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Lentils — the Underrated Protein Powerhouse

Adding lentils to your diet can help ward off hunger, add affordable protein to your diet, and jazz up your meals and snacks.

Lentils are one of the most underrated foods on the planet. This petite protein-packed pod is a nutrient powerhouse. Find out more about lentils and why you should be adding them to your diet.

Nutrition Facts

One cup of cooked lentils (boiled, no salt added) contains 230 calories, 18 grams of protein, 15.6 grams of fiber (a whopping 63% of the Daily Value, DV), 40 grams of carbohydrate, and less than 1 gram of fat. Lentils are also an excellent source (20% or more of the DV) of iron, thiamin, folate, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese, and are a good source (10-19% of the DV) of vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and zinc.

Full of Fabulous Fiber

Lentils are loaded with fiber, both soluble and insoluble. You need both types of fiber in your diet because they provide different benefits. Soluble fiber slows digestion, which keeps you full for longer and helps prevent weight gain. Soluble fiber can also help prevent heart disease. Insoluble fiber is important for digestive health.

Heart Healthy

Lentils lend you a hand in meeting your daily requirements for folate and magnesium, both of which are important for maintaining a healthy ticker. In fact, if you eat one cup of cooked lentils, you’re getting 90% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for folic acid, which protects the walls of your arteries, helping you stave off heart disease.

Budget-Friendly

Contrary to their main competition in the protein department (meat), lentils are super cheap. In fact, you can usually find a 1-pound bag of lentils for less than $1.00 (I live in the Midwest and find them for about $0.79 per bag, which is about $0.11 per serving). Since food is increasing in price and will always be a big portion of your budget, it is a good idea to look for ways to save while still meeting your nutrient needs.

Easy to Prepare

Unlike dry beans, which need to be soaked overnight, drained, rinsed, and then cooked for about three to four hours, lentils are much less of a hassle to prepare. Cooking time for most lentils is about 15-20 minutes. You will need to use two times as much water as you do lentils. For example, if you’re cooking one cup of dried lentils, you need to add two cups of water.

Green, black, and brown lentils cook the fastest and won’t become mushy--these are best in stand-alone dishes or on top of salads where you want the lentils to still have some textural integrity. Orange, yellow, pink, and red lentils are delicious as well, but they do tend to get a more mushy texture when cooked. Add these to your soups and sauces for a big boost of nutrition and flavor.

Rinse lentils thoroughly in a colander and check over them to remove any debris, rocks, or shriveled pieces. Bring the lentils to a rapid boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer. Do not add any acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, vinegar, or citrus juices until the very end of the cooking.

You can keep cooked lentils in your fridge for about one week.

Very Versatile

Think beyond the soup pot for lovely lentils -- so many more culinary opportunities exist for this underappreciated food.

*Replace all or half of the ground beef in a recipe with cooked lentils.

*Make lentil loaf instead of meatloaf, or lentil sloppy Joes.

*Instead of using garbanzo beans for hummus, puree lentils with some olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, herbs and spices for a delicious, filling dip for veggies.

*Instead of buying processed veggie burgers from the freezer section of your grocery store, make your own veggie burgers using mashed lentils as the base.

*Rather than a boring rice pilaf, make a chilled lentil salad instead.

*Add cooked lentils to the top of your salad for a vegetarian protein boost.

[Image via Getty]

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