Five reasons to put lentils on your plate

Lentils texture

Do you know about different varieties of lentils such as red, brown, French puy and beluga, to name a few?
© Gooddenka | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, esteemed food writer Mark Bittman talks about how to make an Indian dal that tastes as authentic as if you were eating it in India.  He writes, “although you can cook any beans using these techniques and spices, you’re not likely to get the ideal consistency unless you shop for Indian legumes.” I wonder if he’s aware that Canada produces 67 per cent of the world’s supply of lentils and that a huge amount of this ends up in India.

So the authentic dal enjoyed there may have originated with lentils grown  in Saskatchewan, where over 2.5 million acres were planted in 2011. Think of it this way: maybe you can lower your carbon footprint by eating more lentils here in North America before they make their way half way around the world.

Seriously, though,  you may wonder how I know these facts about lentil agriculture in Canada. This past summer I attended 2012 Love Your Lentils Tour to see firsthand how lentils are grown and processed along with how they are used in food product development. I even got to take part in a cooking challenge (a small food budget and a short prep time!) much like one on TV’s Food Network. My team didn’t win but word has it we did come close. ( I will provide our almost winning recipe in an upcoming post).

Lentils have been thought of vegetarian fare or for those cooking on a budget. And while they are great for both and are incredibly versatile, they offer an array of benefits for all. They truly are the Hidden HealthyTM  Superstars!

Here  are a few reasons why:

•    They’re packed with fibre – a nutrient  that most people are short on as they consume roughly half of the daily recommendation of 25 to 30 grams. Add in cooked lentils and at 15 grams per cup, you’ve doubled your fibre.   In addition, the soluble fibre contained offers pretty potent blood cholesterol and blood sugar regulating perks.

•    They’re loaded with potassium, a key mineral that helps to keep blood pressure at healthy levels. One cup of cooked lentils offers double the potassium of a small banana.

•    While often not mentioned as a folate superstar, lentils contain even more of this B vitamin per cup than cooked spinach. Folate and its synthetic counterpart, folic acid, are linked to protection against having babies with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. A lesser known benefit is folate’s defence against certain cancers, particularly breast cancer. But an excess of  folic acid may up the risk for some cancers.  Consequently getting this vitamin from food may be best for most people (except for pregnant women who may fall short).

•    Lentils are not just for vegetarians or Meatless Mondays.  Substituting lentils for meat helps to meet protein needs but without the saturated fat.   As well, keeping  meat portions in check may lower the odds of developing colon cancer.

•    They’re a super source of iron for vegetarians or those who consume little meat. But as is the case with other non-meat sources of iron, to increase iron absorption,  it’s best to include a vitamin-C rich food such as tomatoes, citrus, berries or melons  at the same meal as the lentils.  Another way to boost iron absorption is to use garlic or onions alongside. Yum!

Did you know that lentils, unlike some other legumes, do not require pre-soaking? Are you a lentil eater? If so, how do you like to prepare them? Please share in the comment section below.

The Saskatchewan Pulse Growers paid for my trip to Saskatchewan.  No other compensation was provided.

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Categories: Superfoods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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