Lentils do a body good

Eat For Life

February 28, 2007|By Jill Wendholt Silva | Jill Wendholt Silva,McClatchy-Tribune

A Lenten favorite, lentils long have been served as a low-fat meat substitute.

The lens-shaped legume dates to biblical times. A plant source of protein that cooks quickly, lentils remain an important food staple in many cultures around the world.

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Lentils also contain iron, calcium, magnesium, heart-healthy soluble fiber, phytochemicals and folate, a B vitamin that helps the body manufacture blood cells.

Many foods, such as rice, cereals and breads, are fortified with folic acid, but this French Lentil Soup is naturally high in folate. For women of child-bearing age, failure to get enough folate can lead to birth defects such as spina bifida. The government recommends women consume 400 micrograms of folate a day, and 1 cup of cooked lentils contains 358 micrograms. But everyone -- including men, the elderly and anyone who suffers from depression -- can benefit from more folate in their diets.

Shopping tip: You can buy dark green French Puy lentils at specialty stores such as Whole Foods Market and Dean & Deluca. We paid $8 for 17.5 ounces. Why pay gourmet prices when you can buy a pound of common brown lentils for about $1? Other varieties of lentils such as Egyptian or red lentils popular in Indian cooking tend to fall apart.

If you don't have leftover ham on hand, pick some up at the salad bar of your local supermarket.

Cooking and storage tips: Lentils are a great pantry staple. They can be stored in an airtight container for up to a year.

Unlike dried beans, lentils do not need to be soaked in water. Cooked lentils will last up to three days when kept covered in the refrigerator.

Pump it up: To help your body absorb more iron from lentils, eat them with foods high in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, citrus fruit or juices.

French Lentil Soup

Makes 10 servings

3/4 cup cubed lean ham

1 1/2 cups green French Puy lentils

1 cup dry red wine

1 onion, diced

3 stalks celery, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

ground pepper to taste

Place the ham in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add 10 cups water and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour or until lentils are tender and broth is rich.

Per serving: 149 calories, 1 gram fat, trace saturated fat, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 19 grams carbohydrate, 12 grams protein, 340 milligrams sodium, 10 grams fiber

Recipe and analysis provided by The Kansas City Star.

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