Lentils belong to the family of pulses, or legumes, and are a vital source of protein for vegetarian and vegan diets. Archaeology shows the lentil to be one of the oldest human food groups, cultivated in the Near East since Neolithic times. They vary in size and colour, and come with skins or without, split or whole. You can use lentils in soups, stews, bakes, sauces and salads.
As well as being a rich source of protein, lentils are high in dietary fibre and contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals, particularly the vitamin B complex, with the highest level being folate, or vitamin B9. Folate is required for the manufacture of blood cells in the bone marrow and to convert carbohydrates into energy, as well as being involved in DNA and RNA production. It is important in phases of rapid cell growth, such as pregnancy and puberty.
Lentils also contain vitamins C and K, and high concentrations of potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. These minerals, plus the folate and fibre, help to decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Selenium is also present in lentils, which has anti-inflammatory properties that inhibit tumour growth and strengthen the immune system.