Lentils – What you Need to Know

Lentils – What you Need to Know

picture of a variety of lentils

For the love of legumes!

Lentils are one of the oldest cultivated seeds from the legume family and are thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region. They have been favoured for thousands of years as a staple food and are eaten all over the world today. Lentils come in dozens of varieties but the most common are red, green and brown.

Having an earthy and sometimes peppery taste profile, lentils are considered one of the most flavourful seeds of the legume family. They are also appreciated for their quick cooking time, making them an easy ingredient to work with in the kitchen. Lentils are great for soups, stews, dahls, salads, for sprouting and work wonders as a meat alternative for burgers, loafs and sausages. Next to soy beans, lentils have the highest amount of plant protein in the bean and legume family, making them an important food for vegan and vegetarian diets. You don’t need to be vegetarian to appreciate the benefits of eating lentils, though! Hear are some reasons to regularly include this power packed gem into your diet:

  • High in soluble and insoluble fiber which supports digestive health and a healthy microbiome by providing pre-biotic material. Along with improving gut health comes a lowered risk of colon cancer, stable blood sugars, reduced bad cholesterol and support of the gut brain connection, which can impact mental wellness.
  • Rich in iron and helpful in reducing anemia especially in vegetarian and vegan diets.
  • Contains the highest levels of the B vitamin folate of all plant foods, protecting against birth defects and supporting the nervous system.
  • Promotes immune health.
  • Low in calories and low on glycemic index.
  • Anti-oxidant polyphenols protect agains cell damage and oxidative stress.
  • Contain complex, slow releasing, carbohydrates, that promote energy and stable blood glucose levels, making them a good food choice for diabetics.
  • Can reduce risk of cardio-vascular disease.
  • Nutrient profile can help protect against chronic disease and cancers.
  • Gluten free.
  • Excellent food source for vegan and vegetarian diets.
  • Can help curve food cravings and support weight loss.
  • Inexpensive and easy to find, making it a great low  budget food source.
  • Versatile and easy to cook with.

Storing and using lentils:

Lentils are easy to find in your local grocery store. Choosing which lentil to buy will depend on your intended recipe. Green and brown lentils are bigger, hold their shape better and are best for sprouting. Red lentils are much smaller and cook up faster and thicker and make a great base for soups and dahls. Once purchased, simply store in original package or in a glass jar in a dry cool place. Lentils should last indefinitely.

Cooking with lentils is generally easy but here are some basics:

  • Unlike their bean cousins, lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking. Simply rinse in a fine mesh strainer before using and then follow cooking directions or recipe.
  • Generally, 1 cup of dried lentils turns out 2 – 2 1/2 cooked lentils. They can become quite soft if over cooked so depending on your recipe and preference, keep checking their texture.
  • Fore green or brown lentils, bring 3 cups of water to a boil and add 1 cup dried lentils. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes or until lentils are tender, cooking time may vary. Rinse and drain. From here you may use them for loaves, sausages or burgers, such as these Vegan Breakfast Links. You can even swap in a cup of cooked lentils to replace ground meat in recipes such as meatloaves, burgers and meatballs. This is a great way to increase your whole plant based food intake, reduce your food cost and still enjoy your comfort foods!
  • Green lentils can also be added to soups such as this Sausage and Lentil Stew with Winter Root Vegetables . Or easily sprouted and tossed into salads.
  • Red lentils make a great base for thicker soups such as this Red lentil, Coconut and Tomato Soup along with traditional Indian Dahl recipes. These lentils cook up very quickly and become soft and mushy so they are best cooked with an absorption method as they cannot be rinsed and drained. Bring 1 1/2 cup water to a boil, add 1 cup red lentils and simmer until cooked, about 15 minutes. These are best cooked along side herbs and spices and directly in soups, stews and dahls.
  • Canned lentils can also be used directly in any recipe calling for lentils but remember they are already cooked so simply need re-heating.

Lentil considerations:

Some people may have a more difficult time digesting members of the bean and legume family. If they are undercooked or too many are eaten at a time, lentils can cause digestive upset, cramping and gas for some. If you are not used to eating such high fiber foods from the bean and legume family, consider starting slowly and introducing this food group into your diet a little at a time. Remember that increased gas can be caused from all that pre-biotic fiber as it chugs through your gut and this is perfectly normal. If painful cramping, diarrhea or constipation occurs, back off and introduce a little at a time, monitoring any side effects. 

On a personal note, back in my 20’s I was committed to a vegetarian diet and I was relying on lentils as a staple food. I was making this Red Lentil, Coconut and Tomato Soup on the regular as I loved it so much and it was my go to soup. Over several months I had increased symptoms of bloating, intense gas, cramping and diarrhea and I didn’t understand why as I felt I was eating so healthy! I was in my mid 20’s and just starting to understand the complexities of my body! I finally realized it was the lentils and that every time I ate them I would have such a bad reaction. I couldn’t understand how I could possibly be allergic to something that is supposed to be so good for me to eat! Sure enough, I was tested with a naturopath and lentils came up high on the list of no go! My reaction was so significant that I didn’t actually eat lentils for 17 years! Over the past couple of years, I have slowly re-introduced them back into my diet and I love them. I am careful not to eat them several days in a row as I am still cautious, but it seems I have moved away from that sensitive phase. The lesson here is to just listen to your body and don’t force things that don’t feel right!

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Inner Vision Health and Wellness Karyn Lawson RMT INHC