Full of fiber and nutrients, lentils are a top plant-based protein pick for many vegans and vegetarians. Let’s get to know their versatility and benefits, and how to include them in your meals.
BY: LINDSEY JANEIRO, RDN, CLC
Packed with nutrition and health benefits, lentils are an affordable, quick-cooking plant-based protein that anyone can incorporate into their diets. One cup of cooked lentils contains about 230 calories, 18 grams of protein, and 16 grams of fiber. Gram for gram, that’s more protein than beef!
Have you heard how everyone always talks about all the plant-based protein and fiber in (trendy) quinoa? Well, lentils have double the amount of protein and fiber found in quinoa! They are also packed with other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, like folate, iron, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, thiamin, selenium, and more.
Lentils are actually quite colorful – you can find brown, green, black (beluga), and red lentils. Red lentils are more commonly in Indian dishes like dahl or in spreads/ dips, as they don’t maintain their shape quite as well after cooking. Brown and green lentils are the two types you see most commonly on your grocery store shelves. Green lentils will stay a little firmer, whereas brown lentils get softer when cooking.
Let’s get to know what makes them so amazing for your health:
Reduced Risk of Chronic Health Conditions
Many studies have shown evidence that consuming more plant-based foods leads to a lower risk of lifestyle-related chronic health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Lentils definitely qualify as a plant-based food, and can arguably lend to greater health since usually they’re consumed instead of meat-based protein, which will have higher amounts of saturated fat.
According to the American Heart Association, increasing the amount of fiber you eat can reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol even more than by just eating a diet lower in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Lentils are a great source of fiber, and one cup of cooked lentils also contains 21% of your daily value for potassium that can help naturally decrease your blood pressure. Potassium is especially important for heart health when combined with calcium and magnesium, which are also found in lentils.
Promotes Healthy Pregnancy
One cup of cooked lentils provides 358 mcg of folate, or ~90% of your daily needs – it’s recommended pregnant women consume 400 mcg folate daily. Folate, or folic acid, is super important especially in pregnancy to help reduce the risk of birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly.
Good for Your Gut
Again, we’re coming back to fiber! The same fiber that contributes to heart health also is good for our guts. The fiber helps add bulk to stools, aiding in regularity and preventing constipation. Additionally, this bulking aspect of fiber helps us feel fuller, which can often help with greater satisfaction after eating and weight loss.
Here’s a special shout out to the selenium in lentils, because not many foods contain selenium. Selenium can prevent inflammation, cognitive health, and thyroid function.
So how do you prepare lentils?
Here’s a tip: you do NOT have to presoak them before cooking, unlike most other dried bean variations (three cheers for low maintenance cooking!). Follow your specific package directions through the recipe you’re following, but typically lentils are cooked in a 2:1 ratio of water to lentils (i.e. two cups of water to one cup of dried lentils). Add the lentils when boiling and cook uncovered for 20-30 minutes.
In addition to their affordability, another benefit is their versatility! They’re amazing in soups and stews in the winter time. You can easily add them to grain bowls, tacos, casseroles, salads, and even smoothies. Use them as a ground meat substitute (think lentil sloppy joes or lentil chilis), or mix them in recipes with half ground meat and half lentils.
It’s a great way to add more health benefits to your recipe and save a buck!
Adapted from the original article.
Lindsey Janeiro RDN, CLC is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Counselor based in Sarasota, FL focused on helping busy moms live stress-free in the kitchen. She inspires moms with the confidence and encouragement they need to create simple, affordable family meals that nourishes everyone’s health and happiness. Learn more about Lindsey at Nutrition to Fit.