Behold the Lofty Lentil
The rising-star legume by Linda Fausel
Virtually fat-free, these tiny little guys help lower cholesterol and manage blood sugar levels. Lentils—green, brown, red, or yellow—are considered high in nutrition and low in calories. Hailing from the all-star legume family, these protein-packed beans are a fabulous source of fiber. They also provide the body with at least five important minerals. “Never heard of them,” you say?
“A lot of people didn’t grow up with them,” says registered dietitian and TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) advisor Joan Pleuss, “but the U.S. Government’s new food pyramid encourages people to use more dried peas and beans because of the protein benefits.” Lentils easily fit the bill.
Take Off Pounds Sensibly members Alberta and Edward Hushfield of Duncanville, Texas use lentils all the time “We have lentil soup at least twice a week,” says Alberta. “We either use my special recipe or a canned variety.”
Alberta is a 17-year KOPS (an acronym for Keep Off Pounds Sensibly; a KOPS is a Take Off Pounds Sensibly member who has reached goal weight and maintains it by attending meetings for accountability and giving and receiving encouragement). “We need the fiber in our diets,” Alberta says. The family is on a mission. Edward is within 15 to 20 pounds of his weight goal, which, in turn, is helping to inspire someone else.
“Our grandson has lost 65 pounds,” Alberta says. “He’s not a TOPS member, but has lost it by grandma’s and grandpa’s good example! He has my lentil soup three times per week. He says my soup is better than the canned kind, but I think he may be a little bit prejudiced!”
ReBecca Vivian calls herself a “proud” member of her TOPS chapter in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. ReBecca joined Take Off Pounds Sensibly in October 2003 and has never looked back. ReBecca was at the 2005 International Recognition Days in South Dakota last July. She was honored as an international division winner. She attributes her weight-loss success to being an avid lover of lentils and all legumes. To date, she has lost 209.5 pounds! “I switched my diet to all fruits, veggies, and legumes from the day I joined TOPS,” ReBecca says. “I already had made the decision to become vegan (a person who avoids all animal products, meats, fish, poultry, eggs, etc.) after much reading and soul-searching—a choice I do not regret!”
ReBecca says she eats legumes daily now and has watched the unwanted pounds come off. She has created many of her own recipes.
“On my salads at lunch and dinner, I add a cup of chickpeas,” ReBecca says. “Pinto beans make an excellent dip when pureed in a food processor with salsa, garlic, and chili pepper. With fresh-cut veggies to dip in the pinto dip, it makes an excellent lunch and/or snack!”
ReBecca is well aware that legumes are low in fat and calories, and she also recognizes the economic value. “Canned beans (if thoroughly drained and rinsed) are quick, cheap, and convenient when trying to prepare healthy meals and snacks,” she says. “I feel great, and my body loves my new protein source!”
Carolyn Filice belongs to a TOPS chapter in Georgetown, Ontario. She echoes those sentiments. “With sometimes little more than olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs, you can throw together a dinner that is at the same time frugal, healthful, and delicious.”
Lentils are also good sources of:
Lentils can be boiled in water or broth. They can be mixed with various dried spices and garlic, ginger, onion, tomatoes, sweet or chili peppers, or pasta, depending on your taste. Puree them, mash them, or use them as a spread. Add them to soups, stews, salads, and casseroles as a hearty staple. And, if the flavor and versatility aren’t enough, there is one more reason to eat lentils. “Eating high- fiber foods can help us feel full longer,” Pleuss says.
The beans may have originated in central Asia. Researchers believe they’ve been on the human menu since prehistoric times. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods (WHF) www.whfoods.com, lentils are one of the first foods to have ever been cultivated. And lentil beans dating back 8,000 years have been found at archeological sites in the Middle East. Lentils were mentioned in the Bible, according to WHF.
Aside from the various colors, lentils look a lot like flat, uncooked split peas. Lentils do not require presoaking before cooking. They are about the same size as the peas, sold dry, come in halves or whole, and are round or oval shaped. In the Milwaukee area, lentils sell for anywhere from $0.89 to $1.50 per 16-ounce bag. And since one 16-ounce bag of dried lentils yields about 14 (1/4-cup, cooked) servings, putting them on the table is economical—nutritionally and financially—when trying to stretch the food dollar.
Before cooking lentils, it is a good idea to spread them out (white paper toweling on a cookie sheet works well) and check for small stones, dirt, or damaged “disks.” Rinsing them with cool running water in a colander or strainer is also recommended.
Lentils are mainly produced in North Dakota, Idaho, Washington, and Montana in the United States and in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in Canada.
Mid-August visitors to Pullman, Washington, will find all things lentil at the annual National Lentil Festival. Visitors can partake in all kinds of delectable delights, including the world’s largest bowl of lentil chili!
A member of TOPS in Otisville, Michigan describes herself as a lentil and legume fan and, ironically, has the name to prove it! “For me, it is such a help to have the soup ready in case there is nothing for supper,” Judy says. Judy’s last name is, aptly, LaBean.
TOPS News, March 2006. Linda Fausel