Healthy Lodi Initiative: Pulses add protein, fiber to diet

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If you are trying to improve your health then you want to review your practices as it relates to your food choices/nutrition and exercise routines. Here’s a food group that will help you get started — add Pulses to your daily diet.

Pulses are dried seeds grown in enclosed pods; as members of the legume family, the most common are lentils, dry beans, and chickpeas. Lentils have been around for thousands of years and are a mainstay in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. Because they don’t need soaking and cook in 15 to 20 minutes, they are a quick and easy way to add protein and fiber to your diet — both of which will help you feel full and satisfied for a long time. That’s a big help when you’re trying to eat less to lose weight.

Lentils provide 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber in a 1 cup serving and are a very good source of folate, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Like all legumes, the type of fiber they provide helps lower cholesterol and may reduce risk of certain cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. High fiber plant foods are “diabetic friendly” carbohydrates choices.

Not only are they a powerhouse of nutrition, they are economical, shelf stable in their dry state, and very versatile. Added to soups, salads, as a complex carbohydrate side dish, or as main entrée, there are several choices to consider.

Mild in flavor, brown lentils — the most common variety — are often used as a meat substitute or meal extender is dishes such as tacos, chili, meatloaf or burgers. Cooked, pureed lentils add thickness to stews and soups, and can even be used to replace some fat in quick breads and cookies.

One thing to remember about cooking lentils — while cooking, don’t add salt or acidic ingredients like lemon juice or tomatoes. It can toughen the skins and increase cooking time.

Aside from brown lentils, here are a few others to consider:

• Red lentils are thinner and softer, and don’t hold their shape, so these are best for soups, stews and Indian dals.

• French lentils take a little longer to cook, have a peppery flavor, retain their shape and stay firm, so are ideal for cold salads and side dishes.

• Black or Beluga lentils are firm, black and shiny with a strong nutty flavor. These have nice visual appeal when mixed with other whole grains or mixed in salads.

• Yellow lentils are very similar to split peas, break down quickly when cooked and are good for soups.

Pulses come from plants that have nitrogen-fixing properties which contributes to increasing soil fertility. Sounds like pulses are a win-win for the health of our planet and our bodies. Try different types of lentils in different dishes and you may be surprised how good this nutritious, economical pulse tastes and that it adds a new spark to your meals.

Teri Spring is a registered dietitian at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial. The Healthy Lodi Initiative team shares local resources and connects employers with tools to work toward improved health. For more information, visit www.healthylodi.com or call the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce at 209-367-7840.

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