Lentils are believed to have originated in central Asia, having been consumed since prehistoric times. They are one of the first foods to have ever been cultivated. Lentil seeds dating back 8000 years have been found at archeological sites in the Middle East. Lentils were mentioned in the Bible both as the item that Jacob traded to Esau for his birthright and as a part of a bread that was made during the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people.
For millennia, lentils have been traditionally been eaten with barley and wheat, three foodstuffs that originated in the same regions and spread throughout Africa and Europe during similar migrations and explorations of cultural tribes. Before the 1st century AD, they were introduced into India, a country whose traditional cuisine still bestows high regard for the spiced lentil dish known as dal. In many Catholic countries, lentils have long been used as a staple food during Lent. Currently, the leading commercial producers of lentils include India, Turkey, Canada, China and Syria.
Eat lentils and reap their health benefits including:
1. Lower Cholesterol – Lentils help to reduce blood cholesterol since it contains high levels of soluble fiber. Lowering your cholesterol levels reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke by keeping your arteries clean.
2. Heart Health – Several studies have shown that eating high fiber foods like lentils reduces your risk of heart disease. Lentils are also a great source of folate and magnesium, which are big contributors to heart health. Folate lowers your homocysteine levels, a serious risk factor for heart disease. Magnesium improves blood flow, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Low levels of magnesium have been directly associated with heart disease, so eating lentils will keep your heart happy!
3. Digestive Health – Insoluble dietary fiber found in lentils helps prevent constipation and other digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.
4. Stabilized Blood Sugar – Adding to the many benefits of fiber, soluble fiber traps carbohydrates, slowing down digestion and stabilizing blood sugar levels. This can be especially helpful for those with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia.
5. Good Protein – Of all legumes and nuts, lentils contain the third-highest levels of protein. 26 percent of lentil’s calories are attributed to protein, which makes them a wonderful source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.
6. Increases Energy – Lentils increase steady, slow-burning energy due its fiber and complex carbohydrates. Lentils are also a good source of iron, which transports oxygen throughout your body and is key to energy production and metabolism.
7. Weight Loss – Although lentils include all these beneficial nutrients like fiber, protein, minerals and vitamins, they are still low in calories and contain virtually no fat. One cup of cooked lentils only contains about 230 calories, but still leaves you feeling full and satisfied.
For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Lentils.
Place the olive oil into a large 6-quart Dutch oven and set over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, carrot, celery and salt and sweat until the onions are translucent, approximately 6 to 7 minutes. Add the lentils, tomatoes, broth, coriander, cumin and grains of paradise and stir to combine. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook at a low simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 35 to 40 minutes. Using a stick blender, puree to your preferred consistency. Serve immediately.