Are Lentils Keto-Friendly?

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Written by Bridget Nalwoga, Certified Nutritionist and medically reviewed by Abby Courtenay

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Lentils are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, but as you may already know, a food being healthy is not the only thing that matters when it comes to keto.

The primary goal of the ketogenic diet is to get into ketosis. So, no matter how healthy a food is, if it pulls you out of ketosis, it must be eliminated or limited at least.

In this article we are going to answer the question, are lentils allowed on the ketogenic diet?

You will learn what lentils are, if they are keto-safe, how much you can have, what type is best for keto, and more keto-friendly alternatives.

 

What are lentils?

The lentil is an edible seed that is part of the legume family. Other plants in the legume family include beans, chickpeas, and (surprisingly) peanuts.

The lentil was originally a wild crop but slowly became popular among different cultures across the world as a dish.

It is widely eaten across the world on all continents. This is owing to its availability and long shelf-life. The seeds are very cheap and once dried, they can last for up to 3 years on the shelf.

Lentils are also popular for their nutritional value. They are rich in a variety of nutrients including protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B6.

Lentil seeds come in a variety of colors including black, brown, green, yellow, and orange. All colors taste very similar and also have a very comparable nutrition profile.

Are lentils a carb?

Like other legumes (excluding peanuts), they have quite the number of carbs. However, you would not exactly describe it as a carb as you would rice or oats.

 

Lentils nutrition facts

The most outstanding nutrient in the lentil nutrition profile is protein. The dish also provides a good amount of fiber in addition to vitamins and minerals.

Serving size: 100 g of boiled lentil seeds. About 1/2 cup.

  • Energy: 116 kcal
  • Fat: 0.4 g
  • Net carbs (total carbs - fiber): 12.2 g
  • Total carbs: 20.1 g
  • Fiber: 7.9 g
  • Protein: 9 g

From the information above, half a cup of cooked lentil seeds gives 9 g of protein. For someone who needs 48 g of protein, that is over 20% of their daily requirement. This is especially important for people on weight loss diets and those looking to build muscle.

We see a high amount of fiber as well. If your fiber needs are 30 g per day, this serving would meet over a quarter of your daily fiber needs.

While lentil fiber is high, it is not high enough to offset the total carb count. Half a cup still contains 12.2 g of net carbs, which is quite steep.

 

JUMPSTART YOUR KETO GOALS

 

Are lentils allowed on keto?

Mostly, no.

Lentils are very high in carbohydrates. It would be very hard to fit them into a low-carb diet. When eating them as the main dish, you will need at least 1 cup cooked for each serving. That would be 24.4 g of net carbs in one serving.

There is a workaround though. You can eat a small amount as long as you count the carbohydrates

Also, people on less strict versions of the ketogenic diet can add lentil dishes to their diet. Those on non-ketogenic low-carb diets can also eat them for their nutrition and delicious flavor.

Another type of keto that would allow this is cyclical keto. On high-carb days, carbs from healthy foods like legumes are the best option.

 

How much lentils can you eat on keto?

On the standard strict ketogenic diet, you can only eat small amounts of lentils, so could think of them as a topping rather than a main ingredient.  For example, you could sprinkle ¼ cup lentils over a salad for only 6.1 net carbs.

On a less strict low-carb diet, you can eat up to half a cup in a day. If you are thinking, that’s not going to be very filling, you are right.

Combine your half cup of lentils with another more keto-friendly dish to bulk it up. You can, for example, add them to beef soup. Or you can mash them and add them to a burger patty blend with beef.

This option is only for people with high carb limits like 50 g. If your limit is 20 g, it would not be smart to use up over 60% of your carbs on one dish.

Those on cyclical keto can enjoy lentil dishes more freely as they do not have a limit on their carb intake on high-carb days.

 

What kind of lentils can you eat on keto?

Lentil varieties are infinite because so many cultures cultivate them. They are usually identified by their colors and the most popular are:

  • Brown. These are the most popular and most versatile of all types. When cooked just right they make great toppings for salads and side dishes. When overcooked they can be added to veggie burgers or pureed into soups.
  • Green. These are very similar to brown but have a peppery taste. They are firm and work best in salads or stir-fries.
  • Yellow. Everyone knows these from the famous Indian dish daal and that is where they are best used. They are slightly sweet and nutty, which makes them ideal for the dish.
  • Red or orange. Similar to yellow, these work best in daal and other soups and sauces.
  • Black. Due to their earthy taste, these go well as a side dish for meats, like steak.

All these types are equally high in carbs and therefore do not usually qualify for a strict ketogenic diet.

Lentils also vary in how you cook them. You can use them in daal, burgers, soup, sautees, and snacks. They are all very high in carbs.

 

BUILD YOUR KETO DIET PLAN

 

Keto substitutes for lentils

Unfortunately, the texture and flavor of lentils can only be found in legumes. That leaves only lower-carb legumes as the only true substitutes. These include:

For foods that have an equally rich nutrient profile, nuts and seeds would be your best bet. These include:

  • Peanuts
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Macadamia nuts

 

FAQs about eating lentils on keto

If you are still conflicted on whether to eat lentils or not, read these frequently asked questions and answers.

No.

Sprouting foods improves a food’s nutrition value by reducing the amount of anti-nutrients present and making nutrients more available.

Unfortunately, even carbs are made more bioavailable when sprouting. In fact, sprouted lentil seeds are more likely to have more carbs than non-sprouted ones.

Lentils contain slightly more carbs than protein.

What is important to know is that foods can be rich in more than one nutrient. If you are interested in a particular nutrient like carbs, it is better to learn the nutrient content in the food instead of relying on colloquial terms.

Yes, lentils are great for weight loss.

A cup has only 232 kcal and will keep you full for hours helping you avoid snacking before your next big meal.

Black.

Usually, darker colored foods are more nutritious when comparing similar foods, and this holds true for lentil colors as well.

It is not necessary. Lentil seeds cook in 25 to 45 minutes. You can soak if you wish to further reduce the cooking time and eliminate some anti-nutrients.

Lentil seeds have a higher content of nutrients like protein and vitamins compared to beans. However, the nutrition is very similar. There is no reason to switch if you prefer beans.

 

Other beans and legumes to consider for keto