Lentils: What Are They and Why You Should Eat Them More
Lentils. A secret superfood that, for some reason, doesn't seem to get enough attention, nor love, from the health-obsessed (for good reason!) world we live in. So, here at 6AM Health, we have one bold message for today’s readers: Bring back lentils!
What are they?
Lentils are tiny round legumes. Not all lentils look the same, as they come in a variety of sizes and colors, including black, brown, yellow, red, and green. Each lentil type has its own flavor and ‘proper’ way of cooking. For example, brown lentils, the most widely eaten type, have an earthy flavor, hold their shape well during cooking, and are great in stews whereas yellow and red lentils are split, cook quickly, and have a somewhat sweet and nutty flavor. Lentils, a long-cherished plant-based protein source in Indian cuisine and vegan cooking, can be found alongside dried beans in the supermarket.
Baseline Nutrition Highlights
Low in fat and calories.
High in fiber and complex carbohydrates.
Excellent source of protein – when combined with a whole grain, lentils provide the same quality protein as meat.
Contain potassium, iron, and manganese.
Suitable for a diabetic diet: low glycemic index and resistant to starch content.
Health Benefits of Lentils
Lentils are chock-full of polyphenols, which have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties with potential cancer-cell inhibiting effects. Polyphenols have also been proven to help you live longer!
Lentils are high in plant-based protein.
The high iron content in lentils is important for keeping oxygen pumping throughout the body. If iron levels get too low, iron-deficient anemia could develop, which has been found in 1-2% of Americans.
Lentils are full of fiber, which is good for both digestive health and gut motility and healthy weight maintenance.
Lentils are good for your bones, providing a non-dairy source of calcium.
They are also a good source of folic acid, which not only is important for pregnant mothers, but also supports healthy hair growth, red blood cell formation, and proper nerve function.
Lentils boost heart health, as they are associated with an overall lower risk of heart disease. By getting rid of the ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol in our bodies, lentils may protect your heart. The combination of folate and magnesium has also been proven helpful in aiding heart health.
Lentils are super affordable (yay!), ranging from $0.99 to $2.99/pound. You can also buy them canned or precooked for an easy way to boost the nutrients in your meals on the go. How can you resist??
Potential ‘Downsides’ of Lentils
Legumes, which would encompass lentils, are “not allowed,” and actually cut out entirely, from paleo diets, as well as Whole30. While we like to champion intuitive, sustainable eating habits over fad diets, I think it is important to recognize why these programs restrict legumes like lentils.
The reason these diets eliminate all legumes (like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils) is because they contain high levels of phytates, which can block the uptake of certain nutrients by our bodies. This may sound scary, but don’t be alarmed! The truth of the matter is that there are not only many factors that affect our uptake of nutrients (e.g., how a food is stored, processed, and cooked, what else it is eaten with, etc.), but that all plant-based foods contain varying levels of phytates. In fact, kale, which is highly promoted in both Paleo and Whole30 diets, contains more phytates than legumes.
Incorporating Lentils In Our Diets
Ok, so you’re on board with the whole “lentils are the next big thing” train we’ve got going here, but now you are wondering what the best way is to incorporate them into your everyday diet. Cooking lentils themselves is easy, and in a traditional sense, they can be added to a salad, soup, or stew. Many brands, such as Modern Table, Explore Cuisine, and Tolerant, also sell lentil-based pasta!
If you are feeling creative, and looking for some out-of-box recipes that are lentil-based, you might want to try Marinated Lentils with Lemony Broccolini and Feta, Lentil Burgers, or even Vegan Coconut Lentil Soup.
What is your favorite way to eat lentils? Share a recipe with us in the comments below or by tagging us on IG @6amhealth!