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By Nadia Marshall
What are red lentils?
Red lentils are an edible legume. They are actually a seed that grow in pods on bushy annual plants, about 40cm tall, with usually two seeds in each pod. Red lentils are mostly sold as split lentils, with the husks removed but they are also available as whole lentils with the husk in tact - these take longer to cook than the split variety but contain more dietary fibre.
What are their qualities?
From an Ayurvedic perspective, red lentils have the following qualities...
Rasa: Sweet, Astringent
Qualities: Light, Soft
Actions on the doshas: Tridoshic (if cooked with a little oil)
Action on the mind: Sattvic
What are their medicinal qualities?
From an Ayurvedic perspective, Red Lentils are Sweet, Astringent, Cooling, Light and Soft – so they are balancing to Vata, Pitta and Kapha (if eaten on their own, their astringency could imbalance Vata but if cooked with a little oil and pungent spices, they become Tridoshic). Red lentils are also one of the few legumes that are considered Sattvic. This means they have a calming, soothing effect on the mind – the perfect thing to eat to support meditation or yoga practice… or during retreats. They are considered nutritive, strengthening, detoxifying and help with liver disorders.
The Western viewpoint.
By weight, red lentils are made up of about 30% protein, 60% carbohydrate and 10% fibre, water, vitamins and minerals – including folate, vitamin B, magnesium and iron (as mentioned, whole lentils have more fibre than split lentils). The split variety are deficient in two essential amino acids (isoleucine and lysine) but if eaten with a grain, you have a complete protein so if you’re a vegetarian, always eat daal with rice, flat breads or some other grain. Whole lentils can be soaked and sprouted. Interestingly, sprouted lentils are a complete protein. Red lentils have a very low GI of about 21 so are considered a ‘smart carb’ and are also slightly alkaline.
How do you eat them?
Red lentils are great for making quick, simple daals because you don’t need to pre-soak them (although, if you do, they will cook even faster). They are also wonderful for adding to vegetable soups for a little extra thickness and protein. For example, I usually add a few handfuls to our Zucchini and Spinach soup recipe (see Videos below).
Why do I love them?
I love them because they feel slighty heartier and heavier than moong daal but are still very light and easy to digest (without any gaseous side effects) and have a distinctive earthy taste. I also like them because I am occasionally lazy and impatient in the kitchen and they cook so quickly!
Should anyone avoid eating them?
People with purely Vata constitutions or extreme Vata imbalance won’t want to eat them everyday - but a few times a week is fine.
Where do you get them from?
The good news is red lentils are widely available, meaning you can actually get them in supermarkets! If you’re after organic or biodynamic lentils (always highly recommended), try your local wholefood store.
Finally, below are a couple of videos showing different ways to eat red lentils.
AIAS (Dr Ajit) “Ayurvedic Nutrition” Notes
“Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing” by Vasant Lad
Agni - the digestive fire.
Ama or Aama - undigested food waste, toxins.
Ojas- the foundation of our immune system and longevity.
Dhatus - the tissues of the body.
Srotas - the channels of the body.
Vata - the air/ether
intelligence in the body.
Pitta- the fire/water
intelligence in the body.
Kapha- the water/earth intelligence in the body.
Sattva- the quality of purity, intelligence, peace and love.
Rajas- the quality of
turbulence and activity.
Tamas- the quality of
dullness, darkness and inertia.
Rasa - the taste of a food (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent)
Virya - second level of digestion (either Heating or Cooling)
Vipaka - third level of digestion, the deep taste of a food (can be Sweet, Sour or Pungent)
Prabhav - the 'special effect' of a food or herb/spice
Rasa - also the name for plasma tissue
Rakta - blood tissue
Mamsa - muscle tissue
Meda - fat tissue
Asthi - bone tissue
Majja - nerve & bone marrow tissue
Shukra - sexual reproductive tissue