As we begin our journey into the New Year many of us start to contemplate changing the foods we eat with the hopes of improving our quality of life.
Yet, often conflicting dietary information can make it difficult to decide where to begin and what modifications to make on that road to good health.
However, for many a simple place to start on that journey is to reduce excessive consumption of red meat (especially processed varieties) and to replace it with a vegetarian protein.
In fact, various studies suggest that eating more plant-based proteins such as beans or legumes can decrease the rates of diabetes, obesity and cancer.
There are many excellent choices of plant proteins that we can incorporate into our diet, but one of my favourite ones is the small but mighty lentil. These legumes offer many health benefits as well as being economical, versatile and super easy to prepare.
Lentils are an excellent source of quality plant protein providing 18 grams per cup. And while they are not a complete protein (unless sprouted), when consumed in a varied diet or combined with whole grains such as rice, wheat or corn, they become a viable meat alternative.
One cup of cooked lentils contains about 230 calories and 40 grams of carbohydrates including 16 grams of fibre, which encourages optimum digestion and helps to balance cholesterol and blood sugar.
Low in fat, lentils contain only 1 gram per cup and – more importantly – only negligible traces of saturated fat. On the other hand, meat contains varying amounts of saturated fats, that when consumed in excess, are thought to contribute to heart disease.
Lentils are also rich in many minerals including manganese, vitamin B6, folate, selenium, zinc and copper. And they contain a whopping 37 per cent of the RDI for iron in just one cup.
While lentils have an excellent nutritive profile and can offer a quality vegetarian protein in the diet, one of the most impressive attributes of this particular legume crop is that they have a low impact on our environment.
In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group, lentils are considered their top ‘climate friendly’ protein emitting 0.9 kg of CO2 from production to table. Alternatively, chicken, which is the lowest meat item tested, emitted more than 7 times the CO2 levels.
Lentils can be added into salads or soups, prepared as hamburgers, blended and added into sweet or savory baked goods, or used to make a hearty winter stew.
The following is a delicious recipe from Angela Liddon’s fabulous new cookbook, Oh She Glows Every Day. Enjoy!
Golden French Lentil Stew
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight and drained
2 cups water
2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 tsps cumin
1 1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
3/4 cup uncooked French green lentils, rinsed
4 cups low sodium vegetable stock
3 cups kale, chopped
2 tsp white wine vinegar, to taste
Blend drained cashews in blender with 1/2 cup of the water until smooth and set aside.
In a large Dutch oven heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in onion, garlic and salt and saute until the onion is soft. Stir in the carrots, celery and cook for a few more minutes. Then add in cumin, thyme and turmeric until combined.
Add in the diced tomatoes, lentils, broth and remaining water. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered for 30-35 minutes or until lentils are tender. Stir in cashew cream and kale.
Add salt, pepper and vinegar to taste. Cook the soup for a couple of minutes or until the kale is wilted.
This soup can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days or frozen until needed.
Sheila Ream, CNP, is a certified nutritionist in the Beach
Connect with her at http://www.beachnutrition.ca