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Are lentils paleo? The more salient question is, "Do lentils work for my body?" Or, "Can lentils be considered a constituent of a nutrient-dense diet?" Rather than attempting to re-enact evolutionary history and replicate the dietary composition of our paleolithic ancestors, the paleo diet should be defined by its inclusion of the most nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory foods---and I believe lentils fit the bill. Read my commentary below followed by a guest recipe post by AJ Herrera, the voice behind @paleoprinciples on Instagram, who is an avid Food Network-trained home-cook, professional foodie, and botany student, who makes wholesome autoimmune paleo-ish culinary creations to help his girlfriend heal from chronic illness.
Lentils, or Lens culinaris, have been dietary staples in African, Mediterranean, and Southeast Asian cultures, and are produced primarily in Australia, Canada, India, Turkey, and the United States (Migliozzi, Thavarajah, Thavarajah, & Smith, 2015). They represent an affordable, albeit incomplete protein source, with 25% protein, 56% carbohydrate, and 1% fat (Vidal-Valverde et al., 1994).
Despite their incomplete amino acid profile, lentils are micro-nutrient rich, providing 3.7-4.5 mg of non-heme iron, 22-24 µg of selenium, and 2.2-2.7 mg of zinc per 50 g serving (Thavarajah et al., 2011). Furthermore, lentils are considered a good source of β-carotene, folate (vitamin B9), thiamine (vitamin B1), and and contain substantial amounts of niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin E, and vitamin K (Bhatty, 1988).
Lentils are also a good source of prebiotics (7.5g/100 g), including fructooligosaccharides, raffinose oligosaccharides, resistant starch, and sugar alcohols, non-digestible carbohydrates that promote short chain fatty acid production, nourish the commensal flora in our microbiota, and help restore gut lining integrity and gastrointestinal health (Migliozzi et al., 2015). Processing, cooking, and cooling, however, may impact resistant starch content (Johnson et al., 2015).
In addition, lentils are a valuable source of phytonutrients such as flavonoids, phytosterols, phytic acid, and tannins, which elicit anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-angiogenesis, hormone-regulating, detoxification-promoting, antibacterial and antiviral effects (Migliozzi et al., 2015; Liu, 2013).
Notably, lentils are extremely low in phytates compared to other staple crops such as finger miller, wheat, and red kidney beans, which renders iron and zinc more bioavailable, though less bioavailable compared to animal sources (Thavarajah et al., 2011). For instance, a pilot study in Sri Lanka conducted on 33 mildly anemic children demonstrated that the experimental group fed 50 g a day of red lentils for two months experienced significant improvements in iron status (Migliozzi et al., 2015). Although animal-based sources of zinc and iron are far superior, these preliminary results could have important implications since iron deficiency accounts for 841,000 deaths and 35,057,000 disability-adjusted life years lost, burdens primarily carried by Africa and Asia (Stolzfus, 2003).
Pulse crops such as lentils are also environmentally sustainable in that they participate in nitrogen fixation through a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium soil bacteria, which improves nutritional quality and yield of subsequent crops when used as a rotation crop (Migliozzi et al., 2015). Due to their affordability and cultural acceptance in Asia, Migliozzi et al. (2015) further argue that lentils in concert with kale, or pulse and Brassica crops more broadly, have the potential to address calorie malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.
One negative is that lentils have the second highest lipoxygenase activity among legumes, which may generate off-flavors during storage and processing under suboptimal circumstances (Bhatty, 1988). Lentils are also low in methionine and cysteine; however, their amino acid profile complements that of cereal grains with which they are often combined in developing countries (Bhatty, 1988). To receive the full arsenal of detoxification-promoting amino acids, lentils are best combined with animal foods. In addition, although I do not recommend cereal grains from the perspective of reversing chronic illness or engendering optimal health, combining lentils with cereal grains might be a viable strategy for preventing malnutrition in many developing countries where meat is at a premium.
Other anti-nutrient factors inherent to lentils are trypsin inhibitor (TI), which inhibits proteolytic activity of the digestive enzyme trypsin and hence reduces amino acid availability, and condensed tannins, which cross-link with vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and protein, and specifically render lysine or methionine unavailable (Vidal-Valverde et al., 1994). These polymerized tannin complexes can be liberated with soaking and cooking and cooking typically inactivates heat-sensitive trypsin inhibitors (Vidal-Valverde et al., 1994).
Vidal-Valverde et al. (1994) found that soaking, cooking, and germinating lentils decreased phytates, cooking and germinating both decreased trypsin inhibitor activity, and all three methods increased tannin and catechin contents. For those who want a more convenient option, check out the sprouted lentils from truRoots, which were used in this guest recipe below by AJ Herrera from @paleoprinciples.
Bhatty, R.S. (1988). Composition and quality of lentil (Lens-culinaris Medik)—A review. Food Science and Technology International, 21, 144–160. doi: 10.1016/S0315-5463(88)70770-1.
Johnson, C.R., Thavarajah, D., Thavarajah, P., Payne, S., Moore, J., & Ohm. J.B. (2015). Processing, cooking, and cooling affect prebiotic concentrations in Lentil (Lens culinaris L.) Journal of Food Composition Analysis, 38, 106–111. doi: 10.1016/j.jfca.2014.10.008.
Liu, R.H. (2013). Health-promoting components of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Advances in Nutrition (Impact Factor: 4.71), 4(3), 284S-392S. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003517
Migliozzi, M., Thavarajah, D., Thavarajah, P., & Smith, P. (2015). Lentil and kale: Complementary nutrient-rich whole food sources to combat micronutrient and calorie malnutrition. Nutrients, 7(11), 9285-9298. Retrieved from http://www.mdpi.com/journal/nutrients
Stolzfus, R.J. (2003). Iron deficiency: global prevalence and consequences. Food Nutrition Bulletin, 24 (4 Suppl), S99-S103. Retrieved from http://fnb.sagepub.com/
Thavarajah, D., Thavarajah, P., Wejesuriya, A., Rutzke, M., Glahn, R., Combs, G.F., & Jr., Vandenberg A. (2011). The potential of lentil (Lens culinaris L.) as a whole food for increased selenium, iron, and zinc intake: Preliminary results from a three year study. Euphytica,180, 123–128. doi: 10.1007/s10681-011-0365-6.
Vidal-Valverde, C., Frias, J., Estrella, I., Gorospe, M., Ruiz, R., & Bacon, J. (1994). Effect of processing on some antinutritional factors of lentils. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 42(10), 2291-2295. doi: 10.1021/jf00046a039
- 1.5 pounds of wild-caught salmon
- 1 bunch of asparagus, washed and ends removed
- 1 cup dried sprouted green lentils
- fresh parsley
- fresh basil
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2 tbsp. coconut aminos
- 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 5 garlic cloves
- Italian seasoning
- pasture-raised bacon
- 2 cups of bone broth
- Cut salmon into 4 equal-sized fillets
- Marinate salmon with 6 tbsp. of olive oil, 2 tbsp. of coconut aminos, the juice of a lemon, fresh parsley, sea salt, black pepper, and 3 minced garlic cloves for 45 minutes to 1 hour in the refrigerator
- Bake salmon at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 35 minutes until flaky
- While salmon is baking, cook 3-4 slices of bacon in a cast iron skillet until crispy
- In a small saucepan, mix 1 cup of rinsed lentils with 2 cups of bone broth
- Bring lentils to a boil, then lower to simmer and cover for 25 minutes
- Drain the water from the lentils and put them back into the sauce pan
- Heat some of the bacon fat in a pan with fresh parsley, basil, and two minced garlic cloves for two to three minutes on medium low
- Drain some of the bacon fat and spoon in fresh herbs into the lentils with mustard, balsamic vinegar, and 2 tbsp. of olive oil
- 10 minutes before the salmon is done, toss the asparagus in olive oil on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes