Lentils - an essential guide, health benefits and recipes
The legume, pea, or bean (Fabaceae) family is the third largest family of flowering plants, consisting of over 20,000 species. Legumes are a nutritious staple of diets around the world. They are an inexpensive source of protein, vitamins, complex carbohydrates, and fiber.
Although used interchangeably, the terms “legumes,” “pulses,” and “beans” have distinct meanings.
A legume refers to any plant from the Fabaceae family that would include its leaves, stems, and pods.
A pulse is the edible seed from a legume plant. Pulses include beans, lentils, and peas. For example, a pea pod is a legume, but the pea inside the pod is the pulse.
Beans such as kidney, black, pinto, navy, chickpeas, etc. are just one type of pulse.
Lentils receive their scientific name, Lens culinaris, from their curved lens-shaped seed. Lentils are one of the earliest domesticated crops, seen in the diets of ancient Rome and Egypt. Many countries enjoy lentils as a dietary staple, as they offer an earthy, mild, nutty flavor that works well in various recipes. Canada leads the world’s production of lentils, followed by India.
Protein, an essential macronutrient
Folate, natural form of vitamin B9, water-soluble
Fiber (both insoluble and soluble)*
Iron, an important mineral that helps maintain healthy blood.
Potassium, essential mineral that is needed by all tissues in the body. It is also an electrolyte because it carries a small electrical charge that activates various cell and nerve functions.
*Soluble fiber, dissolves in water, can help lower glucose levels as well as help lower blood cholesterol. Foods with soluble fiber include oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples and blueberries.
Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, can help food move through your digestive system, promoting regularity and helping prevent constipation. Foods with insoluble fibers include wheat, whole wheat bread, whole grain couscous, brown rice, legumes, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes.
Types of Lentils
There are different varieties of lentils, consumed worldwide. The most common types of lentils are green, brown, black, red, yellow, and orange lentils.
Brown. These are the most widely eaten type. They have an earthy flavor, hold their shape well during cooking, and are great in stews and soups.
Puy. These come from the French region Le Puy. They’re similar in color but about one-third of the size of green lentils and have a peppery taste.
Green. These can vary in size and are usually a less expensive substitute in recipes that call for Puy lentils.
Yellow and red. These lentils are split and cook quickly. They’re great for making dal and have a somewhat sweet and nutty flavor.
Beluga. These are tiny black lentils that look almost like caviar. They make a great base for warm salads.
Whole lentils with husks intact take longer to cook and will retain their shape; split lentils without husks cook very quickly and break down into a puree. These differences in texture will determine in which recipes they may be used. Lentils are available dried or canned.
Lentils and health
Lentils are low in sodium and saturated fat, and high in potassium, fiber, folate, and plant chemicals called polyphenols that have antioxidant activity. These nutritional properties have led researchers to study their effects on chronic diseases.
Lentils also contain slow-digesting resistant starch that delays the absorption of carbohydrates with blood sugar-lowering effects, as well as being a source of prebiotics that feeds gut flora to help prevent digestive diseases.
Studies have shown that lentils can lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood glucose. Human studies have found that lentils may improve cholesterol levels in people with diabetes and may protect against breast cancer in women.
Pulse consumption has been associated with a reduction in developing Type 2 diabetes. Some studies have also shown that pulse intake may improve glucose tolerance. One of the reasons for such a benefit is that pulses lower postprandial (post-meal) glucose and insulin responses.
Lentils and Weight Loss
Obesity and overweight are risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes. People who regularly consume pulses weighed less and had a 23% lowered risk of increased waist size and a 22% lowered risk of being obese.
For more benefits of lentils, including heart health, diabetes, cholesterol, click here
Before cooking, place the lentils in a strainer and sort through them to remove small stones or debris. Then rinse well.
Pre-soak dark lentil variety for at least 24 hours. The green PUY lentils, orange and yellow lentils do not require any pre-soaking, and cook quite quickly (30mins)
Split red lentils cook quickly and can break down into a thick pureed texture. They are best used to thicken soups and stews. Whole green and black lentils retain their shape and are an excellent addition to salads and whole grains; they may also be seasoned and served on their own.
Canned or vacuum-packed lentils are precooked and ready to add to recipes. Rinse well before using to reduce sodium content.
Black lentil Dahl or soup recipe
Lentils are great for cleansing. Often used between seasons, such as 21 days leading up to the Spring Equinox (21st March), to reset the gut biome and support the body through the seasonal change which can cause inflammation, congestion and stagnation.
Black and green lentils
Spices: Cumin, Whole masala mix, Fenugreek leaves, Turmeric
Salt or veg stock
Tomatoes - optional
Wash two tea-cup full of black lentils thoroughly and soak in a deep pan in water overnight. Fill water to the top of pan as the lentil will expand.
Rinse the water next day. Place lentil either in a crock pot, fill with water, add green chillies, spoon of turmeric, cumin, ground ginger and garlic. Cook ingredients on low setting for 6-8hours (this can be left overnight also)
Alternatively, cook the mixture on the gas stove in a deep saucepan on low-medium heat (2-3 hours) Add veg stock cube if you desire.
Whilst the lentils are cooking, prepare the masala (spices)
Saute onions, ginger and garlic with cumin in ghee. Add some turmeric.
Once cooked, add tomatoes, until soft.
Once the lentils are cooked, add the masala mix to the mixture and stir well.
Add fresh coriander.
Serve with rice, quinoa or millet.
Lentils are highly versatile. They have a rich, earthy texture and will give any dish a boost of fiber and nutrients. They can add thickness and bulk to a recipe. Because of their hearty texture and protein content, they are sometimes used as an alternative to meat.
Toss into salads or cooked whole grains, or fold into an omelet mixture before cooking.
Make a pasta sauce thicker and heartier by adding lentils.
Substitute cooked yellow or red lentils for chickpeas in a hummus recipe.
Use a food processor or blender to grind lentils into a paste and stir into a veggie burger mixture or meatless meatballs.
Lentils can be consumed throughout the year. The darker variety during winter months, and the lighter shades during the warmer seasons. Lentils are one of the best food types to eat to help balance the gut biome, naturally.
Enjoy your pot of deliciousness throughout the seasons :)
Remember, seasonal diet and movement practices, adhering to natural cycles and rhythms combined with a life of moderation and an environment that is conducive to supporting wellbeing is the formula for manifesting a balanced life and happy Heart .
Also check lentil and rice congee recipe
Working with Gee Gahir, a Pioneer of holistic wellbeing services within the NHS, and Co-founder of Wellbeing Wizards, a podcast platform that provides insights into transforming wellbeing, Gee is an accredited EMCC intuitive lifestyle coach providing preventative naturopathic mind-body-space solutions to facilitate vibrant health and balanced lifestyles.
Connect with me to arrange a personalised coaching experience.
Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for a qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information.