Stay healthy with a little help from lentilsPublished 6:37am Sunday, July 15, 2012
Column: Dietitian Speaks, by Amy Pleimling
How many foods do you find that are affordable, extremely healthy and delicious?
Not very many, but lentils meet these criteria and are my new favorite food to promote. I held a cooking class recently that was all about lentils, and even though I had tasted lentils before, I was still very pleasantly surprised on how tasty they were.
All four recipes we made in the class were delicious, and I never realized how versatile lentils are and how easy they are to prepare. So, as part of my mission to help our community on its way to wellness, I decided lentils are definitely worth taking the time to write about.
Lentils are a small, round, disc-shaped legume. You might then ask, “What is a legume?” Legumes come from plants whose seed pods split on two sides when they are ripe. Beans, lentils, soybeans and peas are all legumes. In the MyPlate food guide, legumes (and thus lentils) are mainly counted as a protein. Lentils come is all shapes, sizes and colors, including brown, orange, black, green and red. Brown lentils are the least expensive and the easiest to find.
Lentils are inexpensive, highly nutritious and can be stored for a long time without refrigeration. These features have made lentils a staple food in many cultures across the globe. Lentils are grown throughout the world, primarily coming from Canada, India, Turkey and the United States.
Lentils are high in protein (in fact 30 percent of their calories come from protein) and fiber. One cup of lentils contains 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber!
So you can imagine that they satisfy you for a long period of time. They are low in fat and are packed with vitamins and minerals – such as iron, folate, B vitamins, manganese, thiamin, potassium, zinc and copper. These properties definitely put lentils into “super food” status.
Most commonly you will find lentils dried, sold in a bag, but you can find them pre-cooked in a can as well. If you do purchase them in a can, drain them and rinse them for 30 seconds to remove 40 percent of the sodium content.
Lentils do not require soaking and take fewer than 30 minutes of simmering until they are ready to eat. The red lentils we cooked in class didn’t even take that long. You can store dry lentils in an airtight container for up to one year. The ratio for cooking is 1 cup dry lentils to 2 1/2 or 3 cups water.
Once lentils are cooked, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to three days. Other kitchen notes on lentils:
• Sort and rinse lentils before cooking.
• Cook until just tender. Do not add salt or acidic ingredients or lentils will toughen during cooking.
• Add a splash of oil to prevent foaming of water.
• You may soak them for up to one hour before cooking to reduce the presence of gas-forming agents, but longer soaking time will change the texture and shape.
There are so many great things about lentils — they are inexpensive, versatile, can be stored for a long time and are ultra-healthy. To me they are one of the healthiest foods there is and the best thing is that they taste great! It seems most of us know how to be healthy, but the problem is actually doing things to make us healthier, taking action.
The 2010 dietary guidelines recommend we eat three cups of legumes each week; only 8 percent of Americans are meeting this recommendation. Take action to be healthier by putting more beans and lentils in your diet; your body will thank you!
5 ways to use lentils
• Stir lentils into soups, stews and pilafs.
• Add cooked lentils to meatloaf, spaghetti sauce, lasagna or sloppy joes as a low-cost meat extender.
• Make lentil veggie burgers.
• Toss a salad with lentils and finely diced veggies.
• Puree lentils to use as a dip or sandwich spread or use them to thicken soups.
A great way to taste lentils is in this Greek Lentil Salad recipe.
1 (19 ounce) can lentils, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup Kalamata olives
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1 cup diced cucumber
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1. In a large bowl, combine lentils, olives, onion, tomatoes, green peppers, cucumber and feta cheese..
2. Whisk oil, lemon juice and oregano together.
3. Add parsley to salad and toss with oil dressing to coat.
4. Can be eaten right away or covered and left in refrigerator to marinate for two hours before serving. Salad can be made a day in advance.
Nutrition facts per 2/3 cup serving: 145 calories, 6 g protein, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 15 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 102 mg sodium.
Amy Pleimling is the dietitian for the Hy-Vee grocery store in Albert Lea.