It’s World Vegan Month! What better way to mark this nutrition lifestyle choice than to share some info on one of our favourite vegan foods. Read on to discover all the benefits of lentils.
If you tend to think of lentils as wacky vegetarian fodder and you avoid them, then think again! They are a nutritional powerhouse and a great addition to your diet if you’re looking for a food that can support your health and fitness goals.
Let’s take a look at why lentils rank high in our go-to food list….
Why would you include lentils in your diet?
Here are some great reasons to include lentils in your diet
They are vegan
Yay! Not a single cell or nutrient derived from animals. They have a great texture and a dense satisfying feel that provides an alternative to meat and fish.
High in protein
As vegan foods go, they are pretty high in protein. The protein makes them filling and satisfying. Just be aware it’s not a complete protein, missing the amino acids methionine and cystine – more on this below.
There are red, yellow, green, brown, black, orange, puy and beluga lentils. They come with different sizes, textures and tastes. Try them all and see which ones you like best.
You can prepare lots of different types of meals with lentils.
- Add them to your salads for some texture, depth and satiation.
- They do a great soup – they help to thicken a soup and improve the mouthfeel.
- You can mix them with grains, such as rice, to improve the overall nutrient content and make them more filling. This will also make the protein complete. Grains tend to contain the amino acids that are missing from lentils. You can use your lentil-grain mix in the same way you would use the grain on its own. And why not try this: in the same way you would have beans on toast to construct a meal that is a complete protein, try lentils on toast!
- They work wonders in the slow cooker. Try searching for ‘lentil slow cooker recipes’ and you’ll see the huge variety of delicious combinations that are possible.
- You can make a delicious porridge with lentils – keep reading to find out how to make this.
Here’s a nice page that gives you 25 recipe ideas for lentils. You’ll see these themes and you’ll get some great ideas.
Lentils are a low hassle food:
- They are easy to cook, taking about 20 minutes
- They are easy to store once cooked, so you can prepare a big batch, put them in a Tupperware container in the fridge and just spoon it out when you need it. That also makes them ideal for taking to work for lunch.
- You can buy them in handy little pre-cooked pouches these days. For example, Merchant Gourmet do really tasty pouches of all sorts of things. I particularly like the puy lentils. They are handy, cooked in a really tasty low-fat stock, filling and, to be honest, I quite like just spooning them directly into my mouth from the pouch. How handy is that? Most supermarkets do their own version of these too. Buy a salad bowl, a pouch of lentils, some cherry tomatoes and maybe a source of protein and – voilà – a tasty, filling, healthy lunch.
They are super healthy
You probably guessed this was coming. Yes, they are really nutritious and healthy. For me this is the most compelling reason to eat lentils, due to the sheer number of health benefits. More on this in the next section.
So, what are the health benefits of lentils?
So many! Here goes….
High in protein
Lentils pack a protein punch, with around 25g protein per 100g uncooked. That’s up there with meat as a source of protein. That makes them great if you need or like a higher protein intake to help you with your sporting goals. But, as mentioned earlier, the protein is incomplete, so is not quite so good for building and maintaining muscle. Mix them with grains or other vegan complete protein sources to ensure you’re getting a full quota of amino acids. We’ve written before about getting enough complete protein in a vegan diet in our veganism blog.
High in fibre
According to nutritiondata.self.com, lentils have 30g fibre per 100g. That’s huge! Fibre will keep your colon clean and slow down the digestion of everything in your meal. That means it’s great for keeping you full, preventing blood sugar spikes and reducing your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Slow digesting carbs
Lentils typically have a glycemic index of around 30. That means they’re not going to spike your blood sugar and insulin, so are a much better carb choice for diabetics. Those slow digesting carbs will also keep you going for longer before you get hungry again.
Great for weight loss
When you’re losing weight, you need to be in calorie deficit. It’s easy to be hungry all the time if you eat the wrong foods. The right foods will keep you full and prevent hunger. The formula for filling meals? Protein, fibre, slow digesting carbs – all listed above – and liquid. The liquid is provided by the cooking process when lentils absorb a lot of water. That makes lentils the perfect filling food as it ticks all the boxes.
Think of prebiotics as food for healthy gut flora. It’s generally carbohydrate that you don’t digest and which passes into the large intestine where it provides fodder for healthy bugs. There’s plenty of prebiotic carbohydrate in lentils which means they are great for helping you maintain a healthy gut.
Lentils are stuffed with healthful nutrients. Here’s the rundown
Lentils contain good amounts of Thiamin and B6 but are particularly abundant in folates. That makes them a good choice if you’re pregnant.
They are good sources of iron, manganese, zinc and magnesium. The iron content makes them a valuable food for vegans. Non-vegans tend to get most of their iron from animal products. Vegans need to find alternative sources of iron. In our blog on the pros and cons of veganism, we talk more about potential deficiencies of the vegan diet and alternative sources of various nutrients.
This is where lentils come in to their own. This is an excellent short paper which packs in a lot of information and citations. Here are the cited benefits associated with the various polyphenols in lentils
That’s a long list! Get lentils in your diet regularly and you’re going to help yourself stay healthy and reduce disease risk.
Any downsides to lentils?
Well, yes, there are a couple. But the benefits far outweigh them.
They have anti-nutrient properties
What does that mean? Generally, these are substances that decrease the digestibility of other nutrients or inhibit their function. That said, the effect is small and those same substances have lots of other benefits anyway.
They may make you gassy
All the activity of those healthy gut flora is going to generate some gas. You can reduce it by cooking lentils for longer, but creating a little gas is probably a good thing. At least it tells you your beneficial bugs are thriving!
Our favourite low hassle Dahl recipe
Curried lentils? You’re thinking, that’s a recipe for intestinal indiscipline! Well perhaps, but taste this and you won’t care!
Of course, Dahl is a very common and popular dish in India and if you search for ‘Dahl recipes’ you’ll find loads!
I bet they’re all delicious. But here we provide one that is simple and quick, but still super tasty.
Here’s what you’ll need
- 2 onions, lightly fried in a cooking spray
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- One tin of light coconut milk
- 750ml water
- 400g red lentils
- Salt and pepper
- Your favourite curry powder, about 1 heaped tblsp
This will make a decent sized batch. It delivers 765 calories, 31g fat, 75g carbs and 38g protein. And a whopping 42g fibre! Divide it between two if you want it as a large component of your meal, or divi it up into smaller portions if it’s to be an accompaniment.
Here’s how to make it
It’s simple really:
- Just gently fry off the onions in Fry Light until soft.
- Add the garlic towards the end of the onion frying and fry that off for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the curry powder and seasoning for a minute while you stir it around.
- Then add the rest!
- Bring it to the boil and let it simmer for 25-30 minutes until you have the consistency you want.
- Let it reduce a little if you like it thick.
You might have to keep taking a look and stirring it from time to time once it’s thickened a little. You can add individual spices if you like, or fresh ginger, but we find a pre-made curry powder does the job quite nicely. We particularly like a tandoori spice mix.
That’s it, it’s that simple. Eat it straight away with some veggies and, if you’re not vegan, maybe a piece of protein. Stick the rest in a Tupperware container and store it in the fridge. Have some for lunch the next day.
This is dead simple! And more filling than standard oat based porridge. Why is it more filling? More protein, more fibre, lower GI. That ticks all the ‘filling’ boxes better than standard porridge. It’ll keep you going for longer.
Here’s how to make it
You’ll need 100g of red lentils.
- Soak the lentils to make them softer and quicker to cook.
- Cover in water and cook until soft – add more water if needed.
- For your own taste preferences, if required:
- Try adding Koko, dairy free coconut drink.
- Add raisins for little bursts of sweetness.
- Use seeds to add a little crunch and some healthy fat.
- Add Truvia for all-through sweetness.
It couldn’t be much simpler! Eat hot or cold.
The Wrap up
If lentils aren’t part of your diet then you’re missing out. They are delicious, filling, great for weight loss, have lots of health promoting benefits and are packed with nutrients. So they’ll give you vitality. They’re simple and quick to prepare, versatile and vegan. And what’s more, there are thousands of recipes out there that you can try – so that’s another ‘v’ word – variety! What’s not to love? Go and get some lentils and start creating delicious new meals today.