All the benefits of beans and more
Lentils are like the little legumes that could be. Sure, they’re super nutritious. But that’s just the beginning.
“Lentils are extremely versatile,” says Sylvia Klinger, a registered dietitian and owner of Hispanic Food Communications. “Not only are they a great addition to lunch and dinner, but you will be surprised to learn how delicious they can be for snacks and even breakfast.”
Plus, they’re cheap and easy to prepare. What’s not to love?
If you haven’t tried lentils lately, here’s a place in your pantry.
Lentils: The original ancient protein
Botanically, lentils belong to a family of plants called legumes, the edible seeds of legumes. Legumes include dried beans, peas, and chickpeas.
It’s been around for millennia – literally.
Lentils are one of the oldest domesticated crops. They are so old that they are even mentioned in the Old Testament.
Originally enjoyed by the ancient Israelis, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, these drought-tolerant proteins quickly migrated to India and Europe, and eventually North America.
types of lenses
If eating the rainbow is one of your diet goals, lentils can help.
There are red lentils, yellow lentils, green lentils, brown lentils, black beluga lentils and more – each with a different shape, size, taste, texture and cooking time.
Which one should you use? There are basically two types of lentils:
- Whole lentils: These still have their seed coats intact, so they keep their shape after cooking. This makes them an excellent choice for salads, burgers, tacos, and meatloaf. Look out for: French green lentils and black beluga lentils.
- share lenses: Because split lentils are stripped of their seed coats, they cook faster than whole lentils. They also tend to break down under heat, making them better for dips, smoothies, soups, curries, and muffins. Look for: split red or yellow lentils.
Most lentils are sold dry, but you can also find them canned.
If you’re looking for other creative ways to eat more of this healthy legume, try lentil flour in pancakes or muffins. Or, prepare a pot of lentil pasta for a healthy boost of plant-based protein and fiber.
You can also find lentils in the form of chips and puffs in the snacks section. While these may provide some nutrition, they may also contain added sodium and fat. So they cannot be compared to minimally processed lens products.
Like other beans, lentils are loaded with healthy plant protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
They’re also high in slow-digesting, healthy complex carbohydrates. That’s a good thing for most of us, but keep an eye on portion sizes when following a low-carb diet.
One cup of cooked lentils (198 grams) contains the following nutrients and Daily Values (DV):
Protein: 18 g (36 percent DV)
Fat: 1 g (1 percent DV)
Carbohydrates: 40 g (15 percent DV)
Fiber: 16 g (57 percent DV)
Folate: 358 µg (90 percent DV)
Iron: 7 mg (39 percent DV)
Magnesium: 71 mg (17 percent DV)
Potassium: 731 mg (16 percent DV)
Zinc: 3 mg (27 percent DV)
R. Tsubin/Getty Images
Health Benefits of Lentils
“The more lentils we eat, the more health benefits we get,” says Nick Buettner, program director of The Blue Zones Project, a healthy community initiative.
“Eating healthy, plant-based sources of protein like lentils instead of red and processed meat can reduce your risk of several diseases and premature death,” he says.
No wonder the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming 1.5 to 3 cups of lentils and beans per week, depending on your calorie needs.
Here are some of the helpful things they can do for your body:
Boost heart health
Legumes, like lentils, have a special type of cholesterol-lowering fiber called viscous fiber. As part of a low-fat, heart-healthy diet, a daily serving of legumes can lower “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by an additional 4 to 5 percent, Büttner says.
“On the practical side, swapping out beans and lentils for some of the meat you consume also saves money,” he adds.
Lentils are exceptionally high in folate, which may help protect against various types of cancer, including head, neck, esophageal, and pancreatic cancer, Büttner says.
They are so powerful that a 2019 Clinical Nutrition A study of 7,216 people found that those who consumed the most lentils had a 37 percent lower risk of dying from cancer than infrequent legume eaters.
support weight loss
“Lentils are an excellent source of fiber, a nutrient that helps us feel full, can reduce appetite and prevent overeating,” Büttner says.
Combine that with their generous protein and you have a winner.
What about the calories in lentils? No reason to worry. A recently American Journal of Clinical Nutrition A meta-analysis of 21 studies found that eating legumes, such as lentils, helped people lose weight without cutting calories.
Increase gut health
Lentils offer a cocktail of substances that improve gut health, says Karen Cichy, a research associate plant geneticist with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In addition to their abundant fiber, lentils also contain resistant starches and prebiotics called oligosaccharides, which serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria, she explains.
Safety, risks and side effectscts
Like beans, high-fiber lentils can cause gas and bloating if they are not a regular part of your diet.
Starting out with small portions allows your digestive system to adjust.
Lentils can also be uncomfortable if you’re sensitive to FODMAP foods — these are foods that ferment in the colon and can cause gas and bloating. However, recent research shows that rinsing lentils after cooking can help.
What about the fact that they contain lectins — plant-based proteins that some say have negative health effects?
First, it may help to know that concerns about lectins are overstated. While lectins were a problem, lentils aren’t to blame.
“The lectin content in fully cooked lentils shouldn’t be an issue because lectins are deactivated in the cooking process even without soaking,” says Cichy.
How do you prepare lentils
Unlike beans, which require soaking and take eons to cook, lentils are fast.
Depending on the variety, the little guys are ready in five to 20 minutes. And no soaking is required. Just give them a quick rinse, boil them in a large pot of water, and you’re good to go.
However, if you’re really pressed for time, slam a batch of instant pot lentils or crockpot lentils.
Or if you’re not motivated to cook, reach for canned lentils, suggests Klinger.
“I always keep a few cans of lentils in my pantry for last-minute meals like soups and patties,” she adds.
Are you ready to add more lenses to your life? Try them out in these delicious recipes:
And don’t forget, they’re still a win in lentil soup.