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Healthy Food #8

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Would you like to connect in your kitchen with a prehistoric human ancestor from the Neolithic period? Then cook up some lentils, which were domesticated by our early ancestors in about 9500 BCE in the Near East. Lentils continue to play an important role in culinary traditions worldwide, but especially in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent which have large vegetarian populations.

The reason that lentils have played such an important role in the human diet for thousands of years is that they are easy to grow and cook, but primarily because protein is a very high percent of their calories at 26%. As a plant-based protein source, lentils are only deficient in two essential amino acids, methionine and cysteine. Thus, when mixed with any grain, the meal easily results in a complete protein.

Lentils are available in green, yellow, red and brown varieties and cost only a few pennies per serving. Unlike other legumes, dried lentils do not require pre-soaking and cook in about 15-25 minutes, thus are often cooked with rice. They also provide a very healthy and satisfying base to soup or stew.

A half-cup of cooked lentils provide eight grams of fiber and nine grams of protein. They also provide large portions of folate, potassium, phosphorus, thiamine and vitamin B6. Plus lentils are one of the few plant-based sources of iron, providing 6.6 milligrams in one cooked cup. "Health" magazine has selected lentils as one of the five healthiest foods. 

The next time you invite a Neolithic friend for a meal, make sure you serve lentils, and you will have a lot in common.