Lentils pack a lot of nutrition into each bite.

By Lisa Milbrand
August 12, 2020
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If you’re looking to eat healthier, lentils should be one of the top foods in your meal plan—and fortunately, learning how to cook lentils isn’t too complicated. Packed with vitamins, protein, and a whole lot of fiber, the nutritional benefits of lentils (similarly to the health benefits of beans) cover all of your bases.

The health benefits of eating lentils

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One of the biggest benefits of legumes and lentils is the high levels of fiber, which most people don’t get enough of in their diets. “Lentils are a complex carbohydrate that are super high in fiber, especially soluble fiber,” says Jennifer Hanway, a nutritionist and certified personal trainer. “Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that moves through the GI system and can help remove some substances related to high cholesterol.” In fact, brown lentils can provide nearly a day’s worth of fiber (26 grams) in just a single half cup serving, according to Hanway.

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The fiber in lentils can do more than help with digestion. “The soluble fiber in lentils can help balance blood sugar by slowing the glucose release into the bloodstream and preventing spikes in insulin,” Hanway says. That’s one of the big benefits of lentils for diabetics, as it helps keep blood sugar levels on an even keel.

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Lentils pack in more than 20 grams of protein per half cup serving—about the same as four ounces of salmon. That makes them a perfect addition to your meatless Monday routine.

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One of the health benefits of lentils is that they’re like a very tasty multivitamin: You can get calcium, potassium, zinc, and iron through them, along with plenty of B vitamin.

How to eat more lentils (and enjoy more of their benefits)

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“I might replace starchy carbs with lentils, like rice or pasta or potato,” Hanway says. “You still get the complex carbs but a ton more fiber and protein.” Alternately, consider getting the best of both worlds and enjoy the many health benefits of red lentil pasta or other lentil-based pastas.

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Each type of lentil has a slightly different protein, fiber, and vitamin profile, so to get the full benefits of eating lentils, mix it up a little. For instance, black lentils are packed with potent antioxidants. “Black lentils are full of anthocyanin, an antioxidant usually found in purple and blue foods such as berries and red cabbage,” Hanway says.

Also, lentils have different textures—yellow and red lentils are more likely to break down and are great for soups, while black lentils hold their shape and are great for lentil burgers.

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Hanway recommends turning off the stove a few minutes early when you’re making lentils. “You don’t want to boil them within an inch of their life,” she says. “Cook two or three minutes less than you think, turn the heat off, leave the lid on, and let steam help cook them through.”