Lamb meat keeps your body warmer than other meats?
December 13, 2010 12:32 AM   Subscribe

Waiter at Chinese restaurant says eating lamb meat will keep your body warmer than all other meats, true or false? Please concur or debunk with Science.
posted by querty to Food & Drink (15 answers total)
Sounds like a bit of traditional food theory, which AFAIK hasn't stood up to rigorous scientific testing but has a few thousand years of cultural practice going for it (suspect it's mostly nonsense myself).
posted by Abiezer at 12:52 AM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Uh, it's obviously false. What does that even mean? That it would give you a fever? Boost your metabolism? Increase circulation to the extremities? In theory there could be some compound or hormone that might have those effects but I think cooking destroys a lot of those and anyway most mammals have pretty similar hormones anyway, so I doubt there is much difference.
posted by delmoi at 12:54 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

This makes no sense to me, based on what I know about how biology, chemistry, nutrition, and the human body work.

However, it does remind me a lot of certain strains of Eastern medicine. For instance I know that in some systems there's an emphasis on "warming" foods vs. "cooling" foods and which type should be eaten in various situations in order to keep the body at equilibrium. It's metaphorical, at best.

It also sounds like a possible garbling of some random factoid like "lamb tends to be higher in calories than other meats". (Not sure if that is true, at all, btw.) People believe a lot of completely nonsensical things based on gross misunderstandings, all the time. Just today my mother told me CFL lightbulbs were being outlawed. WTF?
posted by Sara C. at 12:59 AM on December 13, 2010

According to this google result for "lamb warming food chinese",
Lamb and lamb's kidneys are both yang foods, although some Chinese regard the kidneys as rather more warming than the meat. They are good to combat damp and chills, and help to strengthen yang, Qi, and Blood. Lamb's kidneys are also believe - in Doctrine of Signatures fashion, whereby a plant's properties are indicated by its appearance - to help the Kidneys, so are recommended for tinnitus, deafness, impotence, or urinary problems, which are all associated with Kidney energy.

Lamb itself is seen as more warming for the Stomach and Spleen -useful for diarrhea and stomach chills.
I doubt it will be easy to find anything much more Sciencey than that, because the traditional Chinese concept of warming vs cooling food is not really susceptible to Science.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:23 AM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think this harks back to the Chinese theory that some foods are "cooling" for your body, while others are "heaty".

So-called "cooling" foods will exacerbate "cold" illnesses like coughs and colds, while helping to treat for "hot" illnesses like fevers. Same theory, in reverse, for "heaty" foods; they will exacerbate "hot" illnesses. If the body's balance of hot and cold is out of whack, illnesses will develop.

Mutton/lamb is considered to be a "heaty" food, and over-consumption of it can cause the "heat" of the body to rise, hence raising the temperature. This is probably why it is such a popular winter-time food.

I know, it sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, and it probably is, but hey, can't argue with a few hundred years of culture

Alternatively... you might look at it as lamb having higher percentage of fat than lean meats, which helps to insulate your body against cold.
posted by titantoppler at 1:59 AM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's not strictly a Chinese thing either, it's a cross-cultural practice related to Humorism. There's a lot of information on Google Scholar about Humoral food theory and medicine. The assignment of "hot" and "cold" (as many people have said already) is mostly arbitrary, so there's no scientific reason why lamb meat is going to keep you warm. But I wouldn't be surprised if, in some cases, there are medical benefits beyond just the placebo effect of adhering to cultural beliefs. For instance, women in Malaysia are perscribed a strict diet of "hot" foods in the weeks following birth. Since most meat is considered "hot", they end up getting more protein during this time than they're used to, especially if they're poor.
posted by a.steele at 6:57 AM on December 13, 2010

My trainer says that I should eat less lamb because it's generally higher in fat and calories than other red meats. I could see where if that's true, it would lead to a perception that lamb keeps you warmer, because it gives you more calories to burn. I don't know if it's actually true that lamb is generally fattier and more calorie-dense than other meat, and because of the variation across cuts of meat within types of animals (never mind across individual animals) it's hard to get an easy answer to that.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:02 AM on December 13, 2010

My wife was told to both consume nothing but lamb and to never consume lamb while pregnant in China. Even traditional food theories vary from region to region. I'm sure western chinese will favor the consumption of lamb while the southerners will tell you to eat less.

On a related note, as a young man fresh out of college I roomed with a black guy. We both got colds. Both our moms told us we needed to "bulk up". His told him to eat some chicken, mine to eat a steak. Go figure.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:17 AM on December 13, 2010

Scientifically, it's Chinese folk hokum. However, consider that it may not be the meat, but the preparation, that got the folk story started. If you always prepare lamb with spices and peppers, then it's a hop-skip-and-a-jump to think that it's the lamb making you all hot and bothered, and not the spices and the peppers that we know have physical effects because of capsaicin and other "hot food" chemicals.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:13 AM on December 13, 2010

[stop with the jokes please, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:15 AM on December 13, 2010

Lamb is kind of fatty, which might be what you need if you're e.g. working in the cold for a while. Is it fattier than all other common meats? An ideal fat:protein ratio? Maybe, I wouldn't know.

But I think titantoppler and a.steele are right and the waiter was probably referring to the Chinese traditional medicine notions of heat and cooling, which are (a) fairly metaphorical and not the same as literal heat and cold and (b) not based in what we'd consider science anyway.
posted by hattifattener at 9:49 AM on December 13, 2010

I think it's quite true.

As those of us who've cleaned a lot of roasting pans can attest, lamb fat has a higher melting point than chicken, turkey, beef or pork fat.

This is fine for sheep with their superior stem to stern top to bottom wool insulation, but for animals with less insulation, especially us naked humans, a fat with a high melting point can pose a real problem because of the the structure of adipocytes (fat storing cells), which are basically large fat droplets with the normal cell apparatus stretched around them on their surfaces.

If the temperature of the adipocyte falls below the melting point of the fat stored inside it, that frozen fat can obviously not be metabolized at all.

And the same argument applies to the whole process of digesting the fat and moving it around to the places where it will be used or stored.

Therefore, in order to make use of lamb fat, your body is obliged to maintain higher temperatures in various parts and perhaps overall than it otherwise would, and you experience that as "warming."
posted by jamjam at 10:09 AM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

If the temperature of the adipocyte falls below the melting point of the fat stored inside it, that frozen fat can obviously not be metabolized at all.

Wow. So, very, very wrong.

Your stomach is not an oven. Your stomach doesn't render fat. Digestion is a chemical process that takes place at normal human body temperatures. Gastric acids don't need to be heated in order for them to do their thing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:57 AM on December 13, 2010

Lamb fats melts at 50 C (122 F), so if you're keeping it liquid in your digestive tract, well, you're not from around here.
posted by echo target at 11:40 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Protein in general has a high thermic effect, meaning your body generates a good amount of heat in digesting it. I also tend to feel really warm when eating a high-fat, high-protein meal like bacon and eggs fried in butter - maybe that's related?
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 3:49 PM on December 13, 2010

« Older I can't catch you, you're the gingerbread man.   |   the greatest band i ever saw Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.