By Dorothy Long
We grow some of the healthiest foods in the world in Canada. If you Google “top ten health foods,” the list is bound to include oatmeal, blueberries, flax, quinoa and many other ‘superfoods’ grown or raised right here in Canada. That is something to be proud of! One superfood that we grow a lot of in Canada is, of course, lentils.
Five reasons why lentils are a superfood
- Fibre: One half cup (125 mL) of cooked lentils has almost 8 grams of fibre, which, is about 30 percent of what you require for the day. Eating a diet high in fibre helps lower cholesterol, reduces your risk of heart disease and makes your digestive system happy!
- Potassium: Bananas are often touted as being high in potassium, which they are. But did you know that a 1/2 cup (125 mL) of cooked lentils has over 350 mg of potassium, which is 10 percent of your daily requirement and the same amount as a large banana. Potassium is essential for maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance and, therefore, helps to regulate blood pressure.
- Folate: Lentils are high in folate (folic acid) a B-vitamin(9) that is instrumental in cell development and repair and is especially important for pregnant women as it helps prevent neural-tube defects such as spina bifida. One half cup of cooked lentils is 45 percent of your daily requirement for folate!
- High Protein, Low Fat: Half a cup (125 mL) of cooked lentils contains 115 calories and less than half a gram of fat. It also has 9 grams of plant-based protein, which is almost 20 percent of the protein you require for a day!
- Blood Sugar Control: Lentils have a low glycemic index value which means that when you eat them they are digested slowly and don’t spike your blood sugar levels. This is good for people with diabetes or at risk of developing diabetes. It is also helpful if you are trying to lose weight!
Generally, when buying dried lentils, look for bright colour, uniform size and smooth skins without chips or shriveled seed coats. It is a good idea to rinse and sort lentils before cooking. Lentils do not require soaking. They also don’t take very long to cook. However, canned lentils offer quick convenience for recipes that call for cooked lentils. Simply drain, rinse and add to the recipe! Note: A (540 mL/19 oz.) can lentils drained is approximately equivalent to 2 cups (500 mL) of cooked lentils.
Dry lentils will keep almost indefinitely stored in a tightly-covered container in a cool, dry place. If exposed to light, pulses tend to lose their colour but flavour, nutrition and texture will not be affected as long as they are tightly sealed. However, the longer lentils are stored, the dried they become. This means they may take longer to cook and may remain slightly chewy after cooking. It is best to use dry lentils within one year of purchase.
- No pre-soaking required. It’s important to use unsalted water, as salt hardens and toughens lentils when cooking. Seasoning can and should be added at the end of the cooking.
- One cup (250 mL) of whole, dry lentils plus 2 ½ – 3 cups (625 – 750 mL) unsalted water cooked for 20 to 30 minutes equals 2 ½ cups (625 mL) cooked lentils.
- One cup (250 mL) of split, dry lentils plus 2 cups (500 mL) unsalted water cooked for 5 to 15 minutes equals 2 cups (500 mL) cooked lentils.
- Lentil Puree: Place cooked lentils in a food processor. For every cup (250 mL)of cooked lentils, add ¼ cup (60 mL) water. Blend until smooth. Lentil puree has a similar consistency to canned pumpkin. Add additional water 1 tablespoon (15 mL) at a time if more moisture is needed. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Easy Ways to Add More Lentils to Your Diet
- Puree them and use them to make a dip like hummus. Mix the puree with the cream cheese or sour cream and no one will know they are even there!
- Add them to your soup, stew, salad or even stir fry. Try using split red lentils for some added colour! My mom adds them to her Greek salad.
- Enjoy a vegetarian entrée or side dish made with lentils.
- Use lentils to stretch ground meat. Simply add split red lentils or pureed lentils to the ground meat. Check out the Sloppy Joe recipe for an example of how to do that!
Here is a sampling of lentil recipes including a salad, soup, dip and one that stretches the ground meat. Enjoy!
Recipes and photos courtesy of lentils.org