Lentils: A Meatless Protein Source

Anyone familiar with bodybuilding diets knows the importance of adequate protein intake.  With an assortment of lean meats and fish making up the majority of bodybuilders’ protein sources, sometimes taking a break from eating meat is a great way to add variety to your diet and break the monotony of eating the same meals.

With food product availability and expanding food science technology, now more than ever, finding alternative vegetarian protein sources has never been easier.  The trick is to know where to look. (You can usually find them on the same shelves as the canned and dried beans.)  With many vegetarian protein sources available, this article will cover lentils – an often underutilized and overlooked high protein food.

An ancient food over 8,000 years old, the lentil has been eaten throughout history and is a staple in a variety of cuisines.  Archeological findings have shown evidence of lentils being consumed in Asia and throughout the Middle East, including India, Turkey and Syria.

WHAT ARE LENTILS?
Lentils are legumes that are classified by size, either large or small with several varieties of each being harvested.  In the United States the most common are either green or brown, however specialty stores carry black, orange, yellow and red as well.
Lentils are round, oval-shaped disks that are flat and resemble the size of a pencil eraser.  As far as taste, lentils usually have a hearty and nutty flavor.  They can be used as a side
dish or added to soups and stews in place of meat products.

SELECTION & STORAGE
Lentils are available in small package bags or can be purchased in bulk.  If this is a new food for you, I suggest purchasing the smaller containers to gauge your taste for them.  When purchasing, be sure to inspect the bag for moisture and insect damage.
Store your lentils in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.  They will keep for up to 6 months.

PREPARING LENTILS
Unlike dried beans, lentils do not need to be soaked before they are cooked.  This means you can cook them the same day you plan on eating them.  Before cooking, be sure to spread the lentils out and sift for small rocks that can, on rare occasions, be present in the bags.  Place them in a strainer and run them under cool running water before cooking – this process rinses away any debris that can be left behind.
To cook the lentils follow the package directions, as the cooking times for assorted varieties can be different.  As a general rule, use three cups of liquid (I prefer vegetable stock) per cup of lentils.  Green lentils will take approximately 30 minutes to cook whereas red varieties tend to need slightly less time, about 20 minutes.  For the best possible taste, please follow the cooking instructions directly on the package.
Cooked lentils keep in the refrigerator for three days in a covered container.

NUTRITIONAL PROFILE
With 18g of protein per ½ cup, lentils are certainly protein-packed.  Also, they are a good source of fiber with approximately 8g per ½ cup plus the phosphorus, copper and potassium – minerals not usually found in meat products.

Experiment with lentils, if you don’t already include them in your diet.
* Take ½ cup chilled, cooked lentils and toss with bell pepper strips, 1 Tbs. almonds, lemon juice and your choice of seasonings for a quick and delicious cold side salad.

To help keep your sanity while eating clean, make a habit of trying a new food item to add to your arsenal of go-to foods.  Doing so keeps your meals interesting while exploring an entire world of tastes.

Johnathan Zamora
The Fit Chef

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