Posts Tagged With: healthy recipes

L is for Lentils – (Make Room for Legumes!)

lentilsIt may come as no surprise to you that legumes such as beans, peas and soybeans are a great addition to a lean diet for their fiber content and affordability.  But have you considered legumes as sources for appetite control and protection from heart disease and some cancers?  Legumes are a source of important vitamins and minerals and, according to “The Doctor’s Book of Food Remedies,” legumes provide B vitamins which keep your nervous system healthy; folic acid- credited with preventing birth defects; iron for a healthy circulatory system, and calcium for strong bone health. Legumes are full of both protein and fiber; these vegetable-based proteins are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than animal based protein.  The long list of foods that qualify as legumes boasts a few pleasant surprises; consider that the humble peanut is actually a legume and is so much more than a ballpark snack, thanks to its many health benefits.

Admittedly, while I’m a fan of most legumes, I tend to go ‘mental for lentils!’  Lentils are readily available,  and relatively easy to prepare.  A favorite summer meal is a lentil salad, chock full of greens that is as satisfying as it is healthy (see recipe at end of post).  Cooked lentils also serve as a great “bed” for most sauces, chicken, fish, and even the occasional meatball (for those of us who are trying to avoid breads and pasta).

Have a gander at the specs listed below provided by The World’s Healthiest Foods online.  And then, consider joining me in going “mental for lentils!”

Health Benefits

Lentils, a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family, are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Not only do lentils help lower cholesterol, they are of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. But this is far from all lentils have to offer. Lentils also provide good to excellent amounts of six important minerals, two B-vitamins, and protein—all with virtually no fat. The calorie cost of all this nutrition? Just 230 calories for a whole cup of cooked lentils. This tiny nutritional giant fills you up—not out.

Lentils, like other beans, are rich in dietary fiber, both the soluble and insoluble type. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that snares bile (which contains cholesterol)and ferries it out of the body. Research studies have shown that insoluble fiber not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.

In a study that examined food intake patterns and risk of death from coronary heart disease, researchers followed more than 16,000 middle-aged men in the U.S., Finland, The Netherlands, Italy, former Yugoslavia, Greece and Japan for 25 years. Typical food patterns were: higher consumption of dairy products in Northern Europe; higher consumption of meat in the U.S.; higher consumption of vegetables, legumes, fish, and wine in Southern Europe; and higher consumption of cereals, soy products, and fish in Japan. When researchers analyzed this data in relation to the risk of death from heart disease, they found that legumes were associated with a whopping 82% reduction in risk!!

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that eating high fiber foods, such as lentils, helps prevent heart disease. Almost 10,000 American adults participated in this study and were followed for 19 years. People eating the most fiber, 21 grams per day, had 12% less coronary heart disease (CHD) and 11% less cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to those eating the least, 5 grams daily. Those eating the most water-soluble dietary fiber fared even better with a 15% reduction in risk of CHD and a 10% risk reduction in CVD.

Lentils’ contribution to heart health lies not just in their fiber, but in the significant amounts of folate and magnesium these little wonders supply. Folate helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an intermediate product in an important metabolic process called the methylation cycle. When folate (as well as vitamin B6) are around, homocysteine is immediately converted into cysteine or methionine, both of which are benign. When these B vitamins are not available, levels of homocysteine increase in the bloodstream—a bad idea since homocysteine damages artery walls and is considered a serious risk factor for heart disease.

Lentils’ magnesium puts yet another plus in the column of its beneficial cardiovascular effects. Magnesium is Nature’s own calcium channel blocker. When enough magnesium is around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart. Want to literally keep your heart happy? Eat lentils.

Lentils Give You Energy to Burn While Stabilizing Blood Sugar

In addition to its beneficial effects on the digestive system and the heart, soluble fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, legumes like lentils can really help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy. Studies of high fiber diets and blood sugar levels have shown the dramatic benefits provided by these high fiber foods. Researchers compared two groups of people with type 2 diabetes who were fed different amounts of high fiber foods. One group ate the standard American Diabetic diet, which contains with 24 grams of fiber/day, while the other group ate a diet containing 50 grams of fiber/day. Those who ate the diet higher in fiber had lower levels of both plasma glucose (blood sugar) and insulin (the hormone that helps blood sugar get into cells). The high fiber group also reduced their total cholesterol by nearly 7%, their triglyceride levels by 10.2% and their VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein—the most dangerous form of cholesterol)levels by 12.5%.

In addition to providing slow burning complex carbohydrates, lentils can increase your energy by replenishing your iron stores. Particularly for menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency, boosting iron stores with lentils is a good idea—especially because, unlike red meat, another source of iron, lentils are not rich in fat and calories. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. And remember: If you’re pregnant or lactating, your needs for iron increase. Growing children and adolescents also have increased needs for iron.

History

Lentils are believed to have originated in central Asia, having been consumed since prehistoric times. They are one of the first foods to have ever been cultivated. Lentil seeds dating back 8000 years have been found at archeological sites in the Middle East. Lentils were mentioned in the Bible both as the item that Jacob traded to Esau for his birthright and as a part of a bread that was made during the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people.

For millennia, lentils have been traditionally been eaten with barley and wheat, three foodstuffs that originated in the same regions and spread throughout Africa and Europe during similar migrations and explorations of cultural tribes. Before the 1st century AD, they were introduced into India, a country whose traditional cuisine still bestows high regard for the spiced lentil dish known as dal. In many Catholic countries, lentils have long been used as a staple food during Lent. Currently, the leading commercial producers of lentils include India, Turkey, Canada, China and Syria.

How to Select and Store

Lentils are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the lentils are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure its maximal freshness. Whether purchasing lentils in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that the lentils are whole and not cracked.

Store lentils in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place. Stored this way, they will keep for up to 12 months. If you purchase lentils at different times, store them separately since they may feature varying stages of dryness and therefore will require different cooking times. Cooked lentils will keep fresh in the refrigerator for about three days if placed in a covered container.

Tips for Preparing Lentils                                                                

Lentils can be prepared the day of serving since they do not need to be presoaked. Before washing lentils you should spread them out on a light colored plate or cooking surface to check for, and remove, small stones or debris. After this process, place the lentils in a strainer, and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water.

The Healthiest Way of Cooking Lentils

To boil lentils, use three cups of liquid for each cup of lentils. Lentils placed in already boiling water will be easier to digest than those that were brought to a boil with the water. When the water returns to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer and cover. Green lentils usually take 30 minutes, while red ones require 20 minutes.

These cooking times can be slightly adjusted depending upon the final use. If you are going to be serving lentils in a salad or soup and desire a firmer texture, remove them from the stove top when they have achieved this consistency—typically 5-10 minutes earlier than their usual cooking time. If you are making dal or some preparation that requires a mushier consistency, achieving this texture may take an additional 10-15 minutes.

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.”

Lentils1.00 cup   cooked198.00 grams229.68   calories

Nutrient

Amount

DV

(%)

Nutrient

Density

World’s   Healthiest

Foods   Rating

molybdenum

148.50   mcg

198.0

15.5

excellent

folate

358.38   mcg

89.6

7.0

excellent

fiber

15.64   g

62.6

4.9

very   good

tryptophan

0.16   g

50.0

3.9

very   good

manganese

0.98   mg

49.0

3.8

very   good

iron

6.59   mg

36.6

2.9

good

protein

17.86   g

35.7

2.8

good

phosphorus

356.40   mg

35.6

2.8

good

copper

0.50   mg

25.0

2.0

good

vitamin B1

0.33   mg

22.0

1.7

good

potassium

730.62   mg

20.9

1.6

good

World’s   Healthiest

Foods   Rating

Rule

excellent

DV>=75%   OR

Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%

very   good

DV>=50%   OR

Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%

good

DV>=25%   OR

Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

Michelle’s favorite go-to recipe for Lentil Salad:

Recipe courtesy of The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

SERVINGS
 – 4

INGREDIENTS
 – 1 cup lentils (French green lentils or black Beluga lentils are the best varieties to use for lentil salads because they have lots of flavor and they hold their shape when cooked.)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions or
3 tablespoons finely diced shallot
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

PREPARATION

1. Sort and rinse the lentils. Cover with water by 3 inches and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook until tender all the way through (adding more water if necessary), about 30 minutes. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

2. Toss the lentils with the red wine vinegar, salt, and fresh-ground black pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt and vinegar if needed.

3. Add the extra-virgin olive oil, scallions or shallot, and parsley. Stir to combine. If the lentils seem dry and are hard to stir, loosen them with a bit of the reserved cooking liquid.

VARIATIONS 
Add 1/2 cup diced cucumber.

  • Dice very fine 1/4 cup each of carrot, celery, and onion. Cook until tender in a couple spoonfuls of olive oil.
  • Cool and stir into the salad in place of the scallions or shallots.
  • Garnish with 1/2 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese.
  • Toast and crush 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds and add to the salad. Substitute cilantro for the parsley.
  • Dice 1/4 cup flavorful sweet peppers, season with salt, and let stand to soften. Stir in with the scallions or shallots.

Written By: Michelle Frati, SJC Staff Member

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Healthy and Nutritious Recipes

Worried that healthy meals are going to be bland, flavorless and boring?  No need to worry.  101 Recipes You Can’t Live Without: The Prevention Cookbook by Lori Powell (© 2012 by Rodale Inc.) developed healthy and nutritious meals that are full of flavor and still incorporate foods that contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  Click here to read more about these recipes and how they can benefit your health.

Photo by:   USDAgov on Flickr          License:   Creative Commons

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