Health & Fitness

Jessica Wyman healthy-cooking column: 5 reasons to love and enjoy lentils

I remember a time when I didn’t know what lentils were. Then I learned about these nutritional powerhouses. One of the first objections I get from my clients is that eating healthy is too expensive, but plant-based proteins like lentils make healthy eating wildly affordable and nutritious.

Here are 5 reason to give lentils a chance

Weight loss: Lentils are low in calories but high in fiber, protein and nutrients. They keep you feeling satiated, which keeps the food cravings at bay. When you feel satisfied from your meal, you are less likely to get off track.

Healthy digestion: There are two kinds of fiber in life: soluble and insoluble fiber. Your body needs both kinds, but the standard American diet tends to be lower in insoluble fiber. Lentils are a great way to increase your insoluble fiber and improve your digestive health to reduce symptoms such as constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.

Blood sugar regulation: Foods high in protein and insoluble fiber, like lentils, are lower on the glycemic index. That means your body slowly breaks down the nutrients instead of digesting them quickly, which spikes your blood sugar. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable helps with weight loss, energy and even mood. Have you ever been hangry (hungry + angry)?

Easy and versatile to prepare: All you need is a pot with a lid, water and lentils. And lentils are a perfect make-ahead food. Since they are most commonly purchased dried, time can be a barrier when trying to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less. The good news is that you can prepare a big batch on Sunday or on a food-prep day and store them in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to three days. Lentils are easily added into soups, stews or even on top of salads.

Time-saving tip: Prepare the lentils in advance according to package directions and then pick up the recipe from there on the day you are ready to prepare the dish.

Food budget: Plant-based proteins are a great way to maximize your food dollars. Pound for pound you get more protein from items like lentils and other legumes. Plus, with all the health benefits mentioned above, try incorporating lentils into your meatless Monday meals.

Lentil Veggie Tikka Masala

Ingredients

1/2 cup prepared tikka masala sauce

1 cup green lentils

3 cups water

3 cups cauliflower, chopped

2 cups green beans (if frozen, thaw first)

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped (optional)

Directions

Rinse green lentils. Add the filtered water and green lentils to a pot. Bring to a boil for three minutes. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Add chopped cauliflower and green beans. Increase temperature to medium and cook until cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes. Add more liquid if needed to cook the vegetables. Top with tikka masala sauce while hot and serve. Garnish with cilantro if desired.

Lentil and Mushroom-Stuffed Bell Peppers

Ingredients

1/2 cup black beluga lentils

1 cup water

1 cup button mushrooms, quartered

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon oregano, dried

4 bell peppers

Directions

Rinse lentils. Add the filtered water and black beluga lentils to a pot. Bring to a boil for two minutes, reduce to a simmer, cover with lid and cook for 20 minutes or until all water is absorbed. In a bowl, mix together the lentils, quartered mushrooms, minced garlic, sea salt, oregano and olive oil. Remove the tops and ribs of the bell peppers. Place in a baking dish, and stuff each bell pepper with a quarter of the lentil and mushroom mixture. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. When ready, bake for 40 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients

1 cup red lentils

1 cup carrots, sliced

1 yellow onion, large diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons oregano

1 teaspoon sea salt

4 cups vegetable stock

Directions

In a large pot, bring all ingredients to a boil for five minutes. Reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes. Using an immersion blender or high-speed blender, puree all the ingredients and serve.

Lentil Loaf

Ingredients

1 cup green lentils

2 cups water

1 bell pepper, diced

1/3 cup red onion, diced

1/2 cup instant polenta or cornmeal

3 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch cayenne (optional)

2 eggs

1/3 cup barbecue sauce

Coconut oil spray (for bread pan only)

Directions

Rinse green lentils. Add the water and green lentils to a pot. Bring to a boil for three minutes, reduce to a simmer, cover with lid and cook for 45 minutes. Mash half the lentils. (I use a hand-held potato masher.) Mix prepared lentils with all ingredients, except the barbecue sauce. Generously spray the bread pan with coconut oil spray. Pour the lentil loaf mixture into the bread pan and smooth out the top. Spread out the barbecue sauce on top. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes. Stick a toothpick in center to make sure that it is firm throughout. Remove from oven and let rest 20 minutes. (This is important or it will fall apart.) Serve with more barbecue sauce on each slice.

Black Beluga Lentil “Caviar”

Ingredients

1/2 cup black beluga lentils

1 cup water

2 tablespoons capers

8 ounces herbed goat cheese

Crostini (baguette rounds)

Olive oil spray

Directions

Rinse lentils. Add the filtered water and black beluga lentils to a pot. Bring to a boil for two minutes, reduce to a simmer, cover with lid and cook for 20 minutes or until all water is absorbed. In a bowl, mix together the lentils and capers. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the crostini (baguette rounds) lightly with olive oil spray. Layer on a baking sheet and bake for seven to eight minutes. Assemble everything at room temperature. Layer the crostini and spread with herbed goat cheese. Top with a spoonful of lentil and capers mixture.

Jessica Wyman is an Idaho native, author and speaker. She’s a certified nutrition coach and yoga teacher. Visit her blog at Jessica-Wyman.com for more recipes and lifestyle advice. Get more tips in her new eBook, “Fit To Be Foxy: Clean Eating Kitchen Makeover and Meal Plan,” at http://bit.ly/foxykitchen.

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