About this Blog

Welcome! Thanks for checking out On Food Stamps.

I created this blog in 2009 when I began working at the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. My work at this organization opened my eyes to food justice issues in America, and I had a strong desire to better understand the difficulties many people face when trying to access healthy food on a limited budget. So, I embarked on my own Food Stamp Challenge, living on $31/week as a vegan. I used this blog to chronicle my experience.

While my Food Stamp Challenge project has come to an end, you can see what I learned from it by reading the Greatest Hits posts linked to the right side of the page. Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.

Stay Hungry,


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lentils: Grain? Pulse?

I just got back from a pot-luck picnic with a group of young women I was meeting for the first time. On my way to the dinner I stopped at Albertson's (big California chain grocery store) to get carrots and hummus as a contribution to the feast. I was hoping I could buy my pot-luck contribution without blowing over my budget, but it didn't happen. I spent a little over $8 on the whole thing, so I am now over budget by $1.28. Despite their widely publicized "20% price cut" campaign, Albertson's isn't cheap.

I'm not so upset about being over budget because I am reasonably sure that the food I have bought so far will last me more than a week in the end. Still, I am only on day 2 of the week's challenge, and I have no wiggle room left at all. Oops. At least I have lots of extra carrots and hummus.

The interesting part of the experience tonight was the group eating environment. If you haven't noticed, group eating environments tend to be my downfall (see previous post, for example). I have found that I am not so good as self control when I am eating around lots of people in a situation where there are tons of different types of foods to graze from. This picnic was exactly the type of environment I would fail miserably in.

While my eating was not perfect tonight, it was certainly no cupcake bender. I probably consumed a little bit too much sugar and about 1/2 cup more of carbohydrates than I should have as a "diabetic," but it could have been much worse. I tried to steer clear of the pasta as much as possible. I tried to stick to the greens. I tried to be aware that my choice to put more food on my plate probably had more to do with the fact that I was in a group of totally new people (and thus, a bit nervous) than it did with being hungry.

I'd give myself a C- on this one. Probably no diabetic shock, but I am going to watch my sugar, carbohydrate and fruit, intake tomorrow to make up for tonight's imperfections.

Thinking about limiting my carbohydrate intake tomorrow brings me to an important problem I encountered last night: I am not sure how to categorize Lentils.

Lentils are my savior food. They are incredibly cheap. A bag that costs about $1.20 can feed me for 6 meals. I tend to eat lentils with brown rice to make a complete protein. I eat them all the time and rarely worry about over-doing it because in my head I consider them a bean-like vegetable. However, as I do more research about food groups I am seeing that some sources consider Lentils a "grain" since they fall into the Pulse category. Now, I don't really care so much about the labeling. What I do care about is knowing how lentils affect my body. If I am trying to stick to the guidelines of a diabetic diet and I eat lentils with brown rice, am I consuming two portions of grains, or one portion of grains and one of vegetables?

My misunderstanding about how lentils are categorized is a real problem, and it really highlights how lack of knowledge about nutrition can serve as a major barrier to a healthy, sustainable diet. I have been happily chomping away on lentils for 6 meals per week for the last month, never thinking that I might be consuming WAY too many carbohydrates in the process. I thought I was being smart. I thought I was eating really well. Was I just making a big mistake the whole time?

Ah! This nutrition stuff is complicated. I am glad I caught this problem early in the week, but my error about the lentils is making me wonder what other things I might be doing "wrong" in blissful ignorance. Until I can decide how to categorize the lentils I am going to eat them with veggies on the side instead of rice.

Does anyone have any advice about how to count the lentils in my diet charts?

I am also curious to hear if anyone has had a similar dietary shock experience. Ever eat something for awhile without realizing that it wasn't as good for you as you thought it was?


  1. Hmm... thanks, Julie, the lentil question is proving to be a dietary shock of my own. As a strict vegan my freshman year of college, I also ate lentils in combination with rice on a regular basis as a source of lots of nutrients, including protein. It seems very strange to me to classify them as a grain because of their properties... high in fiber, iron and in essential amino acids. Additionally the texture and taste is much more similar to beans than to grains, no?

    I am no plant/nutrition expert, but after a little wikipedia research, I'm almost convinced lentils qualify as a pulse, just by pure plant taxonomy. I'm curious how your sources qualify lentils as a grain. Pulses in general are dicots and grow in a bush while grains are monocots and grow as grasses. They also contain 20-25% protein by weight. Lentils, it seems, would fall into the pulse category.

    Let me know what you come up with!

  2. I highly recommend http://tracker.diabetes.org/myfoodadvisor.html - they give you an idea of how each food should count, and will let you compare lentils with brown rice. According to them, 1/2 C of cooked lentils counts as 1 starch and 1 protein serving, whereas 1/2 C cooked brown rice counts as only 1 starch.

    You can even search for foods that fit a particular nutritional profile if you've got gap you're trying to fill.

  3. I took the liberty of including a link to your blog from my own blog about food stamps. You have a much classier look but our voices are singing the same tunes.

    Your readers might appreciate some of the thoughts I offer there.

    Mother Connie

  4. Hi Julie:
    My friend Mother Connie told me about your site. I think you and she both are offering great informtion that people can use to live healthier lives. Thanks for what you do here.

  5. I checked out your blog on the request of Connie Baum. I am amazed at the education you are getting as well as giving to the rest of us.
    I haven't read everything, but what I have read is a real eye opener. What if you had a small child or a teenager to feed?
    Keep up the good work and I hope you succeed with your diet and teaching the rest of us what a hassle all of this government stuff can be.

    Yours Truly,


    P.S. Those of us that don't need that assistance can truly be thankful for that.

  6. I saw lentils classified as a grain on the National Diabetes Clearinghouse website. Here is the address to the page: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/eating_ez/index.htm

    When I kept looking after viewing that page, I did start to see too that lentils were classified as a pulse, but then I was wondering "Well, what is a pulse classified as? Grain? or Vegetable?"

    I think the site that Stacey suggested - the diabetes tracker - is GOLD. Thanks Stacey.

    I appreciate everyone's responses on the Lentils. It seems that I need to eat them sparingly because they cross over as a meat substitute and a starch.

    To all of you who picked up my blog from Mother Connie - Welcome! Thank you for caring about food access in America. Mother Connie's project is very impressive. I am so honored that she linked me!

  7. If you sprout lentils you don't have to have the rice with it. this will cut down on your carbs