YaQutullah Ibraheem Muhammad
Lentils are considered pulses, which are “the dry, edible seeds of plants in the legume family” according to Pulses.org, and are a powerhouse for many key nutrients. There are several varieties, including green, red, small brown, French green, and black, and they can be purchased with or without their skins. Lentils are also sold in various forms, from bulk and bagged to frozen or pre-cooked. They are even in packaged foods such as IFANCA halal-certified Saffron Road Lentil Crackers. Some packaged products may also add lentils in order to boost the item’s protein and fiber content.
Lentils are good for the environment. According to Pulses.org, lentils are one of several nitrogen-fixing crops that “can convert nitrogen in the air into a plant available nutrient. Lentils can [also] reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers, ultimately improving the environmental sustainability of annual cropping systems.” They also can help fight world hunger. According to Michael J. Considine, et al. in The Journal of Experimental Botany, “The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations facilitated the International Year of Pulses in 2016, focusing on the contribution of pulses in food production and nutritional diversity to help eradicate hunger and malnutrition.”
Lentils are packed with vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, and macronutrients. They are an excellent source of protein, folic acid, soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, folate, magnesium, and phosphorus. Lentils also contain eight essential amino acids, are a rich source of vitamins B and C, and are one of the highest sources of antioxidants found in winter growing legumes. They are also low in sodium and naturally gluten-free.
Lentils can also help lower cholesterol in two ways: by slowing the liver’s production of cholesterol and by using the soluble fiber in lentils to bind to cholesterol to help remove it from the body. Lentils are a great source of protein, which helps build bones, muscles, and skin. Lentils are also beneficial for digestion. Because of their high fiber content, consuming lentils can augment stool size, increasing gut transit times and improving symptoms of constipation. A balanced diet rich in fiber can also reduce the risk and symptoms of diverticulitis—a disease where bulging pouches form in the intestines, usually in the lower part of the colon, due to straining during bowel movements.
Consuming lentils helps keep you feeling full for longer. One serving of lentils can provide 32% of your recommended daily fiber intake. U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend about one and one-half cups of legumes (such as lentils) weekly, while the DASH Eating Plan of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends between four and five half-cup servings weekly.
A half cup of cooked lentils has:
Fat: 0.5 grams
Carbs: 23 grams
Fiber: 9 grams
Sodium: 5 milligrams
Protein: 12 grams
Preparing lentils is easy. Unlike most dry beans, there is no need to soak lentils before cooking. Simply rinse them and remove any debris or damaged lentils. When boiling lentils, the rule of thumb is two and a half cups of water for every cup of lentils. Simmer for five to twenty minutes until tender. Red lentils cook the fastest, usually in about five minutes, while other varieties may take up to twenty minutes.
Lentils are some of the most versatile foods in the world. You will find lentils in hummus, health bars, protein powders, and many dried pastas for an added nutrient boost. You may also blend them in a blender or food processor and add them to soups, stews, chilies, or curries. Lentil soups are popular during Ramadan and the winter months and can be premade and frozen. If you do not cook, you can find canned lentils at your local grocery store or farmer’s market.
There are several ways to store lentils and other pulses. Pulses.org offers the following suggestions:
With the many benefits of including lentils in the diet, they are definitely worth adding on a weekly basis. Be creative in the kitchen and include them as part of your heart-healthy, plant-based meals and snacks. Check out pulses.org and lentils.org for more recipe and meal planning tips and resources.
YaQutullah Ibraheem Muhammad is an Atlanta based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Nutrition Prescriptions, LLC, a consulting practice specializing in weight management, recipe development and analysis, nutrition education. She empowers women to learn and apply healthy, mindful nutrition strategies while understanding the connection between food, faith, and health. Find her on Instagram @yaqutu_nutritionprescriptions.