Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Case for Lentils

Lentils have become one of my favorite go-to foods.  They come in too many varieties to count, are good in many types of food, are packed with great nutritional benefits, and are extremely economical!  They are used world-wide and in many different ways, although I do believe that they are under-utilized here in the US (the fact that I have to go to a specialty grocery to find a variety other than green supports this).  Lentils are great in soups, sauces, dahl (one of my favorite Indian dishes), veggie burgers, and more.

To see a selection of recipes using lentils, just click on "Lentils" on the "Topics" list on the right. 

More and more we are using lentils to replace ground meat in recipes.  We've used green lentils, French lentils and black lentils.  Any will work just fine, although our favorite is black lentils.  If you have a Whole Foods nearby, you should be able to find all three of these varieties, and more.  If you are in the CNY area, Wegman's has green lentils and Natur-Tyme and Green Planet Grocery have green and French lentils.  We have yet to find black lentils locally, but we haven't checked the Asian groceries.

Lentils are extremely economical!  For environmental reasons (as well as health and nutrition), I try to buy organic when I can.  Legumes are one area where I can justify the expense.  At one of our local grocery stores, I can get organic green lentils for $1.89/lb, organic brown lentils for $2.29/lb, and organic french lentils for $2.81/lb.  These prices are for DRY lentils.  Once I cook these, one pound of dry lentils turns into 3 (yes, THREE) pounds of cooked lentils.  I use cooked lentils as a 1 to 1 substitute for ground meat in many of my recipes.  That works out to be $0.63/lb of cooked green lentils, $0.76/lb of cooked brown lentils, and $0.94/lb of cooked French lentils.  When was the last time you saw ANY ground meat for those prices?!  This is one of the ways that I am able to feed our household a healthy diet on what the USDA considers a "trifty" to "low-cost plan".

Lentils are packed with great nutrition!  They are a great source of fiber, iron, calcium, folate, potassium and many other vitamins and minerals. There is only one nutritional concern I've heard from others regarding lentils:  carbs.  Due to the successful marketing of some diet plans, the idea is out there that carbs are bad.  What these diet plans don't always tell you is that not all carbs are created equal.  You should limit your refined carbs (bleached flour, sugary cereals, regular pasta, white rice, etc.).  Complex carbs (such as lentils) are perfectly fine and are actually great for you.  You need the fiber that comes from eating complex carbs to help keep your digestive system flowing.  Plus, there are many vitamins and minerals that your body needs from those complex carbs that you will not find in animal products.   

Following is a list of the nutritional benefits of one serving (1 cup) of cooked lentils compared to one serving (4 oz) of grass-fed beef

lentils beef
amount 1.00 cup cooked 4 oz
total weight 198.00 g 113.4
calories 229.68 175
calories from fat 6.77 27.45
calories from saturated fat 0.94 10.53
protein 17.86 g 26 g
carbohydrates 39.86 g -- g
dietary fiber 15.64 g -- g
soluble fiber 2.57 g -- g
insoluble fiber 13.07 g -- g
sugar - total 3.56 g -- g
monosaccharides -- g -- g
disaccharides -- g -- g
other carbs 20.65 g -- g
fat - total 0.75 g 8.1g
saturated fat 0.10 g 1.17g
mono fat 0.13 g 2.8g
poly fat 0.35 g 2.5g
trans fatty acids 0.00 g 0.13g
cholesterol 0.00 mg 74 mg
water 137.89 g 83.26 g
ash -- g 1.92 g
vitamin A IU 15.84 IU 0.00 IU
vitamin A RAE 0.79 RAE 0.00 RAE
A - carotenoid 1.58 RE 0.00 RE
A - retinol 0.00 RE 0.00 RE
A - beta carotene 9.90 mcg 51.00 mcg
thiamin - B1 0.33 mg 0.06 mg
riboflavin - B2 0.14 mg 0.14 mg
niacin - B3 2.10 mg 7.60 mg
niacin equiv 4.77 mg 7.60 mg
vitamin B6 -- mg -- mg
vitamin B12 0.00 mcg 1.44 mcg
biotin -- mcg -- mcg
vitamin C 2.97 mg 0.00 mg
vitamin D IU 0.00 IU 0.00 IU
vitamin D mcg 0.00 mcg 0.00 mcg
vitamin E alpha equiv 0.22 mg 0.25 mg
vitamin E IU -- IU 0.37 IU
vitamin E mg -- mg 0.25 mg
folate 358.38 mcg 14.74 mcg
vitamin K 3.37 mcg 1.02 mcg
calcium 37.62 mg 10.21 mg
copper 0.50 mg 0.08 mg
iron 6.59 mg 2.04 mg
magnesium 71.28 mg 26.08 mg
manganese 0.98 mg 0.01 mg
molybdenum 148.50 mcg -- mcg
phosphorus 356.40 mg 240.40
potassium 730.62 mg 387.82 mg
selenium 5.54 mcg 23.93 mcg
sodium 3.96 mg 62.37 mg
zinc 2.51 mg 4.09 mg

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