As a Registered Dietitian and busy mom of two young kids, lentils are so easy for me to love.
Not only do they boast a stellar nutritional profile (they are loaded full of protein, fibre, iron, vitamins, and minerals), they're also budget-friendly, easy to use, and provide a nutritious meatless protein alternative. They're also great for adding to healthy snacks and (surprisingly!) desserts and baked goods (see my recipe for lentil granola bars below).
If you're not convinced lentils should be a staple in your pantry, here are the five reasons this Dietitian swears by them:
To say lentils are healthy is an understatement. Per 100 grams of dry green lentils, there are 26 grams of protein, and 20 grams of fibre (that is 80% of your days’ worth of fibre). Both of these nutrients are not only important for overall health, but also contribute to satiety (feeling full), which helps to curb your appetite and keep you satisfied longer.
Lentils are also packed full of folate and iron as well as selenium and zinc, and important micronutrients that support good health. They not only pack a huge nutrition punch, but they are also budget friendly. One package of lentils will make a big batch of my lentil granola bars as well as a main dish like this delicious Coconut Thai Curry Lentils With Quinoa.
Although dried lentils are slightly more cost-effective, canned lentils are also an inexpensive choice.
Lentils are extremely easy to work with. Since I have two young kids, I find being able to save time in the kitchen yet still prepare a healthy meal a huge value. When cooking lentils, there is no soaking required (like in the case of dried beans or chickpeas)—just boiling. You can pre-cook them, puree them, and store them easily for up to four days in the fridge. They also freeze well!
There are no rules when it comes to lentils—throw them into salads, casseroles, crock-pot meals, and stews, or puree them into dips and sauces. They also add moisture to baked goods and desserts (as well as a nutrition boost) plus they add texture and flavour to any meal.
The protein and fibre content in lentils helps both kids and adults feel fuller longer. This also works to stabilize blood sugar levels and keep energy levels up. Because lentils are low on the glycemic index, keep you feeling full longer, and aren't calorie-dense, they make a great addition to any weight management plan.
I always say that breakfast sets the 'nutrition stage' for your entire day, so try adding lentils to your morning muffins or oatmeal to help to set you up for nutritional success. Including protein in your breakfast can help to control your appetite throughout the morning and has even shown to prevent unhealthy snacking later in the day.
Lentil eaters generally weigh less! Data from the 1999–2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicated that people who regularly ate pulses (such as lentils) weighed less and had a significantly lower risk of unhealthy waist size and obesity. For kids, including lentils in meals or snacks can help them to focus and concentrate in school, because they provide a slow and steady release of energy.
Not only do lentils keep us healthy in the short-term, but also in the long-term. Lentils contain many nutrients that protect against chronic diseases. Research shows that having a diet rich in legumes (which are high in soluble fibre) can lower both total and LDL cholesterol levels, decreasing cardiovascular disease risk. The high potassium content of lentils can help to regulate blood pressure levels, which also protects against heart disease and stroke.
Lentils are great for those living with diabetes and the special diet they must follow because of the low glycemic index value. Lentils keep blood sugar levels stable and improve glucose and insulin responses for hours after a meal (and even into the next meal!).
Maintaining a healthy weight (something that eating lentils regularly can help with), also protects against chronic diseases such as Heart Disease and Diabetes.
Most people think "soup" when they think of lentils, but there are endless ways to incorporate them into your menu besides just lentil soup.
Make them the focus of your main dish, such as in these yummy lentil "meat" balls, Chef Michael Smith's Lentil Burgers, or this delicious Lentil Lasagna. Have them as a snack when you make these Crunchy Roasted Lentils or even add texture, moisture, and nutrition to your desserts like these chocolate chip lentil cookies and chocolate lentil brownies.
With ingredients already in my kitchen I created these super tasty and nutrient-packed lentil granola bars. Because I like to make the most of my time in the kitchen, I made a big batch (they freeze really well!).
Sweet And Salty Chocolate Chip Lentil Granola Bars
1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
3 1/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup flour (I used whole grain)
1/4 cup ground flax
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp coarse seasalt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Combine water and lentils in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer (uncovered) for 20-25 minutes. Drain excess liquid and allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 350F
Combine oats, flour, flax, coconut, almonds, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk together until well blended.
In a separate large bowl, combine lentils, peanut butter, honey, maple syrup, and vanilla. Blend with a hand blender or manually with a whisk.
Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Add chocolate chips and mix well.
Transfer the mixture into a greased 9" X 13" baking pan and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top
Allow to cool, cut into bars and serve as a snack on their own, or pair with fruit for healthy on-the-go breakfast.
Makes 30 bars
Inspired by: Two Saucy Sister's Grab And Go Chocolate Chip Lentil Granola Bars