Lentils - Complete superfood and climate saver
When I started working on this article, I was just happily looking forward to sharing with you the benefits of sprouting lentils, and call for your attention when consuming lentils in their pure form (the phytic acid in lentils makes minerals unavailable, more to that below)
Little did I know that these small wonders could have such a huge impact on EVERYTHING: from health, climate, environment, biodiversity. Why? Take your time and read further on.
While there are numerous scientific articles written with regard to the benefits of integrating lentils in our nutrition, little is being properly brought to light about the unseen benefits of legumes. And it's a lot of them benefits...
So I'd like to ask you again to give me 5 to 10 minutes of your time, in exchange for my over 20 hours of research, and for the information and resulting benefits you could be getting. Everything I write is based on research of scientific data, a lot of reading, hearing, watching, filtering and aggregating of data, so i can present it to you in a compact form. All sources are listed at the bottom of this article
Short history of lentils
Lentils belong to the oldest crops in the history, being actually the first legume to be grown by humans. They are an affordable, delicious and satiating source of dietary plant-based protein, fibers, vitamins and other nutrients. Their resistance to drought, high quality nutritional value - from proteins and vitamins to micro and macronutrients and minerals such as iron, zinc, manganese, calcium and potassium, make lentils a real star among legumes and vegetables. They are the main source of protein in under-developed south-eastern asian countries like India. Oh, by the way, have you ever wondered why people of India have one of the lowest mortality rate due to cardio-vascular diseases ?
The consumption of lentils used to be around 20 kilos per person per year in the 19th century. It is now barely half a kilo per person per year. This shows - at least from this one perspective - the magnitude of the problem we are facing: sugar based products, meat and processed meat, animal products, have driven us away from the basics, and the result is obvious.
Now at home, we cook lentils a lot. We've mostly turned vegetarian about 3 to 4 years ago, and while we are not 100 % vegetarian (keep 5 % for occasional chicken soups, fish or grill every now and then), legumes have become a fundamental part of our "cuisine" at home. Our kids love their nutty flavor and crunchy texture, and it is one of the dishes that is ALWAYS welcomed with much enthusiasm. Never mind the fact that it is a fabulous way to integrate small sliced vegetables - such as courgettes, fennel, peppers - without them even moving an eyebrow.
Lentils vs meat and the impact on the environment
For a starter, lentils produce greenhouse gas emissions 10-20 times lower than animal products. Not only that, but lentils store about 30 % more carbon in the soil than most other plants. This means that growing more lentils could return atmospheric carbon — the stuff that’s fueling climate chaos — to the soil and vegetation, where it belongs. (1)
Let's look a little bit at the numbers (2)
Producing one kilo of beef for human consumption emits as much as 60 kilograms of CO2-equivalent, according to a 2018 study published in Science ; Pulses like peas and lentils, however, produce some 0.9 kg of CO2-equivalent for every kilo grown.
Our global eating habits are one of the biggest drivers of climate change. According to a recent key report on food and biodiversity loss , global eating habits are responsible to around 30% of human-made emissions in terms of energy and fertilizer
Our global eating habits account for 80% of global deforestation
These same habits uses 70 % of the world's available fresh water
Legumes can store 30% more carbon than other plant species due to their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil via root nodules.
The symbiotic relationship between pulses and nitrogen increase microbial biomass and improve soil biodiversity, while also providing plants with nutrients and energy.
So...here is where we're standing:
we're releasing tons of CO2 to fulfill our food habits
we're using pretty much most of the fresh water for the very same reason
and we're cutting trees in an uncontrolled fashion, just to make more room for more meat
Funny enough, one of the solutions with the biggest impact is right here, in front of us. And it is cheap, it is versatile, it is delicious, and it can bloody save a lot of everything we have managed to destroy in less than 100 years of "development"
Here is a fact for you. Read it carefully:
"In a September analysis, climate data provider Carbon Brief said "a global switch to veganism would deliver the largest emissions savings out of any dietary shift," preventing some 8 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions annually by 2050. Current food production is responsible for around 13.7 billion tons per year." (1)
So if you are really ready to do something to address the climate change, stop complaining about the actions of the "last generation" (not that I agree or disagree with them), stop waiting for politics, stop waiting for a magic solution while you get on with your habits, lying to yourself that your impact is too small. It is NOT!
There is no magic solution! Start with your self and accept that we can only revert this, if we address collectively, and consciously! You are, same as me, a small piece of this puzzle...
Before going to the cooking part, and the health benefits and information, let me just close this part by truly recommending you to take a long, long look at the article and videos written and summarized by Martin Kuebler for Deutsche Welle.
Why are lentils not a complete super food?
Lentils contain almost all essential amino acids. Almost. In their raw form, they are short on methyonine and cystine, two essential amino acids, equally important to the body as the other ones. This makes lentils in their raw form an "incomplete" protein. (Quick reminder: essential amino acids are amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the human body alone, so they need to be taken from food)
Effects of sprouting lentils
Here comes the trick that blew my mind off, and nobody speaks of this: if lentils are first sprouted, before being cooked or consumed raw, all of the essential amino acids become available.(1)
Typically lentils need to be cooked first in order to be easily digested by the body. Sprouting neutralizes phytic acid and facilitates the bioavailability of nutrients like vitamin B and C, and minerals like iron, zinc or manganese. Additionally new flavors develop: sprouted lentils taste grassy, crunchy, refreshing and filling (5)
Phytic acid in lentils
A few words on this one, specially for vegetarians and vegans out there: phytic acid is a unique natural substance found in plant seeds, which prevents the absorption of minerals like iron, zinc and calcium, and therefore may promote mineral deficiencies. (6)
The bad news: this extends to the meals that you are having. This means that cooked raw lentils, and some good old salad full of iron, won't bring you much, since the pyhtic acid in the lentils will block absorption of iron altogether.
Nutrition benefits of sprouting lentils
Now comes the interesting part: germination breaks phytate, releasing phosphorus, making the minerals available. Sprouting has incredible effects over seed quality, namely increasing digestibility and reducing the content of resistant starch and anti-nutritive compounds. An extensive study (which I have entirely read, yes) performed on more than 12 varieties of lentils has shown the following results in germinated lentils (4):
20 % increase in Zinc (Zn)
50 to 100 % increase of Manganese (Mn)
50 % increase in Calcium (Ca)
Significant decrease of phytate content.
And it gets even better: 100 grams of sprouted lentils contain only a third of the calories contained in the raw, unsprouted seeds (41 calories vs 115 calories) (7)
How to sprout lentils
First of all: make sure you get high quality lentils. Our lentils come from Sardinia, from Roberto's farm. While not organic, Roberto follows in the second generation the organic steps and directives, with respect and attention to the nature and environment. Read more of this here:
Considering that Canada, the biggest producer of lentils in the world (more than 50 % ) uses glyphosate on mass scale, please do ask where your lentils come from. Now let's get to the process.
Soak the lentils in water for about 12 hours. Rinse and add them to a jar (any jar will do) Cover with some kitchen paper, put it upside down, and wait for all the moisture to go off. Replace the kitchen paper and leave the lentils for a day or so, you will see them germinating already on their second day.
You can germinate them up to 4 days (every additional day increases the amount of minerals), and then keep them for another 7 days in the fridge. Eat them raw like i did, or cook them like you would normally cook them.
Fact sheets on sprouting lentils
Of course I could not resist putting some fact sheets on sprouted lentils, so here you go. But before closing, here are some stats on this blog post.
Number of times I have used AI: 0
Number of times my notebook's juice finished in the coffee shop while writing: 5
Number of hours invested in research: about 10
Number of hours invested in putting it together: about 10
Number of people having changed a little bit of their eating habits after reading this: looking forward to at least 1
(2) Deutsche Welle: Pulses more than just a meat alternative
(3) Lentils superfood - Edible San Francisco
(4) The effect of sprouting in lentil nutritional and microbiological profile
(5) Sprouted lentils - Harvard school of public health
(6) Phytic Acid 101: Everything You Need to Know
(7) Benefits of sprouting lentils