Lentils

Lentils ~ Super Beans / Super Legumes

Compared to other types of dried beans, these super legumes are relatively quick and easy to prepare.

They readily absorb a variety of wonderful flavors from other foods and seasonings, are high in nutritional value and are available throughout the year.

They grow in pods that contain either one or two seeds that are round, oval or heart-shaped disks and are often smaller than the tip of a pencil eraser.

They can be sold whole or split into halves with the brown and green varieties being the best at retaining their shape after cooking.

Health Benefits

These beans are a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family, are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber.

Not only do these super legumes help lower cholesterol, they're of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal.

But this is far from all they have to offer.

They also provide good to excellent amounts of six important minerals, two B-vitamins, and protein, all with virtually no fat.

The calorie cost of all this nutrition?

Just 230 calories for a whole cup cooked.

This tiny nutritional giant fills you up, not out.

A Fiber All Star

Check a chart of the fiber content in foods; you'll see legumes leading the pack.

These legumes, like other beans, are rich in dietary fiber, both the soluble and insoluble type.

Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that snares bile (which contains cholesterol)and ferries it out of the body.

Research studies have shown that insoluble fiber not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.

Love Your Heart

In a study that examined food intake patterns and risk of death from coronary heart disease, researchers followed more than 16,000 middle-aged men in the U.S., Finland, The Netherlands, Italy, former Yugoslavia, Greece and Japan for 25 years.

Typical food patterns were: higher consumption of dairy products in Northern Europe; higher consumption of meat in the U.S.; higher consumption of vegetables, legumes, fish, and wine in Southern Europe; and higher consumption of cereals, soy products, and fish in Japan.

When researchers analyzed this data in relation to the risk of death from heart disease, they found that legumes were associated with a whopping 82% reduction in risk!!

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that eating high fiber foods, such as these, helps prevent heart disease.

Almost 10,000 American adults participated in this study and were followed for 19 years.

People eating the most fiber, 21 g. per day, had 12% less coronary heart disease (CHD) and 11% less cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to those eating the least, 5 g. daily.

Those eating the most water-soluble dietary fiber fared even better with a 15% reduction in risk of CHD and a 10% risk reduction in CVD.

Lentils' contribution to heart health lies not just in their fiber, but in the significant amounts of folate and magnesium these little wonders supply.

Folate helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an intermediate product in an important metabolic process called the methylation cycle.

When folate (as well as vitamin-B6) are around, homocysteine is immediately converted into cysteine or methionine, both of which are benign.

When these B-vitamins are not available, levels of homocysteine increase in the bloodstream, a bad idea since homocysteine damages artery walls and is considered a serious risk factor for heart disease.

Lentils' magnesium puts yet another plus in the column of its beneficial cardiovascular effects.

Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker.

When enough magnesium is around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.

Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart.

Want to literally keep your heart happy?

Eat these super legumes and eat them often.

Energy to Burn ~ Stabilize Blood Sugar

In addition to its beneficial effects on the digestive system and the heart, soluble fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels.

If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, legumes like these can really help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy.

Studies of high fiber diets and blood sugar levels have shown the dramatic benefits provided by these high fiber foods.

Iron for Energy

In addition to providing slow burning complex carbohydrates, these beans can increase your energy by replenishing your iron stores.

Particularly for menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency, boosting iron stores with these legumes is a very good idea, especially because, unlike red meat, another source of iron, they're not rich in fat and calories.

Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism.

And remember: If you're pregnant or lactating, your needs for iron increases.

Growing children and adolescents also have increased needs for iron.

Description

Lentils are legumes, seeds of a plant whose botanical name is Lens ensculenta.

These super beans are classified according to whether they're large or small in size with dozens of varieties of each being cultivated.

While the most common types in North America are either green or brown, they're are also available in black, yellow, red and orange colors.

The different types offer varying consistencies with the brown and green ones better retaining their shape after cooking, while the others generally become soft and mushy.

While the flavor differs slightly among the varieties, they generally feature a hearty dense somewhat nutty flavor.

History

Lentils are believed to have originated in central Asia, having been consumed since prehistoric times.

They're one of the first foods to have ever been cultivated.

The seeds, dating back 8000 years have been found at archeological sites in the Middle East.

Lentils were mentioned in the Bible both as the item that Jacob traded to Esau for his birthright and as a part of a bread that was made during the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people.

For millennia, these legumes have been traditionally eaten with barley and wheat, three foodstuffs that originated in the same regions and spread throughout Africa and Europe during similar migrations and explorations of cultural tribes.

Before the 1st century AD, they were introduced into India, a country whose traditional cuisine still bestows high regard for the spiced lentil dish known as dal.

In many Catholic countries, these beans have long been used as a staple food during Lent.

Currently, the leading commercial producers include India, Turkey, Canada, China and Syria.

How to Select and Store

Lentils are generally available in pre-packaged containers as well as bulk bins.

Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing these beans are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure maximal freshness.

Whether purchasing them in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that they're whole and not cracked.

Canned lentils can be found in some grocery stores and most natural foods markets.

Unlike canned vegetables, which have lost much of their nutritional value, there is little difference in the nutritional value of the canned variety and those you cook yourself.

Canning lowers vegetables' nutritional value since they are best lightly cooked for a short period of time, while their canning process requires a long cooking time at high temperatures.

On the other hand, beans require a long time to cook whether they're canned or you cook them yourself.

Therefore, if enjoying the canned variety is more convenient for you, by all means go ahead and enjoy them.

We would suggest looking for those that do not contain extra salt or additives.

One concern about canned foods is the potential for the can to include a liner made from bisphenol A/BPA).

Store these super legumes in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place.

Stored this way, they'll keep for up to 12 months.

If you purchase them at differing times, store them separately since they may feature varying stages of dryness and therefore will require different cooking times.

Cooked, they'll keep fresh in the refrigerator for about three days if placed in a covered container.

Tips for Preparing:

Lentils can be prepared the day of serving since they do not need to be pre-soaked.

Before washing you should spread them out on a light colored plate or cooking surface to check for, and remove, small stones or debris.

After this process, place them in a strainer, and rinse thoroughly under cool running water.

To boil, use three cups of liquid for each cup of lentils.

Lentils placed in already boiling water will be easier to digest than those that were brought to a boil with the water.

When the water returns to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer and cover.

Green lentils usually take 30 minutes, while red ones require 20 minutes.

These cooking times can be slightly adjusted depending upon the final use.

If you're going to be serving them in a salad or soup and want a firmer texture, remove them from the stove top when they've achieved this consistency, typically 5-10 minutes earlier than their usual cooking time.

If you're making dal or some preparation that requires a mushier consistency, achieving this texture may take an additional 10-15 minutes.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Combine cooked lentils, and chopped sweet peppers to make a delicious cold salad.

Season with your favorite herbs and spices.

Toss buckwheat soba noodles with cooked lentils, small broccoli florets and leeks.

Dress with olive oil mixed with garlic and ginger.

Moroccan lentil soup is easy to make.

After cooking the beans, add diced vegetables of your choice and season with tamari, coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne.

Safety

Lentils contain naturally-occurring substances called purines.

Purines are commonly found in plants, animals and humans.

In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems.

Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid.

The health condition called "gout" and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods.

Yet, recent research has suggested that purines from meat and fish increase risk of gout, while purines from plant foods fail to change the risk.

Nutritional Profile

Lentils are an excellent source of molybdenum and folate.

They're a very good source of dietary fiber and manganese and a good source of iron, protein, phosphorus, copper, thiamin and potassium.

So now that you're an expert on these super legumes and you're wondering how to incorporate them for dinner this evening, may we suggest...

Spiced Lentil Soup

Add lentils to your shopping list.

Evidence shows that eating high-fiber lentils may improve control of blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Here, they mix with stewed tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and spices for a warm winter meal.

Prep: 15 min.

Cook: 5 hr.

Please consider scaling up or down cooking containers as needed.

Ingredients:

* 1 c. lentils, rinsed

* 1 can (28 oz.) stewed tomatoes

* 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped

* 2 carrots, peeled and sliced

* 1 onion, chopped

* 1 rib celery, chopped

* 3 cloves garlic, minced

* 3 bay leaves

* 1 tsp, freshly ground black pepper

* 3 Tbs. curry powder

* 1 tsp. ground cumin

* 1 tsp. ground coriander

* 4 c, low-fat, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Preparation;

1. Place ingredients in 4-quart or larger slow cooker.

Stir to combine.

2. Cover.

Cook on low 8 to 10 hours or on high 4 to 5 hours, or until lentils are tender.

Discard bay leaves before serving.

Nutrition:

per serving

Calories 273,

Fat 1.6 g.

Saturated Fat 0.2 g.

Cholesterol 0 mg.

Sodium 931.1 mg.

Carbohydrates 53.9 g.

Total Sugars 10.3 g.

Dietary Fiber 15.9 g.

Protein 13.8 g.

Bon Apetit!

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