Love Your Gluten-Free Lentils
In all the hype surrounding so-called super foods, lentils are often upstaged by trendier items with more modern appeal. But the lowly little lentil is, in fact, a wonder-working ingredient that can easily be used in a wide range of dishes—with wholesome and delicious results. Here’s an arsenal of reasons why you should load up on lentils.
They’re easy on your wallet. Costing only about $1.80 a pound, dry lentils deliver a huge nutritional bang for your buck. This is particularly important, given the high cost of gluten-free, allergy-friendly packaged foods and the fact that more and more families are watching their food budgets.
They whittle your middle. Few foods pack in more fiber—about 16 grams per cup when cooked—than mighty lentils. Research suggests that eating higher amounts of fiber can help in the battle of the bulge by slowing down digestion and keeping you feeling full so overeating is less likely. Most Americans consume only half the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber (RDA for women is 25 grams, 38 grams for men)—fiber-rich lentils help deliver this deliciously.
They help cut your cholesterol. Lentils are a leading source of cholesterol-crushing soluble fiber. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) fell almost twice as much in participants who followed a low-fat diet and also boosted their legume intake.
They have antioxidant punch. Like fresh fruits and vegetables, lentils contain an abundance of antioxidants. Antioxidants help mop-up cell-damaging free radicals, reducing the risk of a number of maladies, including cancer and diabetes.
They cook up fast and furious. Unlike their bean counterparts, dried lentils don’t require any pre-soaking in water. In addition, they cook up in half of the time. This makes lentils particularly alluring to harried cooks.
They have protein power. If you’re cutting back on red meat or embracing Meatless Mondays, turn to lentils. With roughly 18 grams of protein in a cup serving, lentils are a good source of vegetarian protein.
They help fight cancer. Very few foods contain more folate than lentils. This B vitamin has been shown to confer protection against several forms of cancer, including pancreatic, colon and bladder. What’s more, a 2012 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that higher folate intakes can help lower blood pressure numbers.
They are a multi-talented legume. Lentils are ultra-versatile in the kitchen. They can play a starring role in a wide range of dishes, including soups, salads, stews and veggie burgers.
They help you dodge diabetes. When Canadian scientists reviewed data from 41 studies, they determined that consuming a diet rich in lentils can lead to long-term improvements in blood sugar control, which can help slash the risk for developing diabetes. Lentils can lower the overall glycemic index of your diet, resulting in fewer blood sugar spikes.
They’re energy boosting. Lentils are chockablock with iron, which is necessary for the delivery of oxygen from the lungs to the brain and muscles. The form of iron in lentils is better absorbed when in the presence of vitamin C, so lentils are best enjoyed with vitamin C-rich vegetables and fruit.
A word about gluten. Lentils are naturally free of gluten, but as with other gluten-free legumes and grains, there may be risk of contamination during processing and handling. To play it safe, seek out packaged brands that are certified gluten free.
Living Without contributor Matthew Kadey, RD, (muffintinmania) is a registered dietician and a food writer. He is author of The Muffin Tin Chef.