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
Oatmeal happens almost everyday in my house. With the exception of the summer month (when instead I throw oats into cookies, muffins, and smoothies), my family eats oatmeal for breakfast everyday. Oats are not only versatile, quick and easy to prepare (contrary to popular belief), and nutritious, but according to a recent, long-term study put out by Harvard University, the benefits of oats stretch far beyond getting a good dose of fibre and feeling fuller longer.
Have A Ball With These No Bake Chocolate Oat Power Balls
Researchers began the study in 1984, where they started monitoring over 100,000 healthy individuals from two large cohort studies--the 1984-2010 Nurses' Health Study and the 1986-2010 Health Professionals Follow-up Study--for health outcomes. Over 25 years later, in 2010, when researchers followed up with these people, over 26,000 had died. They found that those people who included more whole grains in their diets (oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice etc.) were protected from chronic diseases, specifically heart disease. In fact, they found that eating whole grains decreased mortality risk (particularly Cardiovascular Disease-associated mortality risk) by up to 15%. The study also found that bran, an important component of the whole grain, was associated with decreased mortality risk by up to 20%. They did not find the same association with cancer risk or mortality from cancer risk.
Because there has been a whole lot of "grain bashing" in the past few years, with extreme low carb diets such as the Paleo Diet taking over the diet world, this study serves as a refreshing reminder that whole grains are not evil. We've known for quite some time that consumption of whole grains is associated with lower risk of chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease, but what this exciting study shows us (there has been limited evidence up until now), is that whole grain consumption can actually prevent early death.
Although we enjoy a variety of whole grains, such as quinoa, barley, bulgur and brown rice, whole grain oats are a favourite in our house.
Here's why I'm such an oat fanatic (and why you should be one too!):
It is a bit of a myth that quick-cooking oats are less nutritious than steel-cut or rolled oats. Although there is less processing in groat oats and steel-cut oats than in quick-cooking and instant oats, every variety of oats possesses the same nutrient profile, according to the Whole Grain Council. The difference lies in the processing, which has an affect on the glycemic index of oats (a measure of how quickly a food increases blood sugar levels). Groat oats, which are the least processed and take the longest to cook, also take the longest to digest, giving them a lower glycemic index ranking (keeping people fuller longer). They are harder to find though (I've only seen them in specialty health foods stores). Steel-cut oats are next in line, with very minimal processing and longer cooking times (although very much worth the wait). Large flake oats (or rolled oats) have been steamed and rolled, which decreases the cooking time and allows for some versatility. These are often used in homemade granola, muesli, cookies, muffins and nutritious treats such as apple crumble and these 5 ingredient no-bake chocolate power balls.
Make Your Own Instant Oatmeal Packets At Home
Quick-cooking and instant oats are the most processed varieties of oats, yet boast similar nutritional profiles (although some of the nutrition may be lost in processing). These oats are very quick to cook and digest the fastest, and are higher on the glycemic index, leaving you feeling less satisfied and hungry soon after. Adding some protein or extra fibre to quick-cooking oats can decrease the glycemic index of your meal though. Even though all varieties possess similar nutrient profiles, I recommend sticking to steel-cut or large flake most of the time (I alternate between the two depending on how much time I have and what I'm making).
Although oatmeal might take a bit longer to prepare than commercial breakfast cereal, it is definitely worth the 90 second wait (and is much healthier). Large-flake or rolled oats take 1.5 minutes to prepare in the microwave (just add 1 part oats and two parts water or milk to a high-rimmed bowl and microwave on high for two minutes). When your oatmeal is done, you can add milk, yogurt and whatever else you'd like. Here is a fantastic homemade instant oats recipe that you must try. Steel-cut oats cannot be microwaved, and take about 20 minutes on the stove-top, but not to worry - you'll actually save yourself time in the long run by making a big batch because...
Almost every week, on Monday, I make a big batch of steel-cut oats, add fruit, a bit of sugar, a bit of cinnamon, and whatever fruit we might have lying around (usually apples or frozen berries these days) and enjoy it all week long. It re-heats in 30-50 seconds, after which you can give it a protein boost with milk, yogurt, nuts or seeds. Voila! You can also make steel-cut oats in the slow-cooker overnight and enjoy all week long. Or if you're in the mood for an oatmeal bake (that stores well in the fridge or freezer), you can either make one in a casserole dish or in muffin tins, such as in my Oat, Apple and Cinnamon Un-Muffin Muffins.
Oats are high in a soluble fibre, a type of fibre than slows digestion down, can help to lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. Soluble fibre also makes us feel fuller longer, preventing overeating later on. There is also research to show that a type of polysaccharide called beta-glucan present in oats can help help with appetite control by increasing Peptite Y-Y in the blood (a hormone associated with appetite control).
Beyond weight management, oats may help to increase immunity, lower cholesterol, lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, lower blood pressure, and improve digestive health. And according to the study that I mentioned above, eating whole grain oats may just keep us alive longer.
Feel free to check out my Facebook Page, where I post nutritious family-friendly recipes as well as nutrition articles and resources for parents.
Image Source: WikiCommons