Do you remember your last lentil?

The humble lentil has long lived in the shadow of its more popular legume cousin, the bean. Take a new look – lentils offer unique nutrition benefits for those trying to shed holiday pounds.

Lentils are a good source of filling fiber, with 10 grams in only 1/2 cup cooked. Since most Americans only get 12-15 grams of fiber per day, adding a half cup of lentils to soup, salad or other recipes will bring most of us up to the minimum recommended daily amount of fiber.

Their high fiber and protein also aid in weight and blood sugar management. They break down slowly, providing a gradual release of energy to the body. Low glycemic index foods tend to sustain us throughout the day, helping to mute cravings that can lead to mindless munching.

Lentils provide a surprising nutrition bonus – folate, a B vitamin necessary for the production of new cells. One-half cup of cooked lentils provides a whopping 45 percent of the recommended daily value of folate. Add to this the protein and iron contained in lentils and you begin to see the power in this humble little legume.

Consider the cost

Pay down those holiday bills a little faster by spending less at the grocery store. A serving of lentils provides about seven grams of protein and costs only 14 cents. Compare that to other plant proteins like canned beans (23 cents/serving) and peanuts (25 cents/serving). Lentils are the quintessential inexpensive health food.

How to cook lentils

Lentils are a snap to cook. Unlike dried beans, lentils do not need to soak. Rinse and check for debris, then boil until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.

Buying and storing lentils

Lentils can be found with the dried beans, usually in the soup aisle at the grocery store, or in the bulk section. Store dry lentils in an air-tight container in a cool, dry, dark place and they will keep indefinitely. Cooked, covered lentils will keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Three ways to love lentils

• Fix a simple salad by squeezing fresh lemon juice over cooked and chilled lentils and stirring in cut fresh veggies; garnish with feta cheese.

• Mix cooked lentils with chicken stock, sautéed onions, celery, carrots, spinach, tomatoes and your choice of herbs and spices for a quick lentil-vegetable soup.

• Mash lentils into your beans and top with shredded cheese to make bean-and-lentil burritos.

– Tracey Shaffer, RD, LD, is a Hy-Vee dietitian at the Blue Springs location. The information provided should not be construed as professional medical advice. Email her at tshaffer@hy-vee.com.