Lentils – Protein staple for plant-based diets


Lentils have gained popularity as a non-meat protein option to meet dietary needs of vegetarians and vegans. They’re made up of 25% protein. The name comes from their “lens” shape. In stores they’re sold without the husk on them and are typically inexpensive. Cananda has the largest production of lentils and they’re a staple food in places like Morocco, Syria, Turkey, and Tunisia. Lentils don’t need to be soaked before being cooked (but should be rinsed) and they’re normally ready in less than 30 minutes. Some people prefer them crunchy while others like them on the softer side.

Incorporating lentils in your diet does have health benefits. In one cup of lentils there are 230 calories, about 40 carbohydrates, and 18 grams of protein. Plus, one cup contains 16 grams of fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, and folate. There is also niacin, zinc, copper, and vitamin B6. All these qualities make lentils a great plant-based protein option.

There are a few types to pick from when you eat them. There are green lentils, brown (most popular), yellow and red, beluga (black color), and puy (peppery taste). Whichever type, one of the main reasons lentils are good for you is because they are packed with polyphenols. These are phytochemicals that decrease inflammation and are antioxidants. They can ward off cancerous cells and help lower blood sugar levels. They’re a heart healthy food because they can lower blood pressure.

Lentils can be controversial because of their high carbohydrate content and because they contain antinutrients. These impair absorption of other nutrients. Some of these antinutrients are phytic acid which can affect absorption of zinc, iron, and calcium. Trypsin can impair the breakdown of protein. Lectin can affect digestion. Tannins can affect iron absorption. Soaking and cooking lentils is said to reduce the impact of antinutrients, but again, being mindful of how much and how often you consume lentils is a good idea.

Overall, lentils are a good choice especially if you need protein and don’t eat meat. Plant based proteins can be hard to incorporate in your diet and eating whole foods versus protein supplements is the better option.  We need protein for muscle strength and mass, to boost metabolism, to help us feel fuller longer which can help with cravings, and for bone health. We can benefit from eating 15-30% of our calories from protein. Making sure we have enough is key, and lentils can help us meet the necessary amount.

Polyphenol-Rich Lentils and Their Health Promoting Effects – PMC (nih.gov)

Nutrient profile and effect of processing methods on the composition and functional properties of lentils (Lens culinaris Medik): A review – Dhull – 2023 – Legume Science – Wiley Online Library

Nutritional and anti-nutritional properties of lentil (Lens culinaris) protein isolates prepared by pilot-scale processing – PMC (nih.gov)

Lentil and Kale: Complementary Nutrient-Rich Whole Food Sources to Combat Micronutrient and Calorie Malnutrition – PMC (nih.gov)

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Dr. Megan Johnson McCullough owns a fitness studio in Oceanside CA called Every BODY's Fit. She has a Doctorate in Health and Human Performance, M.A. in Physical Education & Health Science, and she's an NASM Master Trainer & Instructor. She's also a professional natural bodybuilder, fitness model, Wellness Coach, and AFAA Group Exercise Instructor. She has 6 books on Amazon too,.