Lentils are edible legumes that belong to the family of plants called Fabaceae. They are small, lens-shaped seeds that come in various colors, including green, brown, red, yellow, and black. Lentils have been cultivated for thousands of years and are a staple food in many cuisines worldwide.
Lentils are highly nutritious and offer a range of health benefits. They are an excellent source of plant-based protein, dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, and various vitamins and minerals. Lentils are low in fat and cholesterol, making them a healthy addition to a balanced diet.
Different types of lentils have distinct flavors and textures. Here are some common varieties:
- Brown Lentils: (Urad Dal)These are the most widely available lentils. They have a mild earthy flavor and hold their shape well when cooked, making them suitable for soups, stews, and salads.
- Green Lentils: (Hari Moong Dal) Green lentils have a slightly peppery taste and a firm texture. They are often used in salads or as a side dish.
- Red Lentils: (Lal Masur Dal)These lentils have a sweet, nutty flavor and cook relatively quickly. They tend to soften and break down when cooked, making them ideal for soups, stews, and curries.
- Yellow Lentils: (Moong Dal) Also known as split yellow lentils or split peas, these lentils have a mellow flavor and cook quickly. They are commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines.
- Black Lentils: (Urad Dal) Black lentils, sometimes called beluga lentils due to their resemblance to caviar, have a rich, earthy flavor and hold their shape well after cooking. They are often used in salads or as a side dish.
Lentils are versatile and can be incorporated into a wide range of dishes. They can be cooked on their own or combined with other ingredients to create soups, stews, salads, curries, burgers, and more. Lentils are not only nutritious but also affordable and sustainable, making them an excellent choice for plant-based and budget-friendly meals.
Nutrition Facts of Lentils:
Lentils are a rich source of plant-based protein, fiber, iron, folate and other essential vitamins and minerals. According to the USDA, one cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils provides the following nutrients:
- Calories: 230
- Carbs: 39.9 grams
- Protein: 17.9 grams
- Fat: 0.8 grams
- Fiber: 15.6 grams
- Thiamine: 28% of the DV
- Niacin: 13% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 21% of the DV
- Folate: 90% of the DV
- Pantothenic acid: 25% of the DV
- Iron: 37% of the DV
- Magnesium: 17% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 28% of the DV
- Potassium: 16% of the DV
- Zinc: 23% of the DV
- Copper: 55% of the DV
- Manganese: 43% of the DV
As you can see, lentils are a powerhouse of nutrition that can meet a significant portion of your daily needs for many nutrients. Lentils are especially beneficial for vegetarians and vegans, who may have difficulty getting enough protein and iron from other sources.
Health Benefits of Lentils:
Eating lentils regularly can have a positive impact on your health and wellness in many ways. Here are some of the main health benefits of lentils:
Rich in Antioxidants:
Lentils are a good source of antioxidants, which are compounds that can help protect your cells from damage. Antioxidants have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.
The antioxidants in lentils include:
- Folate: Folate is a B vitamin that is essential for DNA synthesis and repair. It is also an antioxidant that can help protect your cells from damage.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral that is important for many bodily functions, including antioxidant defense.
- Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that is important for the immune system and for wound healing. It is also an antioxidant that can help protect your cells from damage.
- Polyphenols: Polyphenols are plant compounds that have antioxidant properties. Lentils contain a variety of polyphenols, including quercetin, kaempferol, and anthocyanins.
The antioxidant content of lentils can vary depending on the type of lentil and how it is cooked. For example, red lentils tend to have a higher antioxidant content than green lentils. Lentils that are cooked in water retain more of their antioxidants than lentils that are cooked in other ways, such as in a pressure cooker.
Lentils are excellent source of Proteins:
Lentils are a good source of protein, especially for vegetarians and vegans who may have difficulty getting enough protein from other sources. Lentils contain about 26% crude protein, which is higher than most other legumes. Lentils also provide essential and non-essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.
Protein is important for your health because it helps you build and maintain your muscles, bones, skin, and other tissues. Protein also helps you regulate your appetite, metabolism, immune system, and hormone levels. Eating enough protein can also prevent muscle loss and support weight loss.
One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils provides about 18 grams of protein, which is about 36% of the daily value (DV) for an average adult. To get the most benefits from lentils, you can combine them with a whole grain, such as rice, quinoa, or oats. This way, you can get a complete protein that contains all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot make on its own.
Improve Digestion and Gut Health:
Lentils are a good source of fiber, which is important for digestive health. Fiber helps to keep the digestive system running smoothly by adding bulk to stool and helping it to pass through the intestines more easily. Fiber can also help to prevent constipation and diarrhea.
In addition to fiber, lentils also contain resistant starch, which is a type of fiber that is not digested by the small intestine. Resistant starch travels to the large intestine, where it is fermented by bacteria. This fermentation process produces short-chain fatty acids, which have a number of health benefits, including improving digestion and gut health.
A study published in the journal “Nutrition” found that eating lentils can improve digestion in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The study participants who ate lentils reported improvements in symptoms such as bloating, pain, and constipation.
Another study, published in the journal “Food & Function”, found that eating lentils can increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This is important because these bacteria play a role in digestion and overall health.
Additionally, lentils contain phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the gut lining. Overall, lentils are a good source of fiber and resistant starch, which can help to improve digestion. If you are looking for a healthy food that can help to improve your digestive health, lentils are a great option.
Lentils for Heart Health and Blood Pressure:
Lentils are a good source of fiber, which can help to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Fiber can also help to lower blood pressure.
A study published in the journal “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that people who ate a diet high in lentils had lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels than people who ate a diet low in lentils. The study also found that people who ate a diet high in lentils had lower blood pressure than people who ate a diet low in lentils.
Another study, published in the journal “Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases”, found that people who ate a diet high in lentils had a reduced risk of developing heart disease. The study followed over 100,000 people for 10 years and found that people who ate the most lentils had a 22% lower risk of developing heart disease than people who ate the least lentils.
The fiber in lentils helps to bind to cholesterol and remove it from the body. Lentils are also a good source of magnesium, which is an important mineral for heart health. Magnesium helps to relax blood vessels and improve blood flow.
Regulate Blood Sugar Levels:
Lentils are a good source of fiber, which can help to regulate blood sugar levels. Fiber slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, which can help to prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. Lentils are also a good source of magnesium, which is a mineral that helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
A study published in the journal “Nutrition Reviews” found that people who ate lentils as part of their diet had lower blood sugar levels than those who did not eat lentils. The study also found that lentils helped to improve insulin sensitivity, which is an important factor in blood sugar control.
Another study, published in the journal “Diabetes Care,” found that people with type 2 diabetes who ate lentils as part of their diet had lower blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity. The study also found that lentils helped to reduce the risk of heart disease in people with type 2 diabetes.
Overall, the evidence suggests that lentils can help to regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes. Lentils are a good source of fiber and magnesium, which are two nutrients that are known to help with blood sugar control. If you are looking for a healthy way to improve your blood sugar levels, lentils are a good option to consider.
Lentils have a low glycemic index, which means they do not cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels after eating them. Instead, they provide a steady source of energy that keeps you satisfied for longer.
Protect Against Chronic Diseases:
Lentils have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and obesity. This is partly due to their high content of antioxidants, phytochemicals, folate and other nutrients that protect your cells from oxidative stress and inflammation. Lentils also modulate your immune system and hormone levels, which can influence your disease susceptibility.
Support Weight Loss:
Lentils are a good source of protein and fiber, which can help you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Protein and fiber can help you to feel full and satisfied after eating, which can help you to eat less overall. Lentils are also a low-calorie food, making them a healthy choice for people who are trying to lose weight.
A study published in the journal “Nutrition Reviews” found that people who ate lentils as part of their diet had lower body weight than those who did not eat lentils. The study also found that lentils helped to reduce the risk of obesity.
Another study, published in the journal “Appetite,” found that people who ate lentils as part of their diet had lower calorie intake and greater feelings of fullness than those who did not eat lentils. The study also found that lentils helped to reduce the risk of weight gain.
Overall, the evidence suggests that lentils can help you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Lentils are a good source of protein and fiber, which can help you to feel full and satisfied after eating. Lentils are also a low-calorie food, making them a healthy choice for people who are trying to lose weight.
How to Cook Lentils
Lentils are easy to prepare and cook in a variety of ways. You can use them in soups, salads, curries, stews, burgers, dips, patties and more. Here are some tips on how to cook lentils:
- Rinse your lentils well before cooking to remove any dirt or debris.
- Soak your lentils for a few hours or overnight to reduce their cooking time and improve their digestibility.
- Cook your lentils in water or broth with some salt and spices until they are tender but not mushy. The cooking time will vary depending on the type and size of lentils you use.
- Drain your lentils well after cooking and use them as desired or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Lentils are a superfood for your health and wellness that you should not overlook. They are nutritious, delicious, versatile and affordable. They can help you improve your digestion, lower your cholesterol, regulate your blood sugar, protect against chronic diseases and support your weight loss. Try adding lentils to your diet today and enjoy their amazing benefits.
Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.