Lentils have yet to make it as a staple in the American diet, but the day it does will be a bright and shining one. Lentils offer all sorts of nutritional benefits – in fact, they’re probably one of the most nutritionally dense legumes out there. They’re also very flexible in the kitchen once you’ve figured out how to cook them (which is easy). They make great vegetarian sloppy joes, go great with any whole grain, and work wonders in curry.
And, after reading over this article, you’ll be wanting to eat as many lentils as you can fit into your diet – they’re bound to improve your health!
Lentils History and Culture
Lentils originated in the Middle East. They’ve been cultivated for a while now, since Neolithic times (around 9500 BC), and are thought to be one of the first cultivated crops in human history. Lentils have always been a part of the Middle Eastern diet, and became part of the Indian diet around the year 100. Today, lentils help to provide nutrition to their large population of vegetarians.
There are a variety of lentils that are produced, mainly differentiated by their color. Lentils span the rainbow, including, green, red, blue, yellow, brown, and black. Canada is the world’s leading producer of lentils, producing over 1 million tonnes of it in 2008. India, Nepal, and the US also grow a good chunk of the world’s lentils.
Lentil Health and Nutrition
Lentils are magicians in the nutritional world – they pack in staggering amounts of nutrition into relatively few calories, including 198%DV molybdenum, 89% folates, 62% dietary fiber, 50% manganese, 35% Iron, 35% protein, cooper, B vitamins, and potassium, to boot. Whoa! All this is in a one-cup serving of lentils, or 230 calories. This stuff is the meat in the vegetarian diet.
All of these nutrients have unique impacts on your body. The high dietary fiber content of lentils makes them a great LDL cholesterol reducer. This is because the fiber neutralizes bile in the stomach, which the liver uses to function. When bile is not available, the liver draws off of excess cholesterol in the body, lowering overall cholesterol levels. The magnesium found in lentils also helps relax the veins and arteries, which allows blood to flow more freely in the body, reducing stress in the cardiovascular system. This dietary fiber also helps regulate how quickly food is digested, so it helps keep blood sugar levels constant, rather than spiking and flattening when eating high calorie foods that lack dietary fiber (meat is one of these).
Iron is of special interest to the vegetarians out there. Iron is most readily found in meat, but can also be found in plant based forms with a little hunting. Lentils are one of those iron treasure troves. Make sure to eat lentils up in large quantities to make sure your body is getting the iron it needs – this is especially true in children, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of iron deficiency.
Eating More Lentils
If you want to experience some of the health benefits associated with eating lentils, work them into your diet regularly. Try to eat a couple servings a week – 1 cup per serving. Lentils are one of the more convenient legumes available, as they do not require presoaking to cook them. Simply rinse them, and then cook them up – three cups of water to every cup of dry lentils. Try throwing in a bouillon cube to enhance the flavor, or boiling them in vegetable broth. For firmer lentils, boil for 10 minutes. For a more thoroughly cooked lentil, cook from 15-30 minutes, depending on the lentil type.
Lentils can be bought in the bulk section or bought prepackaged. Buying in bulk is the way to go, as it is considerably cheaper to do so. Make sure that the bulk bin container is clean and free of moisture. You can also buy lentils precooked in cans, which are just as nutritionally sound as the dry alternative. When storing dry lentils, pack them in an airtight container, and store them in an cool, dark area. Kept as such, they should stay good for 12 months. So, when you do buy them, buy a whole bunch so you always have them on hand!