Small but mighty, lentils are distinguished by their diverse colors, textures, and flavors, offering a broad range of options for when you feel like exploiting your culinary creativity. For example, you can find brown lentils, which maintain their firmness when cooked; green lentils, which boast a nutty taste and also hold a firm texture; red lentils, which offer a mild and sweet flavor while turning soft upon cooking; and black lentils (also known as Beluga lentils), which resemble caviar in appearance (per the Cleveland Clinic).
Yet, beyond their colorful culinary charm, lentils serve as potent health allies. According to a review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, numerous studies link lentil consumption to a reduced risk of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart issues, attributing these benefits to the legume’s bioactive compounds, notably antioxidants and fiber. And adding to their nutritional repertoire, lentils prove to be excellent sources of potassium and iron (via the Cleveland Clinic). Potassium contributes to lower blood pressure, while iron helps prevent anemia. When it comes to protein, they boast an impressive 18 grams per cup (via the USDA Food Data Central), making them the second highest-protein-containing vegetable on this list. Remarkably, unlike many other beans, lentils don’t require overnight soaking, streamlining their preparation process and making it far easier to incorporate them into your weekly menu in the form of lentil soup, curry, salad, stew, or even lentil patties for a vegetable protein-rich alternative to traditional burgers.