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April 19, 2010

By Brianne Harrison

Once upon a time, a cup of yogurt was enough lunch for me. Then I added weightlifting to my workout, and as my muscles grew, so did my appetite. The little cup of Stonyfield Farm just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I needed to find a source of lean protein that was easy to prepare, could be whipped up in a large batch, and traveled well.

I found lentils.

These little legumes are actually pretty amazing. They’re high in fiber, so they fill you up on few calories and little fat. They’re also loaded with all kinds of great vitamins and minerals, cook up quickly compared to other beans, and have a pretty neutral flavor, so they take well to the seasoning of your choice. I’m a lover of spicy foods, so I started adding chili powder and curry spice to mine, but if you prefer a milder flavor, boiling them with fennel seeds and herbs such as thyme gives them a slightly sweet, savory taste.

**Please note: Lentils are not recommended for anyone with a history of calcium oxalate kidney/urinary stones, due to their high levels of oxalate**

Lunchtime Lentils
1 cup dry lentils (green and brown are best—they keep their shape after cooking. I found red lentils tended to get a bit mushy)
2 cups water (if you want to up the flavor, you can replace all or half of the water with chicken or vegetable stock)
1 T. curry powder
¼ tsp. chili powder (optional)
1 carrot, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped

1. Place the lentils, spices, and water or stock in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the lentils are tender. Drain any extra water remaining in the pot and let the lentils cool.
2. Combine the lentils with the carrot, celery, and red bell pepper. Feel free to toss in any extra veggies you have around that you want to use up—red onion, a few leftover green beans, etc. Check seasoning and adjust to taste.
3. Refrigerate and scoop out about 1-1 ½ cups for lunch or about ½ cup for a pre-workout snack that’ll keep your energy up!

Healthy Roundup
Like I said, Lentils are pretty amazing. They’re high in dietary fiber, which makes you feel fuller longer, provides steady levels of energy, and helps ferry cholesterol out of the body. Lentils also have high levels of folate and magnesium, which can help protect your heart, as well as iron, which is especially important for women to replenish. Unlike many other iron-rich foods, like red meat, lentils are low in fat and calories.

Lentils are very high in protein—a cup of lentils has 17.86 grams of protein, which is nearly 36% of your recommended daily value, making these a great choice for vegetarians who might be getting a little tired of tofu!

As an added bonus, a study carried out by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston has shown that women whose diets are high in lentils and peas (both of which contain high levels of flavones) have a reduced risk of breast cancer.

The capsaicin in chili powder has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect, helping to ease achy joints, and there’s been talk that spicy food may up your metabolism. Certain ingredients in curry powder may fight Alzheimer’s by preventing the development of the disease’s signature amyloid brain plaques, according to a study.

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