Lentils are a nutritious, inexpensive source of plant-based protein. You may wonder whether you can eat them on a keto diet. So, are lentils keto friendly? Let’s find out.
The ketogenic diet is an eating pattern that is high in fats, moderate in protein and low in carbs. In fact, most people that follow a keto diet, need to restrict their carbohydrate intake to just 25-50 grams of net carbs per day.
Given that lentils are high in both carbs and fiber, most people think they’re not keto friendly. But that’s not entirely true. As long as you stick to your daily carbohydrate restriction, you’re good to go. However, it’s easier said than done, especially when it comes to lentils.
Why? Because lentils are high in carbs.
Let’s dig deeper to determine whether lentils are suitable for keto or not. And, if so, then how can you add lentils to your ketogenic diet.
Lentils are an ancient food. They were harvested over 8,000 years ago, making them one of the first foods ever to be cultivated. They are a type of pulse along with beans, soya and chickpeas. The term pulse is used to describe the edible seeds of legumes.
Lentils come in a range of beautiful colors. They also differ in shapes and sizes. Most commonly found lentils in stores are whole grain lentils, beluga lentils, large green lentils and split red lentils. They are one of the cheapest food options. You can find a pack of 500 grams of lentils for around $1 only!
Lentils cooked in water taste slightly peppery and earthy in flavor. However, they act like a chameleon because they do take on the flavor profile of the dish whether it's a delicate or more robust flavor. Moreover, lentils are a highly versatile ingredient. You can put them in a dip, stews, muffins, soups, curries and even salads.
When it comes to the benefits of lentils, they are highly nutritious. The fiber content in lentils prevents constipation and makes you feel full. Plus, they are one of the best sources of plant-based protein which makes it a great option for vegans and vegetarians. Regularly consuming lentils can also present and improve symptoms of malnutrition.
A ketogenic diet is based around the idea of sustaining ketosis, a state in which your body burns fats instead of carbs for energy. Thus, by maintaining ketosis, keto followers can benefit from rapid weight loss and improved blood sugar control. Ketosis also offers a range of other health benefits.
For ketosis to occur, the keto diet restricts carbs to no more than 5 percent to 10 percent of your daily calorie intake. As a result, foods that are high in carbs such as starchy vegetables, grains and legumes are limited on a keto diet.
Due to their high carbohydrate content, they are generally avoided on a strict keto diet. In fact, just one cup of 180 grams of cooked lentils provides 22 grams of net carbs. As net carbs are generally restricted to just 25-50 grams per day, adding a cup of lentils to your diet would use up at least 50% of your carb allowance for the day. As a result, those following a keto diet will want to restrict the intake of lentils.
However, that said, smaller portion sizes of lentils, such as half a cup of cooked lentils can fit into a keto diet, depending on what else you are eating. One benefit of occasionally incorporating lentils is that they provide several essential vitamins and minerals that can be difficult to obtain on a keto diet. These include potassium, magnesium, folate, phosphorus and iron.
As stated earlier, lentils are loaded with nutrients. They are rich in protein and are a great source of fiber along with essential minerals and vitamins. Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional value of lentils.
Serving size: 100 g or ½ a cup of boiled lentil seeds [Source: USDA]
Based on this information, around half a cup of cooked lentils will give you 9 grams. So, for keto followers who need around 50-70 grams of protein, this will cover over 20% of the daily requirement. But at the same time, you will be getting a steep amount of carbs which could affect ketosis if you are not strictly tracking your macros.
So, lentils make a great food group for people who want to follow a low carb diet to get lean and build muscle. However, keto followers should only use it as an addition to their meals in small amounts. For example, you can sprinkle some on your salad to keep the carbohydrates as low as possible. You could also smash up some lentil to add to burger patties/kabobs
Therefore, it is not advised to add lentils on a keto diet as a full meal. Pair it with another keto-friendly food. This way you will get all the benefits of lentils without exceeding your daily carb limit. Please note that this is only recommended for people with a higher carb limit of around 50 grams. If you follow a very strict keto diet and your carbs are restricted to just 20 to 30 grams, avoid lentils.
Here is a list of keto-friendly lentil alternatives that are just as nutritious but with far lesser carbs. So, you can include these in your diet:
- Shirataki Noodles: These are thin, translucent noodles made from the konjac plant. They are very low in carbs and calories, making them an excellent substitute for lentils in soups or stir-fries.
- Cauliflower Rice: Finely grated cauliflower can be used as a rice substitute in various dishes. It is low in carbs and provides a similar texture to lentils.
- Zucchini Noodles: Also known as “zoodles,” these are noodles made from spiralized zucchini. They are low in carbs and can be used as a replacement for lentils in pasta dishes.
- Cabbage: Cabbage can be sliced or shredded and cooked to resemble the texture of lentils. It is low in carbs and can be used in stir-fries or soups.
- Broccoli Florets: Broccoli florets can be chopped into small pieces and used as a lentil alternative. They are low in carbs and provide a good amount of fiber.
- Eggplant: Diced or cubed eggplant can be used in dishes that call for lentils. It has a similar texture and absorbs flavors well.
- Radishes: Radishes can be sliced or diced and used as a substitute for lentils. They are low in carbs and have a mild flavor that can be enhanced with spices and seasonings.
- Green Beans: Green beans can be used as a lentil alternative in salads, stir-fries, or side dishes. They are low in carbs and provide a good amount of fiber.
- Mushrooms: Sliced or diced mushrooms can be cooked and used as a substitute for lentils. They have a meaty texture and are low in carbs.
- Chia Seeds: Although not a direct replacement for lentils in terms of texture, chia seeds are low in carbs and high in fiber. They can be used to add bulk and thickness to dishes.
So, here’s a quick recap:
Lentils are super nutritious and offer many health benefits. And, while lentils are versatile, they are not suitable for every diet. Why? Well, thanks to their carbs content, it is hard to fit lentils into a calorie restricted diet such as keto or low carb diets. However, you can add lentils into a high protein diet for muscle building.
So, since keto focuses on eating more fats and proteins to get your body into ketosis, lentils are not suitable. In short, the answer to are lentils keto friendly is a no. But the good news is that you can still enjoy lentils in limited amounts if you're following cyclic keto, a relaxed version of a ketogenic diet.
If you are on a strict keto diet, just pick the above-mentioned lentil alternatives!