Refocus on lean lamb in new cook book

LAMB will be the focus when author and Murdoch University professor Catherine Itsiopoulos completes her new book on the Mediterranean diet and heart health.

Ms Itsiopoulos, vice chancellor of Science, Health Engineering and Education, said lamb was traditionally part of the Greek Mediterranean diet, but over the years it had been replaced by other types of meat, so the book would see her return to her family’s cultural roots.

“From a nutritional point of view, being a dietitian, my connection with lamb goes back a long way, being born to a Greek family of migrants who came here and immediately caught onto Australian lamb,” professor Itsiopoulos said.

“I often tell stories of the Greek barbecues where we use to plan 20 lamb cutlets per person that was present at the barbecues – so when we talk about portion size of meat in a Greek Mediterranean diet it included lamb.

“Lamb was a must and Australian lamb was fantastic – certainly better than the lamb in Europe for Greeks that came here.

“Nutritionally I have been interested in the quality of the food supply, and certainly going forward my research had been all about diet and prevention of chronic disease.”

Professor Itsiopoulos was at the Sheep CRC’s launch of it’s Concept to Impact book last week at Murdoch University, which celebrates 18 years of the Sheep CRC.

She said she was delighted to hear about “all of the exciting developments on such a large scale that the CRC had achieved for the Australian sheep industry and the impact it has had on the universities involved – particularly Murdoch University and the fertile ground it has provided for their Phd students and researchers of the future”.

“So I think as a CRC this is a beautiful celebration of the end of an era and the beginning of the next,” professor Itsiopoulos said.

She said what she loved about the Sheep CRC was “the focus on the feeding and breeding of the lamb to improve not only the tenderness and palatability, which is what the consumer sees, but the nutritional value of the lamb”.

“For me that is improving the poly unsaturated fats, particularly the omega 3s.

“Most people think of fish, but meat that is reared in a free range environment and fed the right food, or animals such as sheep can also improve the omega 3 fatty acids in their meat and we eat those and its good for us as well.

“For me there’s a number of exciting things (in the research) but also the impact on nutrition and health is an extra bonus.”

Professor Itsiopoulos said the Mediterranean diet had been “tried and tested worldwide ” and ranked as one of the best dietary patterns in the world for the prevention and management of chronic disease.

“It’s not a purely vegetarian diet – it is plant based so the bulk of the foods on a four to one ration are plant foods, but that 1:4 if we are looking at the protein source it is important to have good quality protein,” she said.

“In terms of health, lamb and meat provide an essential nutrient which you can’t find in vegetable foods – particularly iron and zinc.

“Some of these minerals are critical and for people on strict vegan diets it is very difficult to meet your nutritional requirements being strictly vegan – and vegetarian is tricky as well.

“As a dietician I was often consulting particularly young women who tend to suffer from iron deficiency and saying, ‘if at all possible have lean meat’.

“You don’t have to have it everyday, but the iron in meat is absorbed so much better by the body and there really isn’t a replacement in plant foods – we have to eat so much green leafy vegetables and legumes to get enough iron and that is hard to access.

“If you don’t absolutely have to be vegetarian have meat sometimes.”

Professor Itsiopoulos said her new book would be a “refocus” and would be her third book on the Mediterranean diet and health, but “this one is about the Mediterranean diet and heart disease”.

“There has been a lot of messaging around not eating meat, particularly for heart disease,” she said.

“What I’d like to message in this book and my research going forward is if you use meat selectively, such as lean lamb, you can incorporate that into dishes and get a high biological value protein source that is lean with the right fatty acids and it fits with the Mediterranean diet.

“I’ll be looking at gearing more recipes that include more lamb.

“Lamb is the traditional meat to use so I’m going back to traditional recipes and reinserting lamb and when we get the proportions right focus on lean lamb together with all of the vegetables and legumes which are important as well.”

Professor Itsiopoulos said she was still completing the book and looking for collaborations to make cooking a healthy diet easier.

“One of the biggest barriers to having a good diet is lack of time and ability to cook,” she said.


Article credit –

Photo credit – Murdoch University professor Catherine Itsiopoulos (centre) with Sheep CRC executive officer, professor James Rowe (left), Murdoch University professor David Morrison, associate professor Graham Gardner and professor David Pethick with the new Sheep CRC Concept to Impact book at its launch last week.