Lentils are good for us. They are pulses and are higher in protein and starchy carbohydrates than most vegetables. Apart from being healthy, filling, quick to prepare and an inexpensive store cupboard ingredient, you can make them even faster by buying them in cans or ready cooked pouches.
Lentils also provide good to excellent amounts of seven important minerals, our B-vitamins, and protein—all with virtually no fat. The calorie cost of all this nutrition? Just 230 calories for a whole cup of cooked lentils.
Of all legumes and nuts, lentils contain the third-highest levels of protein. 26 percent of lentil’s calories are attributed to protein, which makes them a wonderful source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. They provide a useful substitute for meat eaters who would like to replace some of their meaty meals, try replacing the meat in bolognese, chillies and curries with lentils to reduce the calorie and fat count, especially the saturated fat in meat that is linked with an increased risk to cardiovascular disease. Try replacing a couple of meaty meals each week.
Lentils are also a good source of folate and magnesium, which are big contributors to heart health. Folate lowers your homocysteine levels, a serious risk factor for heart disease. Magnesium improves blood flow, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Low levels of magnesium have been directly associated with heart disease, so eating lentils will keep your heart happy!
Lentils also count as one of your vegetable and fruit targets, a 60g uncooked portion of lentils will count as one.
One serving of lentils will provide 4g of fibre, much of it being the soluble form that can help to reduce cholesterol, the fibre traps carbohydrates, slowing down digestion and stabilising blood sugar levels. This can be especially helpful for those with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycaemia.
As lentils have a low glycemic index, it means they produce a slow, sustained rise in blood sugar, helping us maintain stable energy levels and keep us feeling full.
There are different kinds of lentils, the most common being:
Green and brown which have a mild earthy flavour. They retain their shape after cooking so are ideal for warm salads, casseroles and stuffing.
Puy lentils are grey-green lentils, grown in the French region of Le Puy, are often more expensive than other common cooking varieties and are thought to be superior in texture (which they retain after cooking) and they have a rich, peppery flavour.
Red split lentils when cooked form a rich puree and therefore are superb for thickening dishes such as soups and casseroles. They are also often cooked with spices to make the Indian side dish, dhal.
Yellow lentils we quite similar to Red Split lentils, the yellow variety are used in a similar way and are great for adding colour to winter dishes.
Beluga lentils are black, have a rich flavour and hold their shape when cooked.