June 23rd, 2018

From Our Table: A look at lentils

By Medicine Hat News on February 28, 2017.

February is Heart Health Month. There are many delicious foods that are good for us and specifically for the health of our heart. It’s really important to have a wide variety of healthy foods to ensure we get the 50-plus nutrients we need every day. On the flip side of that I also personally feel that if we eat a very wide variety of healthy food we also avoid “problems” in certain foods that can cause food phobia. Things like mercury in fish for example. Fish is an excellent heart healthy protein source. Chicken is also great as is other poultry, red meat and pork, eggs and legumes all provide protein and it’s important to mix things up with a wide variety.

An excellent heart healthy protein source to enjoy in your “diet of variety” is legumes. Legumes include dried peas, beans and lentils. They provide high quality protein, soluble fibre, iron and other vitamins and minerals. They also have the heart healthy benefit of being cholesterol free and low in fat and are inexpensive.

Some people avoid legumes for a couple of reasons. One is the dried legumes take some time to prepare. They need to be soaked in water to rehydrate them then boiled in new water for about an hour until they are soft. This issue can be solved by cooking legumes in bulk then freezing them in airtight containers or zippered bags in 1-2 cup portions. You can also spend more money for convenience and buy canned ready-to-use legumes. The other issue is the intestinal gas legumes cause. This can be avoided by eating a product like beano that helps to break down the gas causing carbohydrate component in the legume, soaking the beans then discarding the water also helps with this, as well the more regularly you eat legumes the more your system will get used to digesting them.

Of all legumes lentils and split peas are the easiest to work with. They do not have to be soaked and are cooked the same way you cook rice so are fairly fast to prepare. Again you can also prepare a large amount then freeze them in 1-2 cup portions.

Let’s take a quick a look at lentils. They are an excellent source of folate, fibre, phosphorus and of course protein. They are inexpensive and can be used as either a substitute for ground beef in many recipes such as chili or hamburger soup or in combination with ground beef. This really cuts costs and fat content while bumping up the fibre. Plus they are very convenient. You can keep bags of dried lentils on your shelf for a very long time to use anytime but in case of emergency you will have a protein source readily available to use. Canned lentils also have a long shelf life so can always be kept on hand ready to use as a fast protein source.

Here’s an example of a meal that uses both ground beef and lentils in combination from a cookbook called “The Big Book of Little Lentils.”

Joanne Smith is a registered dietitian.


3 lb ground beef

2-19 oz cans navy beans

2 cups dry split red lentils

28 oz can crushed tomatoes

3 carrots chopped

2 celery stalks chopped

4 cloves garlic chopped

12 cups water

1/3 cup molasses

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 Tbsp garlic powder

1 Tbsp onion powder

1 Tbsp basil

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Place uncooked ground beef into a large roaster, add rest of ingredients and bake for about two and a half hours at 375 F (190 C). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 12 servings.

Per serving: 135 calories; 9.3 grams protein; 17.6 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fibre; 2.6 grams sugar; 2.8 grams fat

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