Lentils are brimming with fiber, which is crucial to satisfying your hunger and reducing your appetite. This food is rich in soluble fiber, which also lowers blood cholesterol as it gives you that full feeling you need to avoid temptation and help with weight loss.
Not only that, but because they boast a bevy of nutrients, lentils are finally gaining the recognition they deserve as a great source of low-fat protein, making them the perfect substitute for meat. They are in the legume category and can be considered a vegetable or a protein, but not both at the same meal. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest eating about three cups of legumes each week to maintain a healthy diet.
Lentils' high fiber content is a boon to health; it's mostly the soluble kind, so it lowers blood cholesterol by creating gels that bind with bile acids, forcing the body to use cholesterol to replace them. These gels also tie up carbohydrates, so they are absorbed more slowly, stabilizing blood sugar levels and of benefit to anyone with a goal of eating fewer calories.
Lentils are exceptionally high in folic acid, which can help prevent certain birth defects and may prevent heart disease, dementia, and bone fractures in people with osteoporosis. Lentils are an important source of iron for vegetarians, serving as protection against anemia. They also are a good source of magnesium, which plays a role in relaxing the smooth muscles that line the inside of your arteries. This helps lower blood pressure and allows blood to flow more freely.
Selection and Storage
Brown, green, and red lentils are the most common varieties in the United States. Most supermarkets carry them packaged, but you can buy them in bulk at health-food stores and gourmet markets.
If you buy them packaged, look for well-sealed bags with uniformly sized, brightly colored, disk-shaped lentils. If you buy them in bulk, check the lentils for tiny pinholes. Don't buy them if you spot holes; they're a sign of insect infestation. When stored in a well-sealed container at a cool temperature, lentils keep for up to a year.
Preparation and Serving Tips
Red lentils cook quickly and become mushy, so they work best in dishes where a firm texture isn't a concern, like in soups, purees, or dips. Brown or green lentils, on the other hand, retain their shape if not overcooked and can be used in salads or any dish in which you don't want your lentils to be very soft. Most lentils cook in 30 to 45 minutes or less and they don't require any precooking soak like dried beans do. Best of all, lentils are willing recipients of flavorful herbs and spices, taking on the flavors of the foods they are mixed with. No wonder they are common in Indian, Middle Eastern, and African recipes.
For years, researchers have seen a link between people who eat less meat and those who are not only slimmer than frequent meat-eaters, but also have a lower rate of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. So lentils are a good health bet all around.
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