Why reducing salt in lentils is important
Lentils are a nutritious food that can be a healthy part of a balanced diet. However, many recipes and preparation methods for lentils call for adding salt during cooking. Eating too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other health issues. Reducing the amount of salt used when cooking lentils allows you to enjoy their nutritional benefits while limiting sodium intake. This is especially important for people following low-sodium diets for medical reasons.
Tips for cooking lentils with less salt
Here are some tips for reducing the amount of added salt when cooking lentils:
Skip adding salt during cooking
Cook lentils in plain water without any added salt. The lentils will still soften and become tender. Taste the lentils after cooking and only add a small amount of salt after cooking if needed. Often the natural flavor of the lentils provides enough taste without requiring extra salt.
Use a reduced sodium broth
If cooking lentils in broth, use a low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth instead of regular broths. Check the nutrition label and choose a broth with at least 50% less sodium than regular versions. Even better, use water and add just a small amount of broth for flavor.
Limit salty seasonings
Avoid adding salty flavorings like soy sauce, fish sauce, or oyster sauce when cooking lentils. Opt for herbs, spices, aromatics, citrus, and other seasonings to add flavor instead. Things like garlic, onions, bay leaves, cumin, cilantro, curry powder, lemon juice, and vinegar all add lots of flavor without extra salt.
Skip salty canned products
Some lentil recipes call for canned tomatoes, beans, stocks or other ingredients. Opt for low-sodium or no-salt-added versions of canned products to keep sodium levels down. Rinse regular canned beans and vegetables before using to remove some sodium.
Don’t salt the cooking water
There’s no need to add salt to the cooking liquid for lentils. Plain water works just fine for evenly cooking lentils to tender. Adding salt to the water only increases sodium levels with no benefit.
Serving ideas for low-sodium lentils
Here are some tasty ways to serve lentils prepared with minimal added salt:
Chilled lentil-based salads are a delicious option for low-sodium meals. Combine cooked lentils with chopped raw vegetables, fresh herbs, citrus juice, olive oil, nuts or seeds, and just a pinch of salt and pepper. Try pairing brown or green lentils with ingredients like cucumbers, bell peppers, tomato, onion, parsley, lemon, and vinegar.
Pureed or chunky lentil soups made with low-sodium broth or water make comforting, healthy meals. Saute aromatic vegetables like carrots, celery and onion, then simmer lentils and broth until tender before blending or serving. Garnish bowls of soup with fresh herbs.
Simple lentils and rice
For an easy, budget-friendly meatless dinner, cooked lentils and rice combine tasty protein and fiber. Saut?? onion and garlic in a little oil before adding lentils and broth or water. Simmer until lentils are tender then mix with cooked rice. Top with chopped scallions, parsley or cilantro.
Lentil tacos or burritos
Spiced lentils make a delicious filling for tacos, burritos, enchiladas or nachos. Cook lentils with seasonings like chili powder, cumin and paprika. Serve in warmed tortillas or nacho chips with typical taco toppings like lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and salsa.
Lentil veggie burgers
To make vegetarian lentil burgers or meatballs, mix cooked lentils with breadcrumbs, egg, and minced vegetables. Shape into patties or balls and cook until browned. Enjoy on buns with sandwich toppings or over pasta with tomato sauce.
Nutrition benefits of lentils
Here is a look at some of the key nutrients found in lentils:
Lentils are a substantial source of plant-based protein. One cup of cooked lentils provides approximately 18 grams of protein or 36% of the recommended daily value. The protein in lentils contains essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own.
A one cup serving of lentils contains 16 grams of dietary fiber. This represents over half the recommended daily target of 25-30 grams per day. The fiber in lentils helps regulate digestion, promote satiety after meals and maintain low cholesterol levels.
Lentils are an excellent source of folate, or vitamin B9. One cup of lentils can meet over 90% of the RDV for folate. Folate helps produce red blood cells and is especially crucial during pregnancy to support proper fetal development.
The iron content of lentils helps prevent anemia by assisting in the production of hemoglobin, which enables red blood cells to carry oxygen effectively. The 6.6 mg of iron in a cup of lentils meets over 35% of the RDV for iron.
Lentils provide the mineral potassium, which plays key roles in muscle function and controlling blood pressure. A cup of lentils contains a significant 9% of the RDV for potassium.
Lentils also supply magnesium, zinc, vitamins B1, B6 and more. Unlike meat, lentils are naturally low in fat and high in beneficial antioxidants.
Potential downsides of overconsuming lentils
While lentils can clearly be a nutritious addition to the diet, here are some potential drawbacks if consumed in excess:
Gas and bloating
The fiber, starches and oligosaccharides in lentils may cause gas, bloating or abdominal discomfort in some people when eaten in large amounts. Introducing lentils to the diet slowly and drinking plenty of water can help minimize digestive issues.
For individuals prone to kidney stones, eating too many lentils may increase oxalate levels. Oxalates can contribute to calcium kidney stone formation in susceptible people. Limiting intake may be necessary for those with a history of kidney stones.
Like other legumes, lentils contain antinutrients including phytic acid, tannins and lectins. These compounds can hinder the absorption of some nutrients. However, proper preparation methods like sprouting, soaking, and cooking lentils help deactivate or remove antinutrients.
People with gout are sometimes advised to limit purine-containing foods like lentils. However, research shows mixed results in whether a low-purine diet can prevent gout attacks. Talk to a doctor about specific dietary recommendations for gout management.
Rarely, lentils or other legumes can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Symptoms may include hives, itching, upset stomach, or anaphylaxis. People with legume allergies should avoid lentils.
Lentils are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. But like many healthy foods, they are high in sodium if salt is added during preparation. Following low-sodium cooking methods allows you to take advantage of the many nutritional benefits lentils offer without excess salt intake. Experiment with herb-and spice-infused lentil recipes to enhance flavor without compromising your health. Eating lentils as part of an overall balanced diet can provide great nutrition for most people. Enjoy lentils often, but be mindful of portions and listen to your body. Consult a registered dietician or doctor for guidance on incorporating lentils into your individual dietary needs and restrictions.