Have you looked at Dal nutrition labels at the back of your lentil packets recently?
What, (Gasp!!) it shocks me that you don’t go to your local grocery store, turn packages around to study nutrition labels?
No, You don’t??…
Ahh!!…That is just me, then?….:)
Fortunately for me, the Indian stores uncle knows me well and leaves me to do my weird research of obsessing over food labels.
Here are my main take-aways from studying lentil labels obsessively:
Indian companies need to publish more accurate food nutrition labels*
Very few Indian companies publish proper nutrition labels. Most of them stick a basic label on the back of packets, hoping nobody is going to question them.
Take a look at this – Himalaya Brand. They have slapped the same label on all the dals.
Or look at the famous organic 24 Mantra brand. They have the exact same 10g of protein in all dals. What is the probability that all the different lentils have the exact same levels of protein in 1 serving?
They also have the exact same label for toor dal and masoor dal.
The Indian Government (FSSAI) should focus on making those requirements mandatory instead of getting into random, unnecessary fights with food companies.
Calm down, lady!! What is the big deal?
So, you may be wondering, what is the big deal? A dal is a dal…you want protein, you eat dal..Why do you want to know the exact breakdown of nutrients?
First of all, knowledge is power!! Only if you are empowered with the right data, can you make better decisions. If you are paying good money for these brands, why can’t they tell you exactly how much of nutrition is in their product?
Let’s consider an example – People say eat whole grains. That’s a blanket statement. There are so many grains, where should you start? The nutrition labels in grains (done by companies like Bob’s red mill or the USDA website) gives you more information and power. Now we can specifically address problems like – Are you looking for more fiber?- eat barley. Are you looking for more protein? – eat wheat or amaranth
Lentils, however, is such a fundamental Indian product and strength. I was unable to find detailed information on say, Urad dal, on a large scale basis. Each brand publishes whatever they want.
Lentils Nutrition – What is consistently true then?
Having said that, I was able to cross-check 3 brands (Khazana sold at Costco, Bob’s red mill and Swad brand) and was able to make a few common, conclusive observations as listed below the 2 tables:
Khazana Brand: 100g serving
|Fiber (g)||4||2.3||17 (69% DV- Whoa!!)||2.69||16|
|Iron (%DV)||22||15||20||19||30 (Wow!!)|
Swad Brand: 1/4 cup serving
Finding #1: Chana dal – Rock star among lentils!!
The biggest problem for us South Indian vegetarians: We eat rice (carbs) + lentils (protein + carbs) + potato (more carbs) + sweets (Gahh..most carbs). You get the point.
1 of the major nutrient that can slow down the absorption of these carbs is – Drumroll please….FIBER!! When I saw the fiber levels in chana dal, I did a double take!! Surely, it was a mistake – 69% of daily value of fiber is insanely high. So, I double checked it with Bob’s red mill, with the USDA website, with Swad…still everyone seems to agree…chana dal has huge amounts of fiber hidden in that little nugget of a lentil.
So, if you are a diabetic, embracing chana dal might be in your favor. I think people know this already. My uncle, who is a doctor, back in the 70’s, used to advice my mom to make more chana dal for the family. Tamilian cuisine, is not particularly fond of chana dal – maybe a masala vada, here and there. But, I really think we need to embrace toor dal a little less and increase using chana dal more. If the price of tur dal skyrockets again, maybe instead of being grumpy about it, we can use it to our advantage next time.
Finding #2: Masoor – A hidden superstar!!
Masoor is such an underrated lentil (atleast) in the South Indian diet. But, it seems to be a leader among dals for Iron content. Most Indian vegetarians/ vegans are deficient in iron.
There is only so much greens a person can eat, and eating masoor seems to be an easy way to bump up the iron levels. Also given its relatively high fiber and protein content, I am quite impressed with it and wish to include it more in our meals. I made sambar today with masoor instead of toor and it came out pretty well. Poor toor dal, it is not getting any love from me these days!! But, the masoor, that was in the back of the closet, is now front and center.
For more fiber, eat chana dal.
For more iron, eat masoor dal.
Having said that, all dals are a great food source. They are all a great source of plant protein and soooo good for you.
Just don’t get into a rut of using the same dal over and over. Nature is so clever, it has hidden something special in each ingredient. The more diverse your eating habits, the more of the nutrition spectrum you will cover.
1. *I am not dissing on the quality of the above brands. I love Himalaya, Mantra and use all of them. This is in no way – a judgement on the quality of the lentils, just the accuracy of the nutrition labels.
2. Please remember, I am not a nutritionist. I just study numbers and report them. This does not cover hormonal, ayurvedic and other aspects of these lentils. Consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.