If you’re looking to eat healthier, lentils should be one of the top foods in your meal plan — and, fortunately, learning how to cook lentils isn’t too complicated. Packed with vitamins, protein and a whole lot of fiber, lentils have nutritional benefits (similar to the health benefits of beans) to cover all of your bases.
The Health Benefits of Eating Lentils
1. Lentils are rich in fiber
One of the biggest benefits of legumes like lentils is their high levels of fiber, which most people don’t get enough of in their diets. “Lentils are a complex carbohydrate that are super high in fiber, especially soluble fiber,” says Jennifer Hanway, a nutritionist and certified personal trainer. “Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that moves through the GI system and can help remove some substances related to high cholesterol.” In fact, brown lentils can provide nearly a day’s worth of fiber (26 grams) in just a single half-cup serving, according to Hanway.
2. Lentils can help regulate blood sugar
The fiber in lentils can do more than help with digestion. “The soluble fiber in lentils can help balance blood sugar by slowing the glucose release into the bloodstream and preventing spikes in insulin,” Hanway says. That’s one of the big benefits of lentils for people with diabetes, as it helps keep blood sugar levels on an even keel.
3. Lentils are a good source of protein
Lentils pack in more than 20 grams of protein per half-cup serving — about the same amount as 4 ounces of salmon. That makes them a perfect addition to your meatless Monday routine.
4. Lentils boast plenty of vitamins and minerals
One of the health benefits of lentils is that they’re like a very tasty multivitamin: you can get calcium, potassium, zinc and iron by eating them, along with plenty of B vitamins.
How to Eat More Lentils (And Enjoy More of Their Benefits)
1. Swap your starches for lentils
“I might replace starchy carbs with lentils, like rice or pasta or potato,” Hanway says. “You still get the complex carbs but a ton more fiber and protein.” Alternatively, consider getting the best of both worlds by enjoying the many health benefits of red lentil pasta or other lentil-based pastas.
2. Get colorful with your lentils
Each type of lentil has a slightly different protein, fiber and vitamin profile, so to get the full benefits of eating lentils, mix it up a little. For instance, black lentils are packed with potent antioxidants. “Black lentils are full of anthocyanin, an antioxidant usually found in purple and blue foods such as berries and red cabbage,” Hanway says.
Also, lentils have different textures — yellow and red lentils are more likely to break down and are great for soups, while black lentils hold their shape and are great for lentil burgers.
3. Don’t overcook them
Hanway recommends turning off the stove a few minutes early when you’re making lentils. “You don’t want to boil them within an inch of their life,” she says. “Cook two or three minutes less than you think, turn the heat off, leave the lid on, and let steam help cook them through.”
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