10 Reasons to Love Your Lentils


Eating lentils and other legumes gives you the nutritional blast needed for busy days.

[Updated July 27, 2017]

In all the hype surrounding so-called super foods, lentils are often upstaged by trendier items with more modern appeal. But the lowly little lentil is, in fact, a wonder-working ingredient and can easily be used in a wide range of dishes—with wholesome and delicious results.

Why Eat Lentils?

1. They’re easy on your wallet.

Costing only about $1.80 a pound, dry lentils deliver a huge nutritional bang for your buck. This is particularly important, given the high cost of gluten-free, allergy-friendly packaged foods and the fact that more and more families are watching their food budgets.

2. They whittle your middle.

Few foods pack in more fiber—about 16 grams per cup when cooked—than mighty lentils. Research suggests that eating higher amounts of fiber can help in the battle of the bulge by slowing down digestion and keeping you feeling full so overeating is less likely. Most Americans consume only half the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber (RDA for women is 25 grams, 38 grams for men)—fiber-rich lentils help deliver this deliciously. 

3. They help cut your cholesterol.

Lentils are a leading source of cholesterol-crushing soluble fiber. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) fell almost twice as much in participants who followed a low-fat diet and also boosted their legume intake. 

4. They have antioxidant punch.

Like fresh fruits and vegetables, lentils contain an abundance of antioxidants. Antioxidants help mop-up cell-damaging free radicals, reducing the risk of a number of maladies, including cancer and diabetes.

5. They cook up fast and furious.

Unlike their bean counterparts, dried lentils don’t require any pre-soaking in water. In addition, they cook up in half of the time. This makes lentils particularly alluring to harried cooks.

6. They have protein power.

If you’re cutting back on red meat or embracing Meatless Mondays, turn to lentils. With roughly 18 grams of protein in a cup serving, lentils are a good source of vegetarian protein.

Gluten-Free Lentils

© Polka Dot Images/Thinkstock 2013

7. They help fight cancer.

Very few foods contain more folate than lentils. This B vitamin has been shown to confer protection against several forms of cancer, including pancreatic, colon and bladder. What’s more, a 2012 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that higher folate intakes can help lower blood pressure numbers.

8. They are a multi-talented legume.

Lentils are ultra-versatile in the kitchen. They can play a staring role in a wide range of dishes, including soups, salads, stews and veggie burgers.

9. They help you dodge diabetes.

When Canadian scientists reviewed data from 41 studies, they determined that consuming a diet rich in lentils can lead to long-term improvements in blood sugar control, which can help slash the risk for developing diabetes. Lentils can lower the overall glycemic index of your diet, resulting in fewer blood sugar spikes.

10. They’re energy boosting.

Lentils are chockablock with iron, which is necessary for the delivery of oxygen from the lungs to the brain and muscles. The form of iron in lentils is better absorbed when in the presence of vitamin C so lentils are best enjoyed with vitamin C-rich vegetables and fruit.

Lexicon of Lentils

Lentils come in a variety of hues, textures and flavors.

Green and brown lentils

These are the most commonly used lentils in America. You’ll find their lens-like shape on the shelves of every supermarket. In fact, the word “lens” hails from the Latin word for lentil. Green and brown lentils generally have an earthy flavour and can easily turn mushy if overcooked.

How to use them: Use green and brown lentils in dishes that take advantage of their softer texture, such as dips, loaves or vegetarian burgers and sloppy joes. If you want them to maintain their shape for salads and soups, make sure to cook until just tender, about 20 minutes.

Black beluga lentils

Named after the glistening beluga caviar they resemble when they’re cooked. They have a fetching jet-black skin and a slightly nutty, less earthy taste than green lentils. They possess the same age-avenging anthoycanin antioxidants found in blueberries and blackberries.

How to use them: Because they hold their shape and texture once cooked, exquisite black beluga lentils are an ideal choice for salads, stews and soups.

French green lentils

Widely considered the Rolls-Royce of lentils, French lentils have a rich flavor and less starchy texture than more common regular green or brown lentils. Look for them in specialty shops or online. Those labelled “du Puy” actually hail from a region in central France rich in volcanic soils.

How to use them: Since they hold their shape when cooked, green French lentils are commonly used in salads and soups.

Red lentils

Nutty and slightly sweet tasting, these cook more quickly than their counterparts because they’re sold with their hulls removed. They break down easily when cooked and lose their shape, so they’re not a good choice for salads.

How to use them: Enjoy red lentils in dals, baked goods, creamy soups and spreads.

Yellow lentils

Often sold split, yellow lentils have a slightly nutty flavor with a silky texture. Similar to red lentils, they don’t hold their shape well when cooked. They are popular in Indian cuisine.

How to use them: Add yellow lentils to Indian dals, curry and squash soups or puree them for dips and baked goods.

Preparing Pulses

Before cooking, pick lentils over to remove any small stones or other debris. Rinse well to wash away any dust and place them in a pot with roughly 3 cups of simmering water or gluten-free broth for each 1 cup of lentils. To avoid overcooking firmer varieties meant for salads, start tasting after about 20 minutes. One cup of dried lentils makes about 2½ cups cooked lentils.

When cooking, it’s best to avoid aluminium pans as they can adversely alter the color of the lentils. Salt and acidic items, such as vinegar, wine, tomatoes or lemon juice, can lengthen cooking time by hardening the lentils; add them after the lentils are tender. Cooked lentils can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days or in an airtight container in the freezer for six months. Store dried lentils for up to a year in a cool, dry place.

These recipes celebrate lentils in all their fabulous guises.

Smoky Lentil Sloppy Joes

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Smoky Lentil Sloppy Joes


This hearty version of what’s normally a meat-heavy dish is jam-packed with nutrition, easy on the wallet and full of smoky-sweet flavor. It’s also superb as leftovers. Cans of smoky-tasting chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are found in the Latin section of most grocers.

1 cup dried green or brown lentils, rinsed
1 cup uncooked brown rice
5 cups water
2 teaspoons canola or grape seed oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cups diced eggplant
1 large carrot, shredded
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
1 (26-ounce) jar tomato sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dry mustard powder
1 tablespoon gluten-free minced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 gluten-free buns, sliced in half
-Parsley, for garnish

1. Place lentils, brown rice and 5 cups water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until lentils and rice are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and rinse.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and eggplant and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add carrot, garlic and bell pepper and cook 2 minutes. Place tomato sauce, vinegar, mustard powder, chipotle peppers, oregano, salt and black pepper in the skillet and bring mixture to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.

3. Place 2 cups of the cooked lentils and rice in a food processor container. Blend into a paste-like consistency. Stir the lentil rice paste, along with remaining whole lentils and rice, into the tomato sauce mixture and heat for 5 minutes.

4. Place lentil mixture on bun halves and garnish with parsley.

Each serving contains 449 calories, 8g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 549mg sodium, 81g carbohydrate, 14g fiber, 16g sugars, 15g protein, 36Est GL.

Lentil Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus


A fresh take on the ubiquitous dip, this hummus is excellent with crackers, crudités or as a sandwich spread. Store extras in the refrigerator for up to a week; return to room temperature before serving.

¾ cup green or brown lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
2½ cups water
½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup tahini
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
-Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon ground paprika, sweet or smoked
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon sea salt

1. In a medium-size saucepan, bring lentils, bay leaf and 2½ cups water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer covered until lentils are very tender, about 30 minutes. Drain lentils and discard the bay leaf. Allow lentils to cool.

2. Place lentils in a food processor container along with remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

Each tablespoon contains 54 calories, 3g total fat, g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 57mg sodium, 5g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 0g sugars, 2g protein, 2Est GL.

Rhubarb with Lentils


Rhubarb infuses this one-pot wonder with a subtle tartness, a pleasant contrast with the earthy lentil flavor. Because they hold their shape and texture, French green lentils are superb in this recipe but you can also use black beluga lentils.

2 teaspoons canola or grape seed oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium-size carrot, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup French green lentils, rinsed
3½ cups water
1/3 cup fresh mint, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
-Plain yogurt or dairy-free plain yogurt, optional
-Chives, chopped, optional

1. In a medium-size saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add shallots, bell pepper, carrot, garlic, ginger and jalapeño pepper. Cook 3 minutes, stirring often.

2. Add cumin, turmeric, sea salt and black pepper; cook 1 minute. Add rhubarb and cook 2 minutes, stirring often.

3. Add lentils to the pot along with 3½ cups water. Bring mixture to a boil. Then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer covered for 30 minutes or until lentils are tender. Stir in mint and lemon zest.

4. Serve lentil mixture topped with yogurt and chives, if desired.

Each serving contains 143 calories, 2g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 209mg sodium, 24g carbohydrate, 7g fiber, 3g sugars, 8g protein, 10Est GL.

Black Lentil Pork Mango Salad

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Black Lentil Pork Mango Salad


This fetching salad tastes as good as it looks. If desired, replace the black lentils with French green lentils. Take leftovers to work for a healthy lunch.

1 cup black beluga lentils, rinsed
3 cups water
2 teaspoons canola or grape seed oil
1 pound pork tenderloin, sliced along its width into ½-inch rounds
2 ripe mangos, cubed
1 ripe avocado, cubed
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, sliced into matchsticks
⅓ cup shelled raw sunflower seeds
-Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, grated or finely minced
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon creamy Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
6 cups lettuce greens, such as baby spinach or mesclun

1. In a medium-size saucepan, bring lentils and 3 cups water to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered until lentils are just tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, rinse and let cool.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add pork and cook until browned on the outside and only slightly pink on the inside, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. In a large bowl, toss together lentils, pork, mangos, avocado, bell pepper and carrot.

4. In a dry skillet, toast sunflower seeds over medium heat until golden brown, about 4 minutes, stirring often. Stir sunflower seeds into salad.

5. In a small bowl, stir together lemon juice, garlic, mustard, cumin and sea salt. Whisk in olive oil. Add dressing to lentil salad, stirring to coat.

6. To serve, place greens on serving plates and top with lentil salad.

Each serving contains 467 calories, 25g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 49mg cholesterol, 221mg sodium, 38g carbohydrate, 13g fiber, 13g sugars, 28g protein, 14Est GL. 

Carrot Lentil Muffins

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Carrot Lentil Muffins


Made with lentil purée, carrots and ground flax seed, you’d be hard pressed to find muffins with more nutritional firepower than these. Serve them warm with a wisp of honey.

¾ cup red lentils, rinsed
1½ cups water
1¾ cups gluten-free all-purpose flour blend of choice
⅓ cup ground flax seed
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if included in your flour blend)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
⅓ cup honey
⅓ cup canola or grape seed oil
¼ cup sugar of choice
1 cup grated carrot

1. In a medium-size saucepan, combine red lentils and 1½ cups water. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer until lentils break down, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 12 standard-size muffin cups or line them with paper muffin cups.

3. In a large bowl, combine flour blend, flax meal, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, cinnamon, cloves and salt.

4. Place cooked lentils, applesauce, honey, oil and sugar in a blender or food processor container and blend until smooth. Add lentil mixture to flour mixture and mix until everything is moist. Fold in carrots.

5. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups and bake 18 minutes in preheated oven or until a toothpick inserted into muffins comes out mostly clean. Let muffins cool several minutes on a wire rack before removing from pan.

Each muffin contains 235 calories, 8g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 183mg sodium, 38g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 14g sugars, 4g protein, 21Est GL.

Lentil Quinoa Granola

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Lentil Quinoa Granola


Who says granola has to include oats? Nutrient-packed lentils and quinoa are a great way to jumpstart your day. If tolerated, nuts (like almonds) can be added. Use mild-flavored red lentils, as other versions may be too “earthy” for breakfast. Serve with milk or yogurt of choice.

3 cups water
¾ cup dry red lentils, rinsed
1½ cups quinoa flakes
½ cup unsweetened flaked coconut
½ cup raw shelled unsalted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
¼ cup hemp seeds, optional
⅓ cup pure maple syrup, preferably dark grade
2 tablespoons liquid coconut oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup dried cranberries or cherries
½ cup dried mango or apricot, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 275°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Add lentils, reduce heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes. (Don’t over-cook them as they will be too mushy.)

3. Drain lentils well and add them to a large bowl, along with quinoa flakes, coconut, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds, if using.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice and salt.

5. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix gently until everything is moist. Stir in additional maple syrup if mixture looks too dry.

6. Spread mixture out on prepared pan and place in preheated oven. Bake 1 hour or until golden brown, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes to prevent burning. Stir in dried cranberries or cherries and dried mango or apricot during the last 15 minutes of baking.

7. Cool granola completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 7 days.

Each serving contains 300 calories, 13g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 81mg sodium, 39g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 17g sugars, 9g protein, 18Est GL.

Canadian-based Matthew Kadey, RD, is a dietition and food writer. He is author of The Muffin Tin Chef (Ulysses Press 2012).