I used to think that eating right was easy but I have learned that it is not and here is why. Because even the same food does not always offer you the same nutritional value. Let's say you want to prepare a large pot of lentils and you go to the store and pick up 2 different brands of red lentils. You know that lentils are good sources of fiber and protein and that is one of the reasons you like them. They also have no added sugar. All of these make them one of the healthiest food you can consume on a regular basis. What you may ignore is that not all lentils have the same nutritional profile. Let me give you an example. I recently bought two different brands of organic red lentils and I decided to compare their nutrition profiles before I cooked them. Each bag weighs 16oz (454g). What I discovered was that their profiles differ in 7 key areas that I was most interested in: The number of servings, the number of grams per serving, the total calories per serving, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, protein, and potassium.
Here is the profile of one of them:
Number of servings: About 13
Serving size: 1/4 cup dry (35g)
Total carbohydrate: 22g
Dietary fiber: 4g
Potassium: 250mg (4% daily value)
And here is the profile of the other:
Number of servings: About 9
Serving size: 1/4 cup dry (50g)
Total carbohydrate: 30g
Dietary fiber: 7g
Potassium: 460mg (10% daily value)
So, which one is better?
Well. it depends on what you are trying to achieve, i.e. your health goals. Let's say you are try to cut calories as a way to lose weight. Then the first one will give you less calories per serving, 110 vs. 180. If you are trying to cut back on total carb intake because you have blood sugar issues, then the first one will also give you a bit less overall carbohydrate (22g) and a bit less net carb (22g total carb - 4g fiber) = 18g. The second one has 30g total carbohydrate and 7g of fiber = 23g of net carb. Why does net carb matter? Because this is what in carbs actually affects your blood sugar levels. Fiber does not. However, higher fiber content will keep you feeling full for longer and will prevent blood sugar hikes and also keep you from snacking between meals, which will help to control calories. The more stable your blood sugar is, the easier it is for you to reach and maintain a healthy weight as well. High fiber foods are also helpful in preventing type 2 diabetes. This is what makes lentils a great food to consume on a regular basis because they not only are high in fiber but they are also great sources of protein. Note again that the first one has 8g of protein while the second has 14g. Therefore, while both brands of lentils are healthy, you get the best bang for your buck with the second one that offers higher fiber, higher protein, and higher potassium. The higher fiber will counteract the effects of the slightly higher level of net carb in the second one.
Also, lentils high fiber and protein contents make them one of the healthiest breakfasts you can have. All you need is to heat up a serving of leftover lentils, add a serving of chopped and sautéed spinach and a few slices of half a small to medium size avocado. This will give you a blood-sugar friendly breakfast to start off your day in balance. Ditch toast and butter with tea or coffee, or a bowl of cereal and have lentils with avocado slices instead. They will serve your weight and your blood sugar better anytime, anywhere.
However, too much of a good thing can backfire. Therefore, even though lentils are healthy, it is very easy to over-consume them. To prevent this, keep your intake to the recommended serving size and not double or triple that. And also pay attention to any other starchy foods you may be tempted to have with your lentils. Pairing rice with lentils will not only increase your overall calorie intake from carbs, but it most likely spikes your blood sugar levels especially if you consume a serving of each, as their combined net carb will increase accordingly. This in turn will keep you from losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, especially if you consume more calories than you're able to burn through exercise, in particular. This is the most important take away. Serving sizes matter, but so are the rest of the nutrition facts label. As you can see, even two brands of the same food can have different nutritional profiles and knowing to read this profile accurately will serve you well as you choose those that meet your nutritional needs and overall health goals the best.
You can eat right, be mindful, and reclaim your wellness!
Rose Kadende-Kaiser, Ph.D.
Author of "Belly Fat in Midlife: Practical Steps to Revitalize Your Changing Body"
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach
Founder, Season of Health
"A well-nourished body is a temple of balance, love, and inspiration."