If you haven’t heard of water lentils — which I hadn’t before writing this by the way! — and you’re a plant-based eater, it’s time to get your education on!
Water lentils are a relatively new plant-based food to hit the Western health food world. Not only are these aquatic plants incredibly nutrient-rich on a variety of fronts, allergen-friendly, and digestive-system compatible, but they claim to be one of the only plant-based, all-natural, bioavailable sources of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 happens to be one of those super difficult nutrients to source from a solely plant-based diet, meaning water lentils could be absolutely revolutionary to the vegan world! They also happen to be incredibly vital to our health, yet they can’t be naturally produced by the human body. Along with supporting the “normal function of your nerve cells,” vitamin B12 is “needed for red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis.” Plus, this vitamin has also been linked to health benefits such as “boosting your energy, improving your memory and helping prevent heart disease.”
Let’s take a dive into water lentils and learn all we can about this new plant-based superfood!
What Are Water Lentils?
First off, it’s important to make note that water lentils aren’t actually lentils … at all.
Water lentils go by many other names including lemna, duckweed, man kai, lentille d’eau, wasserlinse, lenteja de agua,Lemnoideae, and water linze. They are a “small flowering aquatic plant,” grown in warm temperature freshwater, and are part of the Lemna and Wolffiaor Duckweed family. According to those that have had the privilege of getting their hands on the raw form of water lentils, they “taste similar to normal lentils (they have a sweet and mild planty flavor), but grow in nutrient-rich water rather than soil.”
While they aren’t water lentils, this is the most “common translation of the word,” therefore the westernized world has stuck with this name.
Currently, the only known US producer of water lentils is a “Florida-based food startup called Parabel.” Parabel’s main goal is to “fulfill consumer’s hunger for plant-based protein — by growing water lentils in a massive aquafarm.” They began experimenting a handful of years ago with great success and completed a “new 600-acre aquafarm” in 2017, which has been producing this incredibly nutrient-packed water lentil even since.
With that said, you won’t necessarily find water lentils at your local grocery store for purchase. Instead, Parabel transforms water lentils into a “protein powder called Lentein,” which contains “45 [percent] protein, about the same amount as most soy-based protein powders.” The powder is devised for plant-based eaters to easily get nutrients and vitamin B12 into their diet!
If you’ve heard about water lentils, it’s most likely in relation to their vitamin B12 content. Turns out these little aqua-loving water plants are the only bioactive form of vitamin B12 available! Yet, that’s not all this plant-based food has to offer. Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional gains of water lentils!
The Essential Amino Acids
Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — of which there are actually twenty! These twenty “different amino acids … can form a protein” of which “nine that your body can’t produce on its own.” When I refer to a “complete protein,” such as a water lentil, I’m talking about a protein that contains all “nine essential amino acids — the ones that your body can’t produce.”
In fact, water lentils are such a “high-quality protein that they are similar in amino acid profile to whey protein powder,” protein sourced from animals.
Digestive System and Allergy Friendly
Alright, so water lentils contain all nine essential amino acids, making it a perfect plant-based protein for a vegan kitchen. What else does this intriguing food offer? Water lentils are free of lectins and allergens!
Lectins are a plant-based compound meant as a protective agent for the plant. Lectins “are a type of protein that can bind to carbohydrates and sugars in the digestive tract.” While they’re known to “help with normal functions in the body and may even help prevent cancer,” in large amounts they’re connected to health issues such as “nutrient deficiencies, poor digestion, intestinal damage, leaky gut, and immune reactions.” You’re most likely already consuming large amounts of this protein from other plant-based foods including kidney and black beans, lentils (green, brown, and red), wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers.
All of this is to say that water lentils are a great option for sensitive stomachs, those with food allergies, those with digestive issues, and even for some with autoimmune complications.
When it comes to breaking down the exact nutritional profile, it’s a bit hazier. This is such a new plant-based food to hit the market that researchers are still determining the exact quantities per serving of nutrients. With that said, there are a few super healthy compounds that you’ll want to be aware of!
Besides the complete proteins and stomach-friendly design, water lentils also contain “many vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, healthy fatty acids like omega 3 fats, and antioxidants.”
Basically, they’ve got pretty much everything you’d want for a balanced and healthy diet designating them a superfood!
Specifically, water lentils are known to contain rich amounts of some key nutrients and antioxidants such as iron, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and lutein — an “antioxidant that belongs to the carotenoid group” generally found in “leafy greens and orange-yellow vegetables as well as dietary supplements.” Plus, due to the fact that they don’t contain lectin, the nutrients within water lentils “will likely absorb better,” which means you not only consume a high dose of nutrients, but most of them are actually used by your body to nourish you.
Water Lentils and Vitamin B12
Yes, water lentils have an awesome array of nutrients. Yet, water lentils gain their fame as the “only bio-available plant source of vitamin B12.”
Based on findings from researchers with Parabel — “a US-based producer of plant- protein ingredients,” — water lentils may contain “approximately 750 percent of the US recommended daily value of the bioactive forms of vitamin B12 (per 100 grams of dry plant).”
The key term here is bioactive, which means a substance has an “effect upon a living organism, tissue, or cell.” While a different form of non-bioactive vitamin B12 may be present in other plant-based foods, it doesn’t interact with your body (a living organism) and therefore is not absorbed or used. Water lentils have been found to contain that incredibly elusive bioactive form of vitamin B12
Through testing, Parabel identified three natural bioactive forms of Vitamin B12 — adenosylcobalamin, methylcobalamin, and hydroxocobalamin — which is “not commonly found in plants.” Per Dr. Matthew Van Ert, Parabel’s Chief Scientific Officer, water lentils could potentially revolutionize plant-based eating as it would provide the first highly nutritious plant foods that contain bioactive vitamin B12 forms.”