Lentils – Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts & How to Select, Store & Prepare
Lentils, along with beans, peas, and Chickpeas , are part of the legume family. This edible seed is low in cholesterol and fat and is filled with nutrients you don’t want to miss.
Besides being one of the most good-for-you superfoods out there, lentils are often very inexpensive, meaning you can stock up on them without having to worry about your bank account.
Evidence of the first lentil crops were found on the banks of the Euphrates River and date back to over 10,000 years ago! However, it is believed that lentils were consumed even earlier than that, meaning they were likely one of the first ever domesticated crops.
Lentils are even mentioned in the Bible!
Throughout history, lentils have been enjoyed by both the poor and the rich and have found their way onto the tables of many major civilizations, including ancient Greece and Egypt.
Lentils were also a popular food in Europe during the Middle Ages and were used as a meat substitute during Lent after the rise of Catholicism.
Today, lentils continue to be a widely consumed vegetable, and have even risen in popularity within the last decade. However, lentils aren’t only enjoyed by consumers.For farmers, lentils can be a game changer. Lentil crops don’t use up any nitrogen in the soil, but replenish the nitrogen levels as they grow. So, each crop of lentils leaves the soil more fertile for the next crop.
The Top Health Benefits of Lentils
Lentils support heart health
Your heart and arteries rely on fiber to keep them healthy, and luckily, lentils are packed full of the stuff. There is about 12.5 grams of fiber in just one cup of lentils. That’s 71% of the recommended daily fiber intake for adults.
Fiber in the body lowers cholesterol levels and reduces your risk of clogged arteries. Clearer arteries mean lower blood pressure and improved blood flow, allowing your heart to not have to work as hard to supply your body with the blood it needs.
Lentils improve digestive health
On the topic of fiber, the heart isn’t the only part of the body that benefits.
When fiber goes into the body, it stays undigested, cleaning out your intestines as it passes through them and helping to prevent colon cancer. This not only eases constipation and diarrhea by encouraging regular bowel movements, but also flushes excess cholesterol out of your digestive system, preventing coronary artery disease.
Overall, lentils are your body’s best friend!
Lentils are an amazing source of protein
Lentils are full of protein, coming in second place only to soybeans. Just 1 cup of lentils will contain about 18 grams. Considering adult males need about 56 grams of protein a day, that’s 32% of your daily protein needs.
Protein is one of the most important nutrients for your body. It gives you energy and helps carry oxygen through your body, it fights off infection and disease, it builds up bones and muscles, it repairs skin tissue, and does so much more.
Protein is most commonly found in meat and fish, but for those looking for an alternative, lentils are a great option.
Buying Lentils: What to Look For
Different types of lentils have different tastes and textures when cooked. The most common types of lentils are green, brown, black, green, red, and yellow lentils. Let’s go over how these types of lentils differ from each other.
Green and brown lentils are the most common lentils out there. No matter what supermarket or grocery store you go to, you’re likely to come across these varieties. They’re flat, round, and soften in texture as they cook. Their flavor is very mild, making them convenient for use in all kinds of lentil dishes from lentil soup to curry.
Black lentils, also called beluga lentils, are much rounder and firmer than green and brown ones. When cooked, they have an al dente texture and a rich flavor reminiscent of black beans. Overall, these lentils make great additions to salads and protein bowls.
French green lentils, or Puy lentils, are strikingly similar to black lentils. They have a round shape and firm texture that makes them great for side dishes, bowls, and salads, but less than ideal for soups.
Red and yellow lentils are the mildest, sweetest lentils. Most commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, these lentils don’t have a skin, meaning they soften and lose their shape when cooked.
They’re perfect for thickening soups, dhals, and curries, and can also be used as a meat replacement in vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Once you’ve picked your variety of lentils, you can actually store them in your pantry for up to 3 years. After that, their quality will start to diminish. The sooner you use them, the higher the nutritional value will be, and the better they’ll taste, too.
Cooking With Lentils
Before you start your recipe, you’ll want to rinse your lentils off first. It’s not unusual to find dirt or even small pebbles mixed in with an organic bag of lentils, so make sure all of that gets taken out.
Once the lentils are clean, to cook them, simply boil for about 15 to 30 minutes, or according to the recipe’s instructions. After being boiled, lentils can last up to 5 days in an airtight container.
Lentils are extremely easy to cook with and can be used to make hundreds of amazing meals, the most classic meal being lentil soup. Simply sauté meat and vegetables of your choice in a pan, then boil them in a pot of water. Add in the lentils and enjoy.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of versions of lentil soup you can make by changing up the kinds of vegetables, meats, herbs, and lentils you use.
If you’re looking for a recipe that’s more unique, lentils also make for the perfect side dish for fish and shrimp dishes. You can even make lentil chili, lentil curry, and lentil burgers.
No matter what you choose to make, lentils are packed full of nutrients. Whatever meal you make with them, it’ll taste good, and be good for you, too.