While there is no book or website promoting an official “Lentil Diet,” you may have seen it mentioned briefly in online weight-loss forums. This is a fad diet—one that encourages you to eat one food for a short period of time to spur quick weight loss, much like the grapefruit, cookie or cabbage soup diet.
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Lentils are one of the oldest crops on earth, first cultivated around 8,000 BC. According to “The New Oxford Book of Food Plants,” lentil plants thrive in warm but not tropical environments like those found in Ethiopia, Turkey and Spain. The bushy plant is about 10 to 15 inches tall with small seed pods and pale flowers. The lentils in your grocery store are actually the plant’s seeds—these range in color from black to gray to brown or light red.
The Lentil Diet
Information on the “lentil diet” is scarce at best. Mentions of this diet usually appear in online forums that cover fad diets or quick weight-loss tips. For this reason, there is no official list of instructions or guidelines. Nowhere is it promoted by a reputable source, such as a health professional or weight-loss expert. People who have used the diet simply replace their daily meals with lentil dishes, hoping this low-fat food will cause the extra pounds to melt away.
While a diet consisting only of lentils is unhealthy, lentils can be a valuable part of a balanced diet. They’re a rich source of protein and carbohydrates with no cholesterol. According to USA Dry Peas, Lentils & Chickpeas, lentils also contain important nutrients such as iron, folic acid and dietary fiber. In a ¼ cup serving of cooked lentils, you get 130 calories, only five of them from fat. The serving contains less than a single gram of fat. Lentils have no sodium and no sugar, and the serving size listed above provides you with 11g of dietary fiber and 8g of protein.
To cook with lentils, Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky recommends you choose the type that works best with your favorite dishes. Brown lentils work best for soups, she writes, while green lentils work well for salads and reds make tasty purees. She suggests you rinse them to remove any lingering dust, then add them to soups or stews. You can also boil them for up to 30 minutes, season with curry or other spices, and serve with rice or veggies.
Any fad diet that encourages you to eat one food at the expense of others or other food groups is probably unhealthy. The American Heart Association notes that while most fad diets do result in an initial weight loss, you’re likely to gain the weight back when you go off the diet. If you follow the diet for an extended period of time, the lack of proper nutrition may cause health problems. The AHA suggests you adopt a diet with plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains and reduced-fat dairy products.