Lentils aren’t necessarily something you order when you’re eating out or automatically think about when you’re feeling peckish and want something to snack on.
But maybe they ought to be more on our radar because they deserve to get just as much kudos as chickpeas, which happen to be part of the same family (the legume family).1
What are lentils?
They’re legumes, which means they’re related to beans, chickpeas, soybeans and peanuts. They’re available in all sorts of different colours too:2
- Green lentils – taste nutty and work well sprinkled on top of a salad or on their own as a side dish. However, this variety tends to take a bit longer to cook than other lentils, around 45 minutes.
- Black lentils – are also referred to as ‘beluga lentils’, taste earthy and go well with meaty vegetables, such as mushrooms, and take around 25 minutes to cook.
- Red and yellow lentils – taste sweeter than green, brown or black lentils. They’re the type of lentils that are mostly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Of all the lentils, they cook in a flash however, they don’t tend to keep their texture once cooked.
- Brown lentils – tend to be the most commonly-used type of lentils. Like black lentils, they have an earthy taste and are great for making veggie burgers, or something similar, as they retain their texture.
What are the benefits of lentils?
- Are low in calories.
- Are highly nutritious.
- Contain folate, iron, magnesium and protein.
- Are super easy to cook – just pop them in a pan and boil.
- Can be used in so many dishes – curries, salads, stews, soups, burgers, even crisps!3
One cup of lentils contains:4
- 230 calories
- 18g of protein
- 15g of fibre
- 358 of folate
- 6mg of iron
Lentils benefits – in more detail
So, we’ve just skimmed through some of the top-level reasons why people love lentils. Now, let’s take a look at some of those benefits in a little more detail:
Benefit 1: They’re good for the gut
Because of their fibre content. Dietary fibre helps fuel our healthy gut flora, which is responsible for reducing inflammation, fat build-up around the waist, and overall weight gain, among many other things. Just one cup of lentils provides more than half the recommended daily intake of fibre.5
Benefit 2: They’re a good meat substitute
This is down to the fact they contain lots of protein and have a bulky texture. They provide substance without the same cholesterol and saturated levels as meat. It’s not uncommon for lentils to be used instead of meat in dishes, such as Spaghetti Bolognese or to make burgers.6
Benefit 3: They can help regulate blood sugar levels
The fibre that’s in lentils can help keep blood sugar levels on more of an even keel because they slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream. It’s when the glucose is released, that people can experience sudden spikes in their insulin.7
Benefit 4: They can help with your energy levels
These teeny tiny beans pack a real punch because they happen to be a great source of iron, alongside dark green leafy veg, such as kale and broccoli. Not getting enough iron can potentially make us feel tired and lethargic. But the beauty of lentils is you can pop them in most dishes!8
Benefit 5: They protect your body from harmful agents
The long list of benefits associated with lentils really is astounding. Last, but not least on our list is the fact lentils contain something called polyphenols. They are active compounds that protect the body from harmful agents. Lentils also happen to contain more polyphenols than green peas and chickpeas too.9
How much protein in lentils?
Lentils are renowned for being an excellent protein source. This is because just half a cup of lentils contains more than 20g of protein, which is the equivalent to four ounces of salmon. And if you don’t happen to eat meat or want to eat less of it, then lentils are definitely one to add to your shopping list.10
Is it ok to eat lentils every day?
Lentils are seen as being a superfood and are recognised by the NHS as counting towards your recommended five-a-day portions of fruit and veg. ‘One portion’ is measured as being 80g, which is equivalent to around 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked pulses.11
However, it’s worth bearing in mind – if you are planning on eating lentils every day – that the fibre they contain can be difficult to break down and can potentially cause gas and cramping if you eat too much of it.12
How to cook lentils
Lentils are so easy to cook! You don’t have to soak them beforehand and they can be cooked within 20 minutes. To cook them:13
- Sprinkle some in a saucepan.
- Cover them with water.
- Bring them to the boil.
- Then let them simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
You want them to taste slightly crunchy or soft. Once cooked, drain and then rinse them in cold water to prevent them from becoming overcooked.
Top tip: Add more flavour by boiling your lentils in chicken or vegetable stock rather than plain water.
Lentil recipe ideas for you to try
You’ve most probably already guessed this, but there are literally hundreds-upon-thousands of lentil recipes out there, all ready and waiting for you to give them a go. To help you get started, here are the links to five lentil recipes that happened to catch our eye:
- Lentil bolognese
- Butternut squash, lentil and spinach curry
- Lentil and caramelised onion Dhal
- Lentil and tofu bowl with a smoky Romesco sauce
For more on the importance of getting plenty of fibre in your diet check out this article, ‘Why is fibre important and how to get more of it.’
Author: Donia Hilal, Nutritionist
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018. Donia has 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.
Donia has a special interest in; weight management, plant-based nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, special diets and disease risk reduction. Donia’s LinkedIn profile
Last updated: 27 November 2020