Like beans, lentils add a great high-fiber and high-protein element to many meals. Because of their size, lentils cook much more quickly than dried beans and do not have to be soaked before cooking.3 They are extremely versatile and inexpensive, which makes them an accessible form of high-quality protein.4 Let’s take a closer look at this convenient staple.

Preparation, Cooking, and Storage

Lentils are sold in two forms: canned and dried. While canned are good for ready-to-eat uses such as a quick salad or side dish, the dried version works well for soups and stews, salads, and sides. A bag of dried lentils can really last forever, but they are best used within a year of purchase (or by the date printed on the package). Once the bag is opened, store any remaining lentils in an airtight container and keep them in a cool, dry place.5

One benefit of lentils is that they can be cooked in less than an hour. While it seems like an unnecessary step, don’t skip rinsing your lentils and sifting through them before cooking to remove any stones or debris. It is rare to find stones, but it does happen.6 When cooking, treat lentils more like pasta than rice – the lentils do not need to absorb every bit of cooking liquid the way rice does, but you also don’t need to completely flood the lentils like you would pasta. As a general rule, one cup of dried lentils yields two to two-and-a-half cups of cooked lentils.7

Because of their rather delicate, earthy flavor, lentils work well in a variety of dishes and in almost any type of cuisine. The best time to add flavor to lentils is during the cooking process. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Adding half an onion (peeled), a few cloves of crushed garlic, a bundle of herbs, or a bay leaf to the cooking liquid and a pinch of salt gives lentils plenty of flavor, especially when they’re the base for a salad or side dish.8

Nutritional Breakdown

Lentils are an easy, affordable ingredient to add to many meals, and they’re also extremely healthy. One cup of cooked lentils contains around 230 calories, 18 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, and 16 grams of fiber.9 When you add this legume to your diet, you can count on:

  • Fiber Lentils are packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber. Foods high in soluble fiber can help stabilize blood sugar and help reduce blood cholesterol. This in turn reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Foods high in insoluble fiber are good for digestion and help prevent constipation and other digestive issues
  • Protein Protein helps keep us full and gives our bodies the energy to power through the day. Protein accounts for 26 percent of the calories in lentils
  • Energy Lentils offer a steady, slow-burning source of energy, thanks to the mix of fiber and complex carbohydrates
  • Folate One cup of cooked lentils provides 90 percent of the daily recommended intake of folate. This B vitamin helps the body build new cells, an essential task that’s incredibly important for pregnant women, and has also been shown to help prevent some types of cancer1011
  • Vitamins and Minerals Lentils are rich in a number of vitamins and minerals. The magnesium in lentils helps the body transport oxygen and nutrients more effectively by improving blood flow. And iron helps move oxygen throughout the body12
  • Heart Health The mix of fiber, folic acid, and potassium in lentils makes them a heart-healthy choice13

Lentil Varieties

10 Ways to Eat More Lentils