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tipsFoodFit's tips about lentils

Try our recipe for Lentil Soup.

Learn what makes up a serving of protein in our Food Pyramid.

Nutrition Smarts



Centuries before the Food Pyramid, people from Calcutta to Cannes ate lots of lentils. They knew instinctively this legume was a rich source of nutrients. Perfect comfort food for wintry nights, lentils require no soaking, and some cook in as little as 10 minutes.

Versatile Varieties

Lentils are a cousin of beans. They are both legumes, the seeds that grow within pods. Where they're grown and how they're processed determines their color, flavor and cooking time. Here are the ones you're most likely to find:

  • French lentils: Sold with the seed coat on, they are grayish brown outside and creamy inside.
  • Red lentils: Sometimes called Egyptian lentils, they are small, round and have an orange-red tone.
  • Spanish pardina lentils: Tiny and brown, they have a nutty flavor and hold their shape when cooked.

They can be served as a side dish, pureed into thick soups, and added to stews and grain dishes. They're also great in salads.

Fabulous Fiber and Folate

Lentils boast a modest 130 calories per (dry) 1/4-cup serving. They contain only a trace of fat and no cholesterol or sodium. But this small serving provides 44 percent of the RDA for dietary fiber, and a whopping 90 percent of your daily need for folate. Lentils contain more folate than any other unfortified food. They are also a good source of iron and phosphorus, and also contain significant amounts of protein, calcium and vitamin A.

Fast Food

Lentils are easy to cook. Follow these simple steps:

  • Pour them into a sieve, remove any debris, and rinse them under cold running water.
  • Place the lentils in a saucepan with enough water to cover by 1/2-inch.
  • Cover the pan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the variety. They should be cooked through and satiny, not hard or mushy.

FoodFit's Tips About Lentils

  • Don't add salt when cooking lentils; it toughens them. Instead, add fresh herbs, peeled garlic cloves, shallots or dried herbs such as cumin, coriander or curry powder.
  • If lentils are eaten with a food high in vitamin C, like tomatoes or bell peppers, their iron content is absorbed more efficiently by the body.
  • Use as little water as possible when cooking, since it retains more of the water-soluble nutrients.
  • A European trick is to add a teaspoon of vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar to the cooking water for lentils. The slight sweet and sour nuances enhance their nutty flavor.
  • Drain off any remaining cooking liquid as soon as the lentils are tender so they don't continue to cook and become mushy.
  • Store small amounts of lentils or other dried legumes, in resealable plastic bags, and place the bags in an airtight container; they'll last for up to a year.


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