With more than 30% of its calories coming from muscle-building protein (more per serving than you’ll find in beef) and prices that are pocket-friendly, lentils may be the perfect way to stay strong on a budget.
This brawny bean even gives quinoa a run for its money, containing double the amount of dietary fiber. It’s no wonder that people throughout history have loved this legume—the Biblical character Esau (by far the biggest muscle-head in the Book of Genesis) traded his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew!
The Lowdown on Lentils
OK, so maybe Esau’s trade was a bit extreme. But there are many reasons why you should augment your diet with lentils—which only about 7% of Americans consume daily.(3) That’s a missed opportunity, because lentils are not only high in fiber and protein, they also pack a potent punch of B vitamins, iron and zinc.
Iron is especially important for athletes, who are at a greater risk for deficiency or anemia due to their higher activity level.(4) Since iron is responsible for forming the body's red blood cells, a deficiency stops your body from producing hemoglobin.(5) Lower hemoglobin levels mean your body can’t deliver as much oxygen to your muscles, making it harder to recover.(6) So a lentil-rich diet could help you bounce back from those tough workouts faster.
Nothing to "Stew" Over
Jacob had the right idea when he made that lentil stew, because cooking lentils actually makes it easier for your body to absorb their nutrients.(7) Cooking times vary, with Black Beluga, brown and green lentils taking about 15 to 20 minutes to cook fully, while red lentils are ready in 10. Regardless of which color you choose, be sure to cook them fully—eating lentils raw can cause gastric distress.(7) You’ll know they’re ready when they’re slightly mushy. If you cook for the recommended time and the lentils are still slightly crunchy, cover and cook them more another five minutes, then test the consistency again.(8)
Ready to give lentils a try? Here are some of our favorite recipes from around the web:
(1) Genesis 25:34
(2) Callaway JC (2004). "Hempseed as a nutritional resource: an overview." Euphytica 140:65-72.
(3) Consumption of dry beans, peas, and lentils could improve diet quality in the US population. Mitchell, D.C., Lawrence, F.R., Hartman, T.J., et al. Diet Assessment Center, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, 108 Chandlee, University Park, Pa. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009 May;109(5):909-13.
(4) "Anaemia and Iron Deficiency in Athletes." Dr. Jean-Claude Chatard, Iñigo Mujika, Claire Guy, Jean-René Lacour. Sports Medicine.April 1999, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 229-240.
(5) "Iron: food sources", VRG
(6) "Iron, Zinc and Magnesium Nutrition and Athletic Performance." Roger McDonald, Dr. Carl L. Keen. Sports Medicine. March 1988, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 171-184
(7) "Effect of cooking and legume species upon calcium, iron and zinc uptake by Caco-2 cells." Viadel B, Barberá R, Farré R. Nutrition and Food Chemistry, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Valencia, Avda. Vicente Andrés Estellés s/n, 46100-Burjassot, Spain. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, 2006;20(2):115-20.
(8) "How to select and prepare dried beans, peas and lentils." USDA. National Consumer Home and Garden Service Bulletin. Issue 177