Lentils are a great plant source of protein and fiber. They are considered poor man’s meat because they are cheaper than meat.
One feels that lentils are safe to eat and will not cause food poisoning like meat or milk products. But did you know that lentils too can lead to food poisoning? What are the symptoms? How to avoid it?
Lentils and food poisoning
Lentils are edible legumes. They are lens-shaped and are available with or without their outer husks or skin. These come in different colors and varieties.
Canada produces them in large quantities and the food is consumed worldwide. They are sourced from plants and are rich in protein and fiber. 100 grams of boiled lentils have 9 grams of protein and 116 calories.
The dietary fiber is 8 grams and it also is loaded with potassium, iron, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, and zinc. It has vitamins such as B6, folate, B1, pantothenic acid, and other B complex vitamins.
But lentils have lectins which are a kind of protein. This protein is also present in groundnuts and soybeans. These proteins can cause digestive issues. Registered dietitian Jess Cording explains:
“Consuming raw or undercooked lentils has been shown to cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal discomfort caused by the lectins in lentils,”
Additionally, other antinutrients such as tannins, trypsin enzyme inhibitors, and phytic acid are present in lentils. Cooking destroys them all and makes lentil dishes nutritious and healthy.
Cooking and lectins
The lectins are potentially harmful. But cooking can lessen these harmful actions. Rinse them well with flowing water to eliminate impurities before cooking. Jess elaborates:
“However, lectins are broken down by heat (in this case, bringing the lentils to a boil and then simmering until they’re tender), so it’s fine to consume them after they’ve been cooked,”
Cook the lentils in spiced and salted water until soft. This is easy on the stomach. Soaking the lentils overnight or for at least 6 to 8 hours also reduces their poison and lectin. Jess advises:
“Soaking the lentils before cooking is also believed to help neutralize the lectins,”
One can cook them under pressure for faster and better results. A small bite of uncooked or undercooked lentil will not harm but consuming larger portions are unhealthy and cause symptoms.
How many lentils to have in a day?
Lentils are good. There is no hard and fast rule on the upper limit to have in a day. They are a good source of protein.
But having said that, they also have lots of fiber in them. And excess fiber can give trouble. It can cause gut discomfort. Jess tells on this:
“Eating more than a cup or so of cooked lentils would likely feel physically uncomfortable regardless of how well they are cooked,”
One can try other protein options from plant sources such as soya-derived tofu, black beans, and other bean family pulses. They add variety and goodness to the diet. Why not try them?