Brown Lentils vs Red Lentils: Which is More Nutritious?

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Green and brown lentils seem very similar to me.

But red lentils always seemed quite different.

Red lentils are made by removing the hull of certain varieties of lentils, leading to the smaller size. This also results in some differences in taste and nutrition.

I’m going to go over the different nutritional aspects of brown and red lentils to see if there are actually any major differences besides my perception of them.

Macro Comparison

We’ll start by looking at the main macros for both.

For some reason, there’s no detailed nutritional data for brown lentils in any major food database. So instead, I’m using the nutritional facts on a package of brown lentils I have sitting beside me while writing this.

  Brown Lentils Red Lentils
Serving size 1/2 cup (100 g) 1/2 cup (100 g)
Calories 350 358
Fat 1.5 g 2 g
Carbohydrates 61 g 63 g
Fiber 27 g 11 g
Protein 24 g  24 g

Almost everything is the same, except the fiber. That makes sense, since red lentils don’t have their outer shell (which is mostly fiber).

Brown lentils have over double the fiber that red lentils do. That would make red lentils better for new vegans having stomach problems.

Besides that, most people eating lentils and legumes get more than enough, so I don’t think this difference is very important.

Vitamin and Mineral Comparison

The downside of not having detailed nutritional information is that we can’t fully compare the nutrients in each type of lentil.

On my package of brown lentils, it only shows data for a few nutrients.

This is the best comparison we’ll get:

  Brown Lentils Red Lentils
Serving size 1/2 cup (100 g) 1/2 cup (100 g)
Vitamin C 2% DV 3% DV
Calcium 4% DV 5% DV
Iron 50% DV 41% DV
Magnesium N/A 15% DV
Potassium N/A 20% DV
Zinc N/A 23% DV

Of the nutrients that we have complete data for, brown lentils have slightly less vitamin C and calcium, but more iron.

Since lentils are one of the best vegan sources for iron, it’s the reason a lot of people eat them. It’s probably the most important nutrient here.

Brown lentils definitely have magnesium, potassium, and zinc, the package just doesn’t provide that data for some reason. It’s likely similar to the levels found in red lentils, but we can’t say for sure if it’s better or worse.

Which Will Give Less Gas?

As mentioned before, many people who are new to plant-based diets often try legumes like lentils for the first time and struggle with gas afterwards.

Legumes are known to cause gas for 2 main reasons:

  • Oligosaccharides – Legumes contain a high amount of oligosaccharides, which are a specific type of carbohydrate that is relatively hard to digest.
  • Fiber – The high fiber content of legumes can lead to significant gas in those who aren’t used to it. 
SUMMARY

The oligosaccharide content is going to be similar between both red and brown lentils, but because red lentils contain so much less fiber, they will give most people substantially less gas.

Do Brown or Red Lentils Win?

I wouldn’t say there’s a clear winner, especially since we don’t have complete data.

However, we can say that brown lentils and red lentils are both very similar from a nutrition standpoint.

Brown lentils have much more fiber, which may be something you want to add to your diet. They also have more iron, which is almost always a good thing to get more of.

For the most part though, unless one of those specific reasons are very important to you, I’d say just to mix it up or eat the ones you enjoy the most.

I think the more interesting comparison at this point is lentils vs beans (other legumes).

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.