Lentil Frito Pie
Oh, I am SO excited to share this recipe with you today. It's an oldie-but-goodie recipe, and one that I often recommend for lentil newbies. Yes, that's right. Another of many lentils recipes that I'll share with you. Oh, how I love lentils.
Lentils are one of my favorite sources of vegetarian proteins. I've talked about how great are the carbohydrates found in lentils (very complex, full of fiber), but I sort of skimmed over their high protein content.
Growing up on a farm, I always assumed that meat was a vital part of every meal. After leaving home, studying nutrition in college, and getting married young, I realized that this isn't necessarily true. We started eating a lot of vegetarian meals - mostly because we were poor and vegetarian proteins are cheap and healthy.
Despite this vegetarian-realization of mine, the rest of the world continues their love affair with meat. We live in a protein-obsessed culture in America. My theory is that after we swung from low-fat to low-carb, there was only one major macronutrient left to eat: protein.
These are some of the common sentiments I encounter about this beloved nutrient.
Protein Myth #1: I'm not getting enough!
I talk to a lot of people who are really concerned about how much protein they eat daily. To be honest, this is one of the nutrients on the nutrition label that I never pay attention to.
Here's why: the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For a 150 lb female, this would be about 55 grams of protein per day; for a 200 lb male, this would be 73 grams.
An ounce of animal protein (or its equivalent) contains between seven to nine grams of protein. But don't forget that grains, fruits, and vegetables also contain some protein. Assuming that about 25% of our protein needs will come from non-protein sources, this means that the 150-lb woman would need about five ounces of protein per day and the 200-lb man about seven ounces to meet the requirements.
To put this in perspective, a piece of meat the size of a deck of cards is about three ounces of protein. It's pretty easy to more than meet our protein needs in a day.
Protein Myth #2: Eating more protein builds muscles.
Eating does not build muscles. Exercise builds muscles.
It's true that body-building athletes need more protein to support new muscle cell growth - protein is the building blocks of these cells. However, we vastly overestimate how much protein it takes to build muscles and underestimate how much we eat.
According to evidence-based nutrition science, endurance and strength-training athletes need between 1.2 - 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram body weight per day. Using the calculations above, here's how this translates into protein ounce equivalents:
150 lb woman: 10 - 11 ounces of protein equivalents (116 grams total protein)
200 lb man: 14 - 15 ounces of protein equivalents (155 grams total protein)
As you can see, even elite athletes can easily meet their protein needs - especially if eating animal protein. So all those expensive protein shakes? It's a lot of money and a lot of calories, but probably not necessary for most people.
Protein Myth #3: Carbs cause weight gain, so eat more protein to lose weight
I see this mistake a lot in patients who switch to a low-carb diet. They cut out bread, potatoes, and pasta and start loading up on bacon, steak, and chicken.
This usually works for weight loss - up to a point. You see, it's neither carbs nor fat nor protein that cause weight gain. It is an excess of calories consumed compared to calories burned.
Carbs have 4 calories per gram
Protein has 4 calories per gram
Fat has 9 calories per gram
Alcohol has 7 calories per gram (but is not a nutrient, just a delicious toxin)
When switching to low-carb, most people end up cutting out lots of calories (think: cakes, cookies, chips, candy). And when limited by options of what to eat, we get tired of eating the same flavor and so stop sooner.
For example - have you ever been too full for seconds, but then suddenly found room when dessert was offered? If you're on an all-meat-no-starch diet, there is only so much steak you can handle before you're absolutely sick of it.
The problem is protein does have calories and you can have too much of it. So what to do instead? Swap some of that chicken for grilled asparagus.
Yep, you got it. To lose weight, decrease your protein intake and up your veggie intake. That's what Americans are really lacking in their diet.
Which brings me back to lentils - one of my favorite foods because it's a starchy-veggie-slash-protein. So nutritious. So delicious. Let's make some of this goodness.
Lentil Frito Pie is an excellent starter dish if you've never tried lentils before. It's served with cheese and Fritos, after all. How could you not like it?
Heat oil in large saucepan until shimmering. Add two tablespoons of chili powder and two teaspoons of cumin and sauté for about 2 minutes to "bloom" and increase flavor.
Next add a diced onion and four cloves of minced garlic to spices and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add lentils, water, salt, and tomatoes to pan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 60 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes or so and cook until lentils are tender and most of the water is absorbed.
Serve topped with cheese and Fritos (for Lentil Frito Pie) or a bed of brown rice (if you're feeling extra healthy, or happen to be from Trinidad - shout out to you, Jason).
Lentil Frito Pie
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 lb. dry brown lentils (2 cups)
6 c. water
1 tsp. salt
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes (no salt added)
Heat oil in large saucepan until shimmering. Add chili powder and cumin and sauté for about 2 minutes to "bloom" and increase flavor.
Add diced onion and minced garlic to spices and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add lentils, water, tomatoes, and salt to pan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45-60 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes or so and cook until lentils are tender and most of the water is absorbed.
Serve topped with cheese and Fritos or a bed of brown rice.
Serves 8 - Serving Size: 1 cup (not including toppings) - Nutrients per serving: 232 calories -- 4g total fat -- 0g saturated fat -- 0g trans fat - 0mg cholesterol -- 309mg sodium -- 34g total carbohydrates -- 16g fiber -- 3g sugar -- 14g protein