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Lamb vs. Beef: Is One Healthier Than the Other?

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Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan by Victoria Mazmanyan | Last updated on May 06, 2024
Medically reviewed by Astghik Baghinyan Article author photo Astghik Baghinyan
Lamb
vs
Beef broiled

Summary

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.   

Introduction

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.

Classification

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.

Appearance

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.   

Price

On average, in the US market, beef tends to be a little cheaper by about 0.3$.

Varieties

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 ribthe 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.

Nutrition

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. 

Calories

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).

Protein

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

Fat type breakdown side-by-side comparison
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +32.3%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +212%
Contains less Saturated Fat -33.2%
46% 46% 8%
Saturated Fat: 8.83 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 8.82 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 1.51 g
45% 51% 4%
Saturated Fat: 5.895 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 6.668 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.484 g
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +32.3%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +212%
Contains less Saturated Fat -33.2%

Carbohydrates

Like most meat, both beef and lamb contain no notable amount of carbohydrates.

Vitamins

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.

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" charts below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food.
Lamb
9
:
Contains more Vitamin E +16.7%
Contains more Vitamin D +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +117.4%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +42%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +23.8%
Contains more Folate +100%
Contains more Choline +13.7%
Contains more Vitamin K +283.3%
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +193.8%
Equal in Vitamin B5 - 0.658
Equal in Vitamin B12 - 2.64
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Choline Vitamin K 0% 3% 3% 0% 25% 58% 125% 40% 30% 14% 319% 52% 12%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Choline Vitamin K 1% 3% 0% 0% 12% 41% 101% 40% 89% 7% 331% 45% 3%
Contains more Vitamin E +16.7%
Contains more Vitamin D +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +117.4%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +42%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +23.8%
Contains more Folate +100%
Contains more Choline +13.7%
Contains more Vitamin K +283.3%
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +193.8%
Equal in Vitamin B5 - 0.658
Equal in Vitamin B12 - 2.64

Minerals

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.

Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" charts below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food.
Contains more Copper +40%
Contains more Manganese +83.3%
Contains more Selenium +22.8%
Contains more Iron +38.3%
Contains more Zinc +41.5%
Equal in Calcium - 18
Equal in Magnesium - 21
Equal in Phosphorus - 198
Equal in Potassium - 318
Equal in Sodium - 72
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium 6% 71% 17% 81% 28% 10% 122% 40% 3% 144%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium 6% 98% 15% 85% 29% 10% 173% 29% 2% 118%
Contains more Copper +40%
Contains more Manganese +83.3%
Contains more Selenium +22.8%
Contains more Iron +38.3%
Contains more Zinc +41.5%
Equal in Calcium - 18
Equal in Magnesium - 21
Equal in Phosphorus - 198
Equal in Potassium - 318
Equal in Sodium - 72

Glycemic Index

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.

Acidity

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.

Health Impact

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.

Health Benefits

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.

Cardiovascular Health

Section reviewed by cardiologist Astghik Grigoryan Article author photo Astghik Grigoryan

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).

In summary, while both lamb and beef can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation and as part of a balanced meal plan, it's essential to consider factors like the cut of meat, cooking methods, and overall dietary pattern. Choosing lean cuts, moderating portion sizes, and incorporating a variety of protein sources, including plant-based options, can help reduce the risk of CVD.

Diabetes

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).

Cardiovascular Health

Section reviewed by cardiologist Astghik Grigoryan Article author photo Astghik Grigoryan

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).

Diabetes

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).

Cancer

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).

Video Summary

 

Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Last updated: May 06, 2024
Medically reviewed by Astghik Baghinyan

Infographic

Lamb vs Beef broiled infographic
Infographic link

Macronutrient Comparison

Macronutrient breakdown side-by-side comparison
Contains more Fats +35.9%
Contains more Other +20.6%
Equal in Protein - 25.93
Equal in Water - 57.98
25% 21% 54%
Protein: 24.52 g
Fats: 20.94 g
Carbs: 0 g
Water: 53.72 g
Other: 0.82 g
26% 15% 58%
Protein: 25.93 g
Fats: 15.41 g
Carbs: 0 g
Water: 57.98 g
Other: 0.68 g
Contains more Fats +35.9%
Contains more Other +20.6%
Equal in Protein - 25.93
Equal in Water - 57.98

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the rightmost column. It displays the amounts side by side, giving a clearer understanding of the difference.
Lamb Beef broiled
Rich in vitamins ok
Lower in Cholesterol ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Lower in price ok
Lower in Sugar Equal
Lower in Sodium Equal
Lower in Glycemic Index Equal
Rich in minerals Equal

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Lamb Beef broiled Opinion
Protein 24.52g 25.93g Beef broiled
Fats 20.94g 15.41g Lamb
Calories 294kcal 250kcal Lamb
Calcium 17mg 18mg Beef broiled
Iron 1.88mg 2.6mg Beef broiled
Magnesium 23mg 21mg Lamb
Phosphorus 188mg 198mg Beef broiled
Potassium 310mg 318mg Beef broiled
Sodium 72mg 72mg
Zinc 4.46mg 6.31mg Beef broiled
Copper 0.119mg 0.085mg Lamb
Manganese 0.022mg 0.012mg Lamb
Selenium 26.4µg 21.5µg Lamb
Vitamin A 0IU 9IU Beef broiled
Vitamin A RAE 0µg 3µg Beef broiled
Vitamin E 0.14mg 0.12mg Lamb
Vitamin D 2IU 2IU
Vitamin D 0.1µg 0µg Lamb
Vitamin B1 0.1mg 0.046mg Lamb
Vitamin B2 0.25mg 0.176mg Lamb
Vitamin B3 6.66mg 5.378mg Lamb
Vitamin B5 0.66mg 0.658mg Lamb
Vitamin B6 0.13mg 0.382mg Beef broiled
Folate 18µg 9µg Lamb
Vitamin B12 2.55µg 2.64µg Beef broiled
Choline 93.7mg 82.4mg Lamb
Vitamin K 4.6µg 1.2µg Lamb
Tryptophan 0.287mg 0.094mg Lamb
Threonine 1.05mg 0.72mg Lamb
Isoleucine 1.183mg 0.822mg Lamb
Leucine 1.908mg 1.45mg Lamb
Lysine 2.166mg 1.54mg Lamb
Methionine 0.629mg 0.478mg Lamb
Phenylalanine 0.998mg 0.725mg Lamb
Valine 1.323mg 0.914mg Lamb
Histidine 0.777mg 0.604mg Lamb
Cholesterol 97mg 88mg Beef broiled
Trans Fat 0.572g Lamb
Saturated Fat 8.83g 5.895g Beef broiled
Omega-3 - DHA 0g 0.001g Beef broiled
Omega-3 - EPA 0g 0.003g Beef broiled
Omega-3 - DPA 0g 0.016g Beef broiled
Monounsaturated Fat 8.82g 6.668g Lamb
Polyunsaturated fat 1.51g 0.484g Lamb
Omega-6 - Gamma-linoleic acid 0.012g Beef broiled
Omega-3 - ALA 0.044g Beef broiled

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Lamb Beef broiled
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet Equal
Low Calories diet ok
Low Glycemic Index diet Equal

Vitamins & Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score

The summary scores indicate the extent to which this food can fulfill your daily vitamin and mineral requirements if you consume 3 servings, consisting of 100 grams of each (an approximation of 3 serving sizes).
Vitamins Daily Need Coverage Score
52%
Lamb
51%
Beef broiled
Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score
52%
Lamb
56%
Beef broiled

Comparison summary

Which food is richer in vitamins?
Lamb
Lamb is relatively richer in vitamins
Which food is lower in Cholesterol?
Beef broiled
Beef broiled is lower in Cholesterol (difference - 9mg)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Beef broiled
Beef broiled is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 2.935g)
Which food is cheaper?
Beef broiled
Beef broiled is cheaper (difference - $0.3)
Which food contains less Sugar?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Sugar (0 g)
Which food contains less Sodium?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Sodium (72 mg)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
?
The foods have equal glycemic indexes (0)
Which food is richer in minerals?
?
It cannot be stated which food is richer in vitamins. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information.

References

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.

  1. Lamb - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/172480/nutrients
  2. Beef broiled - 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.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.