Lentils can be a fantastic way to add more fiber and plant-based protein to your meal plan. But if you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, you may be wondering: are lentils gluten free?
Here’s everything you need to know about lentils if you follow a gluten free diet (explained by a Registered Dietitian).
What is gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein found in certain grains including wheat, rye, and barley. It acts as a binder, holding food together and giving it a stretchy quality.
Gluten is often added to foods as a thickening agent or to provide texture and flavor, making it a ‘hidden ingredient’ in some foods you wouldn’t expect.
Some common sources of gluten include:
- Wheat including durum, einkorn, emmer, kamut, spelt, farina, farro, graham, and semolina
Because gluten can be used as a thickener and binding agent, it can also be found in foods you may not expect, such as dressings, sauces, gravies, and candy. It can also be present in products like soy sauce and modified food starch.
For individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten can cause adverse health effects, which is why a gluten-free diet is needed with these conditions.
However, for healthy individuals who can tolerate gluten, it is just another source of protein in the diet and not a nutrient that needs to be avoided.
Are Lentils Gluten-Free?
Lentils are a legume and not a grain, making them naturally gluten-free, which is great news for lentil-lovers who follow a gluten-free diet.
However, just because lentils naturally do not contain gluten, does not mean that every form of lentil or lentil-containing product will be gluten free.
There are some precautions to consider when consuming lentils:
- Cross-contamination: Lentils may come into contact with gluten-containing grains during growth, harvest, packaging, or storage. To minimize the risk of cross-contamination, purchase lentils from trusted brands and check the packaging for a gluten-free label.
- Processing: Some varieties of lentils may be processed in facilities where gluten-containing grains are also processed, increasing the risk of cross-contamination. Always read the labels on the packaging and look for a gluten-free label to ensure the lentils you consume are not at risk for gluten contamination.
Lentils and cross-contamination: what you need to know
Lentils are naturally gluten-free, making them a suitable food for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. However, cross-contamination can occur due to farming practices, growth, harvest, and storage.
Lentils may come into contact with gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley, or rye during processing, packaging, transportation, and even in food preparation.
To minimize the risk of cross-contamination, consider the following precautions:
- Check the packaging: Look for a gluten-free label on the packaging and read the ingredients list to ensure the lentils you consume are not at risk for gluten contamination.
- Sort through lentils: Before cooking, visually sort through the lentils to remove any foreign substances, such as small soil particles or gluten-containing grains.
- Rinse lentils: Rinse the sorted lentils under running water to remove any remaining grain dust before cooking.
- Choose certified gluten-free lentils: Opt for lentils that are certified gluten-free to ensure they have been processed in a facility that follows strict guidelines to prevent cross-contamination.
- Avoid bulk bins: The National Celiacs Association recommends against buying lentils from bulk bins, as the risk of cross-contamination is higher.
Benefits of Including Lentils in a Gluten-Free Diet
Lentils offer many health benefits are are a great way to add fiber and plant-based protein to the diet.
A few nutritional benefits of lentils include:
- Excellent source of plant-based protein: Lentils are high in protein, which helps build and maintain muscles, bones, and skin.
- Rich in fiber: Lentils are a good source of dietary fiber, which aids in digestion and helps manage blood sugar levels and healthy cholesterol levels. Eating a diet rich in fiber has also been shown to help promote a healthy body weight.
- Complex carbohydrates: Lentils provide complex carbohydrates, which provide energy and help maintain stable blood sugar levels.
- Essential vitamins and minerals: Lentils are a good source of essential vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, iron, and B vitamins.
Including lentils in a gluten-free meal plan
Adding lentils into a gluten-free meal plan can offer a wide variety of benefits, from added nutrition to increased variety:
- Lentils can be used in a wide variety of dishes, such as soups, stews, salads, and side dishes, providing a wholesome alternative to gluten-containing grains and legumes.
- Lentils can be used as a base for grain-free bowls, combined with vegetables and other plant-based ingredients for a nutritious and satisfying meal.
- Including lentils in veggie burgers can boost the protein content and improve the texture of the burger.
- Lentils can be included in gluten-free pasta dishes for added texture and nutrition.
By incorporating lentils into a gluten-free diet, individuals can enjoy a nutritious and versatile food that contributes to a balanced and healthy diet.
Tips for Choosing and Cooking Gluten-Free Lentils
If you plan to add lentils to your gluten-free diet, be sure to include precautions when shopping for lentils as well as when preparing them to prevent any cross-contamination that can increase your exposure to gluten.
When selecting gluten-free lentil varieties:
- Opt for lentils that are certified gluten-free to ensure they have been processed in a facility that follows strict guidelines to prevent cross-contamination.
- Read the package label: Check the packaging for a gluten-free label and read the ingredients list to ensure the lentils you consume are not at risk for gluten contamination.
Use these food preparation methods to ensure your lentils maintain their gluten-free status:
- Before cooking, visually sort through the lentils to remove any foreign substances, such as small soil particles or gluten-containing grains.
- Rinse the sorted lentils under running water to remove any remaining grain dust before cooking.
- If you experience digestive discomfort from eating lentils, try soaking or sprouting them prior to eating to improve digestion.
By following these tips, individuals with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease can enjoy the nutritional benefits of lentils while minimizing the risk of cross-contamination
The bottom line on lentils and gluten-free diets
Lentils can offer a variety of health benefits and make a wonderful addition to any meal plan. If you follow a gluten-free diet, you can relax knowing that lentils are gluten free. However, you will still need to take care to ensure the lentils you select have not been cross-contaminated with gluten.
By reading the food labels, selecting products that state they are gluten free, and taking precautions during food preparation, you can enjoy lentils without introducing gluten into your diet.