What Are Lentils Good For?

Laudable Lentils
Botanical name: Lens culinaris

Lentils Nutrition Facts

Vegans and non-vegetarians often welcome lentils (Lens culinaris) into their diets because of its versatility in cooking. Lentils also provide numerous dishes with a boost in both protein and fiber content, nutrients that are essential for optimal body function.

Lentils have been part of the human diet since the early civilizations, with traces of domesticated lentils being found on the banks of the Euphrates River. The pioneer civilizations also included lentils in their diet, with Greeks actually considering it as “poor man’s food.”

This, however, is contrary to the Egyptian civilization where lentils were actually found inside the tombs of pharaohs, implying that lentils were often held in high esteem in ancient Egyptian culture. Nowadays, lentils are considered a staple in various cuisines around the world.1

Lentils come in a handful of varieties that differ in color, texture and taste. Some of the most common types of lentils include black, green and the red varieties. Black lentils, also known as beluga, are famous for their similarity to caviar. They are often cooked in both cold and warm salads. Green lentils are the most widely available variety of lentils and are one of the easiest legumes to cook. They are often added to side dishes and soups.

Meanwhile, red lentils, which can actually be red, yellow or gold, are widely used in Indian cuisine. It’s the main ingredient in dal, an Indian stew that is often served with rice. Red lentils often break down to a puree-like consistency once cooked, which makes them a good ingredient for soups.2

Having been deemed as a superfood, it comes as no surprise that lentils actually offer impressive amounts of vitamins and minerals that your body would be happy to acquire. Continue reading to get more information about this legume and how you can incorporate it into your diet.

Get These Health Benefits From Lentils

Due to the high amount of protein in lentils, those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are highly advised to consume this food because of its high protein content. But even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian, incorporating this food into your diet will give you a plethora of health benefits, as lentils give your body essential vitamins and minerals. Here are some of the health benefits you can get from lentils:3

  • Lowers the risk for cardiovascular disease. Lentils contain fiber and folate. Studies suggest that eating high-fiber foods helps decrease the risk for heart disease, while magnesium helps regulate blood circulation.4
  • Slows the rate of digestion and sugar absorption. The high fiber content of lentils help slow down the rate of digestion. This leads to the slower absorption of glucose, helping regulate blood sugar levels.
  • May help in the prevention of birth defects in pregnant women. Lentils contain high amounts of folate, a mineral necessary for preventing neural tube defects in unborn babies. Insufficient folate intake often cause spinal cord defects and may even lead to brain development problems.5
  • Aids in weight loss. Lentils are low in calories, filling and nutrient-dense. This means that one serving of lentils usually prolongs the period before hunger sets in again, limiting or decreasing the calories that you take in throughout the day.6

What Are the Culinary Uses for Lentils?

Lentils can be cooked in a variety of ways, which means it would take quite a while to run out of ways to incorporate this legume into your meals. One of the most common ways that lentils are eaten is lentil soup or stews. Here are some of the ways that lentils are prepared around the world:

  • France. France produces Puy lentils, a variety that specifically grows in the region of Le Puy. These lentils are said to be superior in texture and are actually more expensive that other varieties. They are often cooked alongside fish, game and sausages.7
  • India. Red lentils are often used in Indian cuisine to provide consistency to dal and stews. They are cooked with different Indian herbs and spices to add intense flavors.8
  • Lebanon or Syria. Mujadara is one of the dishes in Lebanon with lentils as its main ingredients. This usually consists of cooked lentils, rice and caramelized onions. While it was once called peasant food, it is now being served all around the world.9
  • Egypt. Koshari, the national dish of Egypt, uses lentils as one of its main ingredients, along with Egyptian rice, macaroni and tomato chile sauce. When you travel to Egypt, this is one of the dishes that you’re going to find almost everywhere, from street vendors to well-established restaurants.10

The wide distribution of lentils just shows that a large portion of the world’s population benefits from the nutritional components of this food, all the more reason why you should incorporate it into your diet.

Cooking Guide for Lentils

Because of the numerous varieties available, many people make mistakes when cooking lentils. The different consistency and texture of each variety means that there are certain types of lentils that go well with certain dishes, but they may not go well with other types. Read on to learn how to best cook and enjoy different lentil varieties:11

  • Green lentils or Puy lentils. Green lentils have a rather peppery flavor. This variety of lentils takes the longest to cook, taking about 45 minutes. Even after cooking, they still retain their firm texture, which makes them the preferred type for salads.
  • Brown lentils. Brown lentils are the most common type of lentils. They usually have a mild earthy flavor. This variety usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes to cook.
  • Red lentils (red, yellow and gold). Red lentils have the sweetest flavor of all the lentil varieties available in the market. They take about 30 minutes to cook and take on a rather mushy texture once cooked thoroughly. They’re usually added to soups to provide a thick consistency.

If you’re planning on replenishing your stock of lentils, make sure that you choose lentils that are dry, firm, clean and unshriveled. The general rule for cooking lentils is that for each cup used, you should include 4 cups of water or homemade broth (for added flavor).12

Try These Delicious and Nutrient-Filled Lentil Recipes

While lentils are not uncommon in American cuisine, some of you might not be familiar with cooking with lentils. To help you with the dilemma of which lentil recipe you should try, we narrowed it down for you. Here are a few tasty and healthy recipes you can choose from:13, 14

Lentil Healthy Recipes:
Healthy Chicken Soup with Lentils

Lentils Healthy Recipe

Ingredients:

1/2 cup yellow lentils, soaked overnight

1 jar crushed tomatoes (or substitute fresh)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 whole organic pasture-raised chicken, cut up (marinate overnight in lemon juice if you have time)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

4 cups chicken stock or bone broth

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 head medium cabbage, chopped or 1/2 pound spinach

Procedure:

  1. Heat a large pot over medium heat and add coconut oil. Place chicken in pot and brown each side for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  2. Place onions in the pot and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sauté for another 5-10 minutes. Add both vinegars, lentils, stock and chicken. Simmer for 1 hour on low heat.
  3. Remove chicken and take off skin and bones. Then return the chicken to the pot.
  4. Add the cabbage and cook for 15 minutes. Add the garlic and spinach (if using). Cook for another 10 minutes.
  5. Serve with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

(From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type)

Red Lentil Soup With Lemon

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons coconut oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon organic tomato paste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt, more to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne, or more, to taste

1 quart homemade chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 cup red lentils

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

 

 

Procedure:

  1. In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.
  2. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.
  3. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.
  4. Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.
  5. Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.

(Adapted from Melissa Clark, New York Times Cooking)

Lentil and Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

250 grams dried Puy or green lentils, rinsed

1/2 lime juice

1/2 lemon juice

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 red onion, thinly sliced into rings

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 small clove of garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons mango chutney

A handful of coriander, chopped

250 grams of organic cherry tomatoes, sliced

85 grams of baby spinach, washed and dried

Procedure:

  1. Boil the lentils. Drain and rinse well.
  2. Mix the citrus juices, vinegar, salt and onion rings. Whisk together with the oil, cumin, garlic and chutney. Toss in the onions with the cooled lentils, coriander, tomatoes, spinach and seasoning.

(Adapted from BBC Good Food)

Lentil Nutrition Facts

Lentils are considered to be one of the most nutritious legumes or beans available. It contains high amounts of folate, protein, manganese, iron, thiamin and phosphorus. There’s 230 calories per cup of lentils. It also contains high amounts of fiber, which helps in reducing appetite and curbing hunger. For more nutritional information for lentils, check out this chart:15

Lentils Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 100 grams
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 116 6%
Calories from Fat 3.2  
Total Fat 0.4 g 1%
Saturated Fat 0.1 g 0%
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 2 mg 0%
Total Carbohydrates 20.1 g 7%
Dietary Fiber 7.9 g 32%
Sugar 0.8 g  
Protein 9 g 18%
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 2%
Calcium 2% Iron 19%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.