Lentils: A perfect pulseTasty legume packs a punch nutritionally, valuewise.
Do you have a finger on the “pulse” of your health? If lentils are in your diet, you can answer yes.
And if you’re like me, you probably ate the round or oval-shaped seed even before you knew it.
That’s because they are among the ingredients in those “13 bean soup mixes” that have become so popular (i.e. Bob’s Red Mill 13 Bean Soup Mix, which contains navy, black, red, pinto, baby limas, large limas, garbanzo, great northern, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, yellow splits, green splits and two kinds of lentils). Lentils usually are sold in bags and are located in the market near the beans.
Lentils are considered a pulse, as are other legumes such as dry beans and peas that are grown in pods. (North Dakota is one of the leading lentil-producing states and this past year set a production record; the U.S. ranks seventh in the world.)
The multicolored seeds — they come in brown, green, yellow or red varieties — were popular in ancient times, when they were known to be “peasants’ food.” The Greeks used lentils for soup and also as part of their bread-making process. And in Rome, lentil stew or “puls” was a staple of the poor.
My interest in lentils was stirred recently by some delicious soup that was made by a friend. I’m not exactly sure of all the ingredients in the soup, but fennel and venison sausage were among them.
Around the world, lentils are used in many different cuisines, including soups, stews and casseroles. (Refrain from preparing lentils in a pressure cooker because this will cause them to release starch too quickly and make them mushy.)
Lentils, like other legumes, are a nutrition powerhouse. Studies have shown that people with diets rich in legumes have an 82 percent reduction in their risk of heart disease.
But that barely scratches the surface as far as the health benefits of lentils are concerned. Lentils — even canned ones — have been listed as a “superfood” by a number of sources for several reasons. For example:
— Lentils follow only soy and hemp as a plant-based source for providing protein.
— Lentils have one of the lowest rating on the GI index, which means that it has a low effect on raising your blood sugar levels.
— Lentils provide about 7 grams of fiber per serving, thus making it one of the best natural individual sources for fiber available.
— Lentils are one of the best vegetable sources of iron. This makes them an important part of a vegetarian diet and useful for preventing iron deficiency.
— Lentils are full of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber.
— Lentils are low in fat and high in “good carbs.”
— And if that is not enough, lentils are also high in vitamins and minerals, including foliate, vitamin B1, calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and potassium.
You also can add cooking convenience and affordability to those positive attributes.
The delicious legumes, which are available year-round, cost only $2 per pound, making them the unsung heroes of the bulk food bin. (If stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place, they will keep for as long as 12 months.) And they cook in less than 30 minutes, requiring no presoaking.
Don’t you think it’s about time to put your finger on this pulse of nutrition and value?
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.