Food Feature: Lentils
Lentils are one of my favorite plant-based sources of protein. Not only are they full of fiber and other essential nutrients, they are relatively inexpensive, and very easy to prepare. Lentils are a fantastic pantry staple to keep on hand that will provide loads of meal options.
Lentils are a type of legume that is native to Western Asia and North America. They are one of the earliest domesticated crops, seen in the diets of ancient Rome and Egypt. Many countries enjoy lentils as a dietary staple, as they offer an earthy, mild, nutty flavor that works well in various recipes.
Lentils are a protein powerhouse—just a half-cup serving of cooked lentils contains 9 grams of protein. That same serving also contains almost 8 grams of fiber. They are also cholesterol-free, and very low in sugar and fat.
Lentils are rich in many of the minerals your body needs to stay healthy and keep your bones, muscles, heart, and brain working properly, including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. They are also a great source of vitamins such as folate, vitamin B6, niacin, and thiamin, which are important for energy metabolism.
Canned lentils are fully cooked and are safe to eat without further cooking. They can also be heated in the microwave, on the stovetop, or as part of a recipe.
Dry lentils need to be cooked. To cook lentils, first, rinse and remove any shriveled lentils or pebbles that may be there. Combine 1 part lentils with 2 parts water in a saucepan. Bring to a high simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce to a low simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes until lentils are tender.
In addition to being an excellent source of cholesterol-free protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, lentils contain slow-digesting resistant starch that delays the absorption of carbohydrates with blood sugar-lowering effects, as well as being a source of prebiotics that feeds gut flora to help prevent digestive diseases. Animal studies have shown that lentils can lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood glucose. Human studies have found that lentils may improve cholesterol levels in people with diabetes and may protect against breast cancer in women.
Dry lentils can be stored indefinitely in the pantry. Their color may fade after a long time, but their flavor is usually not affected by this.
Cooked lentils can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Legumes’ reputation for flatulence production may be undeserved: studies show that intestinal gas issues appear to return to normal levels after a few days or weeks of increased legume intake. Just be sure that your lentils are fully cooked as undercooked lentils are difficult to digest and may cause stomach upset.
Lentils are highly versatile. They have a rich, earthy texture and will give any dish a boost of protein, fiber, and nutrients. They can add thickness and bulk to a recipe. Because of their hearty texture and protein content, they can be used as an alternative to meat. Here are a few delicious recipes that include lentils: