Lentils are a rich source of fiber, protein and minerals, but as nutritious as they are, lentils are a gas (vata) producing food. Not fun for the digestive process and for those with vata imbalances. According to Ayurveda, healthy digestion is essential for good heath. If we are unable to digest, we’re likely in-digesting. Overtime, indigestion can lead to the accumulation of ama or toxins. Eventually, this build-up can lead to disease. To prevent ama or toxins, one thing we can do is ensure our food, in this case, lentils, are digestion-friendly.
Lentils are astringent in taste and are primarily comprised of air + earth. The combination of these two elements makes lentils heavy, cold and drying. However, when cooked properly and combined with digestive spices, we can reap the nutritional benefits of lentils without the digestive issues.
Here’s 5 tips on how to make your favorite lentil dishes digestion-friendly
#1 Rinse and soak. Ideally you want to soak lentils for a few hours. If they are heavier lentils like chana, split pea, garbanzo then soaking overnight is ideal. However, if you don’t have the time, a couple rinses will help remove micro dust and hard protein. In engaging lentils with the element of water, the hard quality begins to soften. It also helps reduce the cooking time. Remember to discard the water the lentils were soaked in before cooking. If you are using canned lentils, rinse, rinse, rinse before using.
#2 Remove the foam that arises to the top when boiling lentils. Skim the foam off the top with a slotted spoon and then add your spices. The foam is a type of protein that can be hard on the digestion system. If digestion is hindered—are we really absorbing the nutrients? Focus on digestion—the better we can digest the more we can absorb.
#3 Cook lentils throughly. Al dente is for pasta—not lentils. Ensure your lentils (when not sprouted) are cooked throughly. Do the index finger and thumb test by pressing a cooked lentil or two between both fingers. It doesn’t have to be mushy, just soft. If it’s tough for your fingers to crush the lentil, imagine how long it will take for your digestion to break it down. Use your sense of touch, it’s a great tool.
#4 Spice it up! Adding carminative spices like ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel, thyme, rosemary, etc.. are like adding digestive aides to your dish. They will not only make your dish balanced in flavors, but also help bring balance to the body. A big squeeze of lemon is also nice—sour tastes adds a bit of heat and helps with digestion as well. Embrace all six tastes for a balanced dish—spices (pungent), lemon (sour) and lentils (astringent)—now all you need is bitter, salty and sweet.
#5 Avoid cold lentils. Cold food is not a friend to the digestive fire. Instead of igniting the fire and allowing it to kindle, cold food will put it out. We need the fire! It’s the the energy of transformation and helps to digest all the glorious food we consume. Always warm your lentils, you don’t have to eat it hot, but opt for room temperature. Since lentils have an inherent cold quality, counter-balancing this energy will bring balance. Eat food that has been transformed by the touch of fire, so that it can transform within you.
Here’s some of my favorite lentil recipes—happy eating!