated, polyunsaturated fat and cholesterol, essential amino acids, and most vitamins. At the same time, beef is slightly richer in protein due to more non-essential amino acids, as well as in iron, zinc, and vitamin B6.
When comparing the two, beef can appear slightly lighter in color and, with regard to taste and texture, more tender and delicate. Whereas beef is consumed all around the world, lamb and mutton are more common in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Table of contents
- Macronutrients and Calories
- Glycemic Index
- Weight Loss & Diets
- Health Impact
- Bans and Religion
- Impact on the Environment
- Video Summary
People often choose meat based on its subjective qualities, such as taste and texture. However, different types of meat can vary in their nutrition and their impact on health. In this article, we will discuss the differences and similarities between lamb or mutton and beef based on scientifically proven information.
The main difference between lamb or mutton and beef is naturally the animal they come from.
Lamb, mutton, and hogget are all names for domestic sheep meat. However, these terms are not interchangeable. Mutton or hogget is the meat of fully grown sheep, usually two and three years of age, respectively, while the lamb is the meat of a sheep younger than the age of one.
Beef is the meat of older cattle – domesticated cows or bulls. The meat of young cattle is called veal. To see a complete comparison of veal and lamb or mutton, you can visit this page.
Lamb and beef are both classified as red meat. Compared to white meat, red meat is darker in color and richer in myoglobin and, therefore, heme iron.
To read more about this topic, visit our “Is lamb red meat?” page.
Lamb and beef meat can be very hard to tell apart based on appearance alone. Beef and lamb are dark in color, both being types of red meat. However, when comparing the two, beef can appear to be darker due to a higher iron and myoglobin content.
Both beef and lamb have white stripes of intermuscular fat called marbling. The amount of marbling in the meat depends on the cut.
Taste and Use
Mutton and beef are similar in taste. This taste of red meat is described as umami. Depending on the fat content, it can also be buttery and soft or dry and firm.
Compared to mutton and beef, lamb is said to have a more tender texture and a more delicate flavor.
Beef is used in cultures all over the world, while lamb and mutton are more common in Mediterranean cuisine as well as in many dishes in the Middle East.
Beef and lamb are often used in their ground form, especially in burgers. Beef burgers are a lot more popular than lamb burgers.
On average, in the US market, beef tends to be a little cheaper by about 0.3$.
The nutritional and culinary qualities of meat can differ based on the type of meat. Meat can be classified based on the cut or how the animal was raised.
Cuts of beef include the chuck (shoulder), the brisket and shank (breast), the rib, the sirloin (hip), the short loin, the short plate, the flake, and the round.
Similarly, depending on the cut, you can find the following cuts of lamb or mutton meat: the square-cut shoulder, the rack or rib, the loin, the leg, the neck, the breast, the shanks, and the flank.
How the animal has been raised also has a role in the characteristics of the meat. Depending on the conditions in which the cows have been kept, beef can be formula-fed, also known as milk-fed or white, non-formula-fed, also known as red, pasture-raised, or free-raised. Beef can also be grass-fed or organic and grain-fed.
All red meat can be processed or unprocessed. Meat undergoes processing to extend its shelf life, as well as to improve its taste, color, and appearance. These processing methods include curing, smoking, salting, drying, or adding preservatives and colorings. Some examples of processed red meat are ham, sausages, salami, and pepperoni.
The nutrition of meat greatly varies depending on the cut and fat content.
The nutritional values below are presented for cooked domestic lamb, a composite of trimmed retail cuts, trimmed to ¼ inch fat, and broiled ground beef with 15% fat and 85% lean meat.
Macronutrients and Calories
Overall, lamb is denser in nutrients, as it contains only around 54% water and 46% nutrients, while beef consists of 58% water.
As with most meat, the average serving size for both lamb and beef is 3oz, equal to 85g.
Lamb and beef are both high-calorie foods. Between the two, lamb provides more energy, containing 294 calories per 100g serving, while the same serving size of beef has 250 calories.
However, the calorie content of meat can significantly change with a different cut or cooking method. When comparing only lean cuts of roasted beef tenderloin or loin with a completely lean cut of fast-fried lamb tenderloin, we find that the lamb can be slightly lower in calories. Lean lamb tenderloin contains 155 calories, while lean beef tenderloin provides 168 calories (1, 2).
While less nutrient-dense, beef is richer in protein, but only by 1.41g. A 100g serving of beef provides 25.93g of protein. At the same time, the same serving size of lamb contains 24.52g of protein.
Despite being lower in protein overall, lamb is richer in all of the essential amino acids. Therefore, the protein found in lamb is of higher quality.
Lamb is particularly richer in tryptophan, containing over three times more than beef.
Of the non-essential amino acids, lamb is also richer in aspartic and glutamic acids.
Fats and Cholesterol
Between these two cuts of meat, lamb is notably richer in fats. The same 100g serving size of cooked lamb contains about 21g of fats, while cooked beef provides 15.4g of fats.
Naturally, lamb is higher in all types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. However, while lamb meat is only 1.5 times higher in saturated fat than beef, it is over 3 times richer in polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Overall the fatty acid composition in beef is as follows: 45% saturated fats, 51% monounsaturated fats, and 4% polyunsaturated fats. Lamb, on the other hand, consists of 46% saturated fats, 46% monounsaturated fats, and 8% polyunsaturated fats.
Unsurprisingly, lamb is also slightly higher in cholesterol. The same 100g serving size of lamb contains 97mg of cholesterol, while beef contains 88mg.
Fat Type Comparison
Like most meat, both beef and lamb contain no notable amount of carbohydrates.
Overall, lamb and mutton tend to be more abundant in vitamins. Lamb and mutton contain 2 times more folate, vitamin B1, and nearly 4 times more vitamin K. Lamb or mutton is also richer in vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), and vitamin E.
Beef, on the other hand, provides 3 times more vitamin B6.
Lamb or mutton contains vitamin D, which beef lacks completely. At the same time, vitamin A can be found in beef but not in lamb.
The two types of meat are almost equal in the contained amounts of vitamin B12 and vitamin B5, with beef being only a little richer in vitamin B12.
However, keep in mind that a single serving contains only negligible amounts of many of these vitamins, including vitamin B1, folate, vitamin K, vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin E. Only the levels of vitamins B12 and B3 in lamb or mutton or vitamins B12, B3, and B6 in beef, are present in adequate amounts.
Lamb, mutton, and beef are all absent in vitamin C.
Meat can be an important source of nearly all the minerals needed in a diet. While beef and lamb are not cardinally dissimilar in their mineral compositions, there are some differences.
Beef is a better source of iron and zinc. Beef is also slightly higher in potassium, phosphorus, and calcium.
On the other hand, lamb contains 1.4 times more copper, as well as relatively higher levels of selenium, magnesium, manganese, and choline.
Lamb and beef contain equal amounts of sodium.
The glycemic index of both lamb and beef is considered to be 0 due to the absence of carbohydrates. You can learn more about the glycemic index of foods with low or no carbohydrates.
The pH of meat changes depending on its freshness and the conditions in which it has been kept.
The acceptable range of pH value for beef falls between 5.3 to 5.7. As the pH value of beef reaches 6.5, it starts to decompose (3). This means that beef has an acidic pH value.
The pH value of lamb can vary between 5.7 to 6.05 (4). Evidently, the pH of lamb tends to be more acidic than that of beef.
Another way of measuring the acidity of a certain food is by looking at its potential renal acid load or PRAL value, which shows how much acid or base it produces.
The PRAL values of lamb and beef are 11.6 and 12.6, respectively. This demonstrates how beef is slightly more acid-producing inside the organism.
Weight Loss & Diets
Lamb, mutton, and beef are all high-calorie foods. However, this does not necessarily exclude these foods from weight loss diets, as they are high in protein but very low in carbohydrates.
Between these two types of meat, beef is the better choice for low-calorie and low-fat diets. Both lamb and beef fit well into low-carb and low-glycemic-index diets.
Research has found a correlation between high meat intake and increased risk of weight gain and obesity (5, 6). However, this risk is higher with processed and fatty meats, as opposed to unprocessed and lean meats (7).
Red meat, including both lamb and beef, is a major part of the keto and Atkins diets.
A Paleo diet allows the consumption of unprocessed lamb, mutton, and beef, but not processed meat.
Consumption of lamb and beef within limits can also be a part of a Mediterranean diet.
Red meat and its effects on health have been at the center of attention for many researchers for several decades. However, while some things are certain, science is still inconclusive in other areas. In this section, we will discuss the most popular studies examining red meat, including lamb and beef, and its impact on health.
Overall, lean and unprocessed meat has a more beneficial impact on health than fatty and processed meats. While lamb and beef have similar fat compositions, lamb tends to have a more favorable fat profile between the two.
A healthy diet, low in saturated fats and high in lean beef, has been researched to lead to favorable effects on cardiovascular disease due to decreased levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins (8).
A diet low in calories but high in protein from lean red meat can also improve risk markers of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (9).
South African lamb, in particular, has been studied to be a good source of protein, with its moderate intake potentially decreasing levels of homocysteine in the blood (10).
As mentioned above, a low-calorie diet high in lean red meat may have a beneficial effect on the risk markers of type 2 diabetes mellitus (9).
Downsides and Risks
The possible mechanisms of action for the adverse effects of red meat include inflammation, oxidative stress, and negative effects on the liver, pancreas, and fat cells due to high levels of heme iron, saturated fats, branched amino acids, and other compounds (11).
Unlike unprocessed red meat, processed red meat undergoes various treatments to extend its shelf life. Processed red meat may contain higher levels of sodium and nitrates, as well as additives and contaminants. These contaminants can have various harmful effects on health (11).
Various studies have shown a correlation between the consumption of both processed and unprocessed red meat and an increased risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and potentially even heart failure (11).
Due to the heme iron content, high consumption of red meat has also been associated with higher blood pressure (12).
A considerable number of studies have consistently shown that a diet rich in red, and especially processed, meat is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.
The risk of type 2 diabetes can increase depending on the preparation method of the meat. Research suggests that certain preparation methods, in particular the use of high-heat cooking methods, such as broiling, barbecuing, or grilling and roasting, increase the risk of type 2 diabetes (13).
The practice of cooking meat at high temperatures, such as pan-frying and barbecuing, may lead to the production of heterocyclic amines, which are thought to increase cancer risk in humans (11).
Grilled or barbecued meats may also contain high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which promote the development of cancer and DNA damage (14).
Research has found that a high intake of both processed and unprocessed red meat may increase the risk of esophageal, colorectal, pancreatic, and liver cancers (11).
Bans and Religion
Cows are considered to be respected creatures of God in Hinduism. Due to this reason, there are laws in India prohibiting the slaughtering of cows which vary by state. Slaughtering a cow in India is punishable by law, with a jail sentence from 6 months up to 10 years, depending on the state.
Consumption of sheep meat is not prohibited in any major religion of the world.
Impact on the Environment
Over the last few decades, public concern has grown over the impact of mass red meat production on the environment and climate change. Red meat production leads to large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, fossil energy, and water use, among other things.
The production of lamb has a larger impact on greenhouse gas emissions when compared to beef production.
The greenhouse gas emission, expressed as CO2 equivalents, for the production of 1kg of lamb is 50, while the same number for beef is 30 (15).
- The effect of pH on beef eating quality
- pH values of the fresh different meat types during chilled storage at 2 • C
- How Meat Is Cooked May Affect Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Comparison summary table
|Rich in vitamins|
|Lower in Cholesterol|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in price|
|Lower in Sugar||Equal|
|Lower in Sodium||Equal|
|Lower in Glycemic Index||Equal|
|Rich in minerals||Equal|
All nutrients comparison - raw data values
|Vitamin A RAE||0µg||3µg|
|Omega-3 - DHA||0g||0.001g|
|Omega-3 - EPA||0g||0.003g|
|Omega-3 - DPA||0g||0.016g|
|Omega-6 - Gamma-linoleic acid||0.012g|
|Omega-3 - ALA||0.044g|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet||Equal|
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Glycemic Index diet||Equal|
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Vitamins & Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score
All the values for which the sources are not specified explicitly are taken from FDA’s Food Central. The exact link to the food presented on this page can be found below.
- Lamb - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172480/nutrients
- Beef - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/174032/nutrients
All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000-calorie diets.