Peer into any kitchen pantry and there will be a bag or two of multi-colored lentils that have probably been stored there for awhile. Winter is the perfect season to pull them out of storage and start popping them into any dish that needs a little “umph.” Even though the legume is considered an incomplete protein, its nutritious profile can deliver healthy benefits during cold, winter months.
Lentils have persisted in the human diet for over 10,000 years. Once known to feed only the “poor man,” the grain legume has been acknowledged in the Book of Genesis, Hippocrates quotes and Old World agriculture. Recognized as a diet necessity by ancient Greeks, Turks and even Moses who helped Jews of Sinai by giving them the legume on their long exodus from Egypt, lentils have always played an important role in nutrition, energy and even weight management.
The seed in a pod, botanically known as “lens culinaris esculenta” is a grain legume. Lentils offer a nutritional advantage due to being low fat, not too many calories and packed with crucial minerals. They are high in protein, but still considered an incomplete protein, meaning the little bean lacks sufficient amino acids. Only when adding brown rice or complex grains such as quinoa will balance the protein making it complete. Lentils are complex carbohydrates, meaning they provide energy while keeping blood sugars level, making the lentil rice mixture perfect for weight loss options or diabetics. Low in fat, the legumes also add fiber to the plate, especially soluble fiber which cleanses the intestines. Lentils calm the nervous system with vitamin B6 and also contain folate which is essential for iron production. There is plenty of calcium, magnesium, potassium and other trace minerals in lentils.
There are several types of lentils, brown and olive colored being the most popular. Brown lentils work well for a meat substitute. One may also find on grocery shelves other shades including pink, red or orange. Lentils are inexpensive and easy to prepare. Always rinse off the legumes looking for debris or dirt. Let them soak and rinse again. Add stock or water, bring to a boil and allow to simmer for a good half hour to 45 minutes. Add onion, garlic, herbs and spices and simmer another 20 minutes. Add to soups, throw over salads or vegetable side dishes, mix into meat sauces or eat alone.
Lentils are inexpensive and can provide a nutritious meal on a budget.
Linus Pauling Institute/infocenter//legumes