Lentils are kinda the perfect food. They are cheap to purchase, easy to cook, and full of healthy nutrition for your body. But best of all, they taste delicious and are super versatile in the kitchen– helping make healthy meal prep a little less stressful. Lentils are great in hearty stews, mashed into chili, blended into dips, served with Mediterranean meals or cooked into curries of Indian and African origin.
Lentils are so cool that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) named 2016 the Year of Pulses (lentils– and other foods categorized as legumes– are often called pulses). This family of foods includes lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans. Designating an item as the food of the year encourages research and development of these foods, and helps spread awareness around the globe.
Why might lentils and their cousins be chosen as the food of the year? Lentils are a great source of sustainable plant-based protein, and they are easy to grow, and actually help improve soil as a nitrogen-fixing plant. “The Year [of Pulses] will create a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that would better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, better utilize crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses,” states the FAO.
And lentils are one of the best options of all the legume family. Dr. Greger, doctor, author, and founder of NutritionFacts.org and frequent Care2 contributor, shares in his video that red lentils are some of the healthiest beans to eat. In another video, Dr. Greger explains that consumption of legumes like lentils are one of the biggest predictors of longer lifespan.
Lentils are an excellent source of minerals like folate, molybdenum, copper, iron, manganese, B vitamins and zinc. And they contain high-quality protein (about 18 grams), so you’ll feel fuller, longer – and best of all lentils cost just a few cents per ounce.
Lentils are also loaded with fiber. Compared ounce-for-ounce with other foods, they are one of the best sources of fiber you can get. Just one cup of cooked lentils contains about 16 grams of fiber, more than half the daily requirements for women.
Of all the things that can be done to improve our health, ensuring that you get ample amounts of fiber is one of the easiest. Fiber, found in whole grains, seeds, fruits, vegetables and all plant foods, is essential for keeping our digestion moving well, and reducing constipation, bloating, and digestive discomfort. Studies are now finding connections between healthy digestion and gut health to better moods, greater immunity, improved vitamin and mineral absorption and production, and even weight loss.
But research suggests that more than 90 percent of Americans aren’t meeting their daily fiber requirement, which is 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men. Most Americans need to double their fiber intake to just meet these daily requirements. Most people get only about 11-19 grams per day, which is not enough to keep their systems running smoothly.
It’s easy to boost your fiber intake with small changes in your diet, and lentils are one of my favorite options. Whether you choose red, brown, green or black lentils, you can’t go wrong.
How to Choose Lentils:
Most lentils have similar nutrition benefits. Choose red, brown, or black lentils depending on your recipe.
Red Lentils: Light orange-red color, and the smallest of lentils, red lentils are the quickest cooking. They tend to get very mashy when cooked, and do not retain their shape, but this is perfect for Indian curries and lentil stews, like the new recipe below for Tomato Coconut Lentils.
Brown Lentils: Slightly bigger, brown lentils are probably the most common. They retain their shape slightly, but will break down like red lentils when cooked for a long time. Since they are larger, they need a slightly larger cooking time. Brown lentils can often look a little greenish, but are different than Green Lentils.
Green Lentils: Called De Puy lentils for the region in France where they originated (and have a protected designation of origin), green lentils are actually a gorgeous mottled green and blue mixture. These lentils are tiny, and because they hold their shape, they work well for lentils salads.
Black Lentils, or Black Beluga Lentils: These lovely legumes that have a darker hue also hold their shape and work great for pretty salads. They look a bit like caviar, and so are often used for fancy appetizers as a replacement.
Tomato Coconut Lentils
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrot
1-2 Tablespoons minced garlic
2 cups red lentils
1 Tablespoon dried turmeric
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2-4 cups water or vegetable broth
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14-15 ounce) can coconut milk
2 cups minced greens (kale, spinach, chard, etc.)
- In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add carrot and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes more to soften.
- Reduce heat, and add lentils and all spices. Stir to coat, then add 2 cups water/broth, tomatoes and coconut milk. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are almost fully dissolved. Taste, and add more salt if necessary. Add up to 2 cups more water/broth for a thinner soup.
- Add in greens and stir to wilt, and serve immediately. Serve while still warm.
Awesome Lentil Recipes:
Vegan Sloppy Joe’s
Simple and Cozy Lentil Chili
Mujadara – Caramelized Onion, Lentil & Rice Stew
Curried Lentil Salad With Capers & Currants
Green Lentil Burgers
Ethiopian Lentils with Quinoa
French Lentil Portobello Burgers
Dilled Rice and Lentils with Creamy Cucumber Salad
Persian New Year’s Soup from Lucid Food by Louisa Shafia
Lentil Wraps with Tahini Dressing
Rice Cooker Lentil Curry
Nutrition information from USDA; images from ThinkStock and respective authors