Lentils are wildly popular in the Middle East. The pulse or bean grows in a spectrum of colors: from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black.
Cooks in countries such as Egypt favor the red lentil, a bean that softens quickly and can be ready to eat within an hour. No waiting around for a long soak or intense cooking. Suffused with cumin and extra virgin olive oil and then spiked with a dollop of yogurt, a dish of lentils tastes better than red meat.
Nutritionally, lentils are dynamos: substantial doses of protein and iron and potassium as well as vitamins.
One cup of cooked lentils supplies:
- 230 calories
- 18 grams protein
- 7 mg iron
- 731 mg potassium
But the fiber in lentils may be the most impressive. While you may find your stomach expanding and your intestines venting, remember that only shows they are doing their intended job. Imagine the beans inside battling the forces of lazy rubble left over from a junk food diet. The fiber per cup adds about 10 grams of dietary fiber, about the same as a high-fiber bran cereal serving
Dietary fiber is essential in gut health as well as preventing cancers, heart disease and obesity.
But with beans you get more. The hull is integral and may play an important role in scooping up all those nasty free radicals—products of metabolism which disrupt our organism.
A study in Food Science and Technology had researchers ask if lentil polysaccharides stimulated the growth of probiotic bacteria in yogurt. Results showed that the lentils fed the probiotics throughout a 28-day storage period.
So while the humble lentil contributes a healthy dose of nutrition and zero downside, the bean doesn’t get the respect it deserves in developed countries. A thick juicy steak earns high marks while a thick helping of beans is forced to toot its own horn. In fact, the “peasant food” is mopping up the dietary garbage that meat leaves behind.
Countries with money to buy meats and rich desserts could learn a thing from the simple diets eaten in poorer places.
Lentils deserve a place on the menu.