Frugal Food: Lentils

As part of Nutrition to Fit’s Frugal Food Favorites series, each week we highlight a favorite affordable food and all of its nutritional benefits, in addition to ways and recipes to include it in your life. This week is all about lentils!

I am such a huge fan of this week’s frugal food favorite – lentils! They are packed with nutrition and health benefits, they’re super affordable, and are a pretty quick-cooking plant-based protein.

General Nutrition 

One cup of cooked lentils contains about 230 calories, 18 grams of protein, and 16 grams of fiber. Gram for gram, that’s more protein than beef! And as a plant-based comparison, you know how trendy quinoa is and how everyone always talks about all the protein and fiber in quinoa? Lentils have double the amount of protein and fiber found in quinoa! They are also packed with other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, like folate, iron, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, thiamin, selenium, and more.

Reduced Risk of Lifestyle-Related Health Conditions

Many studies have given evidence that consuming more plant-based foods leads to a lower risk of lifestyle-related health conditions. Things like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. Lentils definitely qualify as a plant-based food, and can arguably lend to greater health since usually they’re consumed instead of meat-based protein that is going to have higher amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Heart Healthy

According to the American Heart Association, increasing the amount of fiber you eat can reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol even more than by just eating a diet lower in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Lentils are a great source of fiber. One cup of cooked lentils also contains 21% of your daily value for potassium, which works to help naturally decrease your blood pressure (especially when combined with calcium and magnesium, which are also found in lentils!).

Promotes Healthy Pregnancy

One cup of cooked lentils provides about 358 mcg of folate (also known as folic acid), which is about 90% of your daily needs – it’s recommended pregnant women consume 400 mcg folate daily. Folate, or folic acid, is super important especially in pregnancy to help reduce the risk of birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly.

Good for Your Gut

Again, we’re coming back to fiber! (How awesome is fiber, for real?) The same fiber that contributes to heart health also is good for our guts. The fiber helps add bulk to stools, aiding in regularity and preventing constipation. Additionally, this bulking aspect of fiber helps us feel fuller, which can often help with greater satisfaction after eating and weight loss.


I wanted to give a special little shout out to the selenium in lentils, because not a ton of foods contain selenium. Selenium can prevent inflammation, decrease tumor growth rates, aids in liver enzyme function, and improves immune response to infections. Pretty wild!

Types of Lentils and How to Prepare

Lentils are actually quite colorful – you can find brown, green, black (beluga), and red lentils. Red lentils you may see more commonly in Indian dishes like dahl or in spreads/ dips, as they don’t maintain they’re shape quite as well after cooking. Brown and green lentils are the two types you see most commonly on your grocery store shelves. Green lentils will stay a little firmer, whereas brown lentils get softer when cooking. To prepare, you do NOT have to pre-soak them before cooking, unlike most other dried bean variations (three cheers for low maintenance cooking!). Follow your specific package directions/ recipe you’re following, but typically lentils are cooked in a 2:1 ratio of water to lentils (meaning two cups of water to one cup of dried lentils). Add the lentils when boiling and cook uncovered for 20-30 minutes.

Lentil Uses and Recipes

On top of them being so affordable, one other benefit I love of lentils is their versatility! They’re amazing in soups and stews in the winter time. You can easily add them to grain bowls, tacos, casseroles, salads, and more. You can use them as a ground meat substitute (think lentil sloppy joes or lentil chilis), and can even mix them in recipes with half ground meat and half lentils – a great way to add more health benefits to your recipe and save a buck! Check out some dietitian-approved lentil recipes below.

Freezer to Slow Cooker Lentil Stew by Lindsey Janeiro, RDN, LDN, CLC at Nutrition to Fit

Hearty Vegetable Lentil Chili by Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN at Nutritioulicious

Vegetarian Lentil Bolognese Over Polenta Cakes by Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN at Nutritioulicious

Everyday Lentil Salad by Dixya Bhattarai, RDN at Food, Pleasure, & Health

Red Lentil Daal by Dixya Bhattarai, RDN at Food, Pleasure, & Health

Lentil Sloppy Joes by Lindsay Livingston, RDN at The Lean Green Bean

Lentil Macaroni and Cheese by Lindsay Livingston, RDN at The Lean Green Bean

Lentil Banana Muffins by Lindsay Livingston, RDN at The Lean Green Bean

Crockpot Lentil Vegetable Lasagna by Lindsay Livingston, RDN at The Lean Green Bean

Sweet Cranberry and Lentils by Amy Gorin, RDN at Amy Gorin Nutrition

Hearty Lentil Soup by Dianna Sinni Dillon, RD, LD at Chard in Charge

Green Apple Lentil Quinoa Salad by Whitney English, RD to be and Personal Trainer at To Live & Diet in L.A.

Warm Black Lentil and Root Vegetable Salad by Chelsey Amer, RD at C it Nutritionally

Quinoa and Lentil Power Bowl by Chelsey Amer, RD at C it Nutritionally

Easy Eggplant and Lentils by Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT at Erica Julson

Beer Braised Bratwurst with Lentils by Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT at Erica Julson

Lentil and Carrot Salad with Parsley, Cilantro, Mint, and Feta by Lindsey Pine, MS, RDN, CSSD, CLT at Tasty Balance Nutrition

Acorn Squash with Curried Lentils by Kara Lydon, RDN, RYN at The Foodie Dietitian

Potato, Lentil, and Beet Salad by Tracee Yablon Brenner, RDN, CHHC at Triad to Wellness

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