Yes, lentils and chickpeas are naturally gluten-free. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Since lentils and chickpeas are legumes, not grains, they do not contain gluten.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, rye and triticale. The two main proteins that make up gluten are gliadin and glutenin. When flour and water are mixed together, these proteins form a stretchy network that gives bread and other baked goods their chewy texture.
For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fatigue.
Following a strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease. For those with gluten sensitivity, eliminating gluten from the diet may improve symptoms.
Why are lentils and chickpeas naturally gluten-free?
Lentils and chickpeas are pulses, which are the edible seeds of legume plants. Other well-known pulses include beans, peas and peanuts. Since pulses come from legumes rather than grains, they do not contain gluten.
Here are some examples of gluten-free pulses:
- Lentils: brown, green, red, yellow
- Beans: black, pinto, kidney, cannellini, navy
- Peas: split peas, black-eyed peas
In their whole, unprocessed form, these legumes are naturally gluten-free. However, some processed versions may contain additives or come into contact with gluten-containing grains during manufacturing. For example, canned baked beans often contain wheat as a thickening agent.
Are all lentil and chickpea products gluten-free?
Most products made from lentils and chickpeas are gluten-free, but it’s important to check labels carefully. Here are some examples of gluten-free foods commonly made from these legumes:
- Plain lentils and chickpeas (canned or dried)
- Lentil soup, dahl and curries
- Roasted chickpeas
- Red lentil pasta
However, some seasonings, flavorings and cooking methods can introduce gluten, such as:
- Packets of soup, curry or hummus mixes containing wheat flour
- Breading or batter made with wheat flour
- Cooking in shared oil with breaded products
- Adding croutons or bread garnish
It’s important to verify that pre-made lentil and chickpea products are certified gluten-free before purchasing. If cooking from scratch, avoid adding any ingredients containing gluten.
Nutritional benefits of lentils and chickpeas
In addition to being gluten-free, lentils and chickpeas provide many nutritional benefits:
- Protein: Excellent plant-based source, with about 9 grams per half cup cooked
- Fiber: 7-10 grams per half cup cooked, promoting digestive and heart health
- Iron: Reduce risk of anemia by providing non-heme iron
- Folate: Support healthy pregnancy when taken pre-conception
- Magnesium: Aid muscle and nerve function
- Potassium: Help control blood pressure
Replacing gluten-containing grains with lentils and chickpeas allows those avoiding gluten to still obtain important nutrients found in whole grains like B vitamins, iron and fiber.
Tips for cooking with lentils and chickpeas
Here are some simple tips for incorporating more lentils and chickpeas into your gluten-free diet:
- Substitute half the ground meat in recipes like chili or meatballs with cooked lentils or chickpeas.
- Blend cooked chickpeas with tahini, lemon juice and seasonings for easy homemade hummus.
- Top salads with canned or boiled lentils for added protein and fiber.
- Make vegetarian lentil shepherd’s pie by layering lentils with mashed potatoes.
- Toss cooked lentils with your favorite vinaigrette for an easy gluten-free side dish.
- Blend cooked chickpeas with spices to make gluten-free falafel patties.
Label reading tips
When purchasing lentils, chickpeas and their products, check labels carefully for any sign of gluten. Look for these cues:
- Certified gluten-free label
- List of ingredients – avoid wheat, barley, rye, malt
- “Processed in a facility with wheat” – may contain traces of gluten
- “May contain wheat” – risk of cross-contamination
When in doubt, contact the manufacturer to ask about their gluten-free status and policies to prevent cross-contamination.
The bottom line
Lentils and chickpeas add variety to gluten-free diets and provide a wealth of nutritional benefits. Enjoy these versatile legumes cooked from scratch or in packaged products, but be diligent about label reading to ensure gluten-free status.