Lentils are a good source of fiber and many powerful plant compounds.
Lentils are the oldest cultivated legume, dating as far back as 8,000 B.C. Not only have they have been biblically and historically referenced, they have sustained ancient cultures all over the globe and are now hugely popular in the U.S. High in protein and packed with nutrients, lentils have stepped into a diverse range of nutritious recipes for Meatless Monday and beyond.
Lentils (Lens enscuenta) are legumes, like beans, which grow in pods with one to two lentil seeds. The seeds are round or oval disks and are quite small. Classified by size — either large or small — they are sold whole or split.
There are many varieties — more than 50 are grown for food — available in a rainbow of earthy hues from red, orange, and yellow to black. Brown, green, and red are most common in the U.S. because they retain their shape and texture best when cooked. One half-cup of cooked lentils packs 32% DV (Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) of filling dietary fiber, 45% DV of heart healthy folate, and 18% DV of bone- and muscle- building protein.
Lentils have been associated with protecting against several diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2017). Lentils have also been linked with lower all-cause mortality. According to a study in a 2018 issue of Clinical Nutrition, higher legume and lentil consumption was associated with a 49% and 37%, respectively, lower risk of cancer death. Similar results occurred for CVD deaths in men, obese, and diabetic participants.
The finer points
Purchase dried lentils packaged or in bulk bins but be sure there’s no moisture and the lentils are not broken. Store up to a year in a sealed container in a cool, dark place. Canned lentils (choose those with no added salt) are also available for quicker cooking.
To cook, rinse lentils to clear debris, cover one cup lentils with three cups water, bring to a boil, then simmer until tender — about 15 minutes for whole lentils, 5 for split red lentils. Enjoy lentils in salads with chopped veggies and lemon vinaigrette, to thicken soups and stews, or in a spicy dish, such as Indian dahl.