There are many different types of legumes out there, and one of the more popular ones that we see are lentils. Lentils typically contain two seeds in each pod, and have been farmed and eaten for more than 10,000 years. Almost all parts of the world include lentils in their culinary cuisines, as they can be used in a lot of different ways. Canada, India and Australia produce the most lentils each year, showing how wide the reach of this legume really is.
While it might not be a food that you normally think about when preparing meals, you should really consider adding more lentils to your diet. With processed foods running amok in today’s society, it’s important to take a step back and eat some of the more natural foods that can provide some great nutrition you might not be getting. Let’s take a look at the nutritional value of lentils, and the great health benefits you can get by eating more of them.
Nutrition of Lentils
It can be hard to find foods that are filling without packing in too many calories, but that’s not the case for lentils. In a half cup serving, you’re only getting about 115 calories, but only 20 grams of carbohydrates. Protein is a big part in each serving with about 20 percent of your daily recommendation, while you’re getting one third of your needed fiber. Out of the vitamins, folate is the big one with half of the daily value, and you get a significant amount (around 10 percent) of riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid.
As for the minerals, one quarter of your daily recommendation for manganese is found in lentils, and you’ll get between 10 and 20 percent daily value for iron, phosphorus, potassium and copper. While not in very high amounts, lentils do contain a fair amount of magnesium, zinc and selenium, as well. As an added bonus, there’s only 0.4 grams of fat in each serving, and no cholesterol at all.
Obesity has been a worldwide problem that has become more common in the past few decades, as rates have climbed. In the United States alone, more than one third of people are considered to be obese. A big reason for this has been a diet more focused on processed foods instead of a wide variety of natural foods that include lentils. If you’re looking to lose weight, lentils are a great tool to have as they are low in calories and fat, yet high in protein and fiber.
The protein in lentils can help your body to increase the amount of muscle you have, burning more calories and fat naturally in the process. You’ll also feel more full after eating lentils, and research has shown that people who eat them for an extended period of time are more likely to weigh less, have lower body fat percentages and slimmer waistlines than those that don’t.
Another problem that has been increasing over the years (thanks in part to increased obesity rates) is diabetes. Doctors have suggested for years now that to control your blood sugar and manage diabetes, you need to be eating more legumes such as lentils, thanks to the high amount of fiber and low glycemic index. Fiber is one of the more important nutrients for blood sugar control, and research is backing this claim up.
With an increase in blood sugar management comes a lower risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many other ailments that could be potentially life threatening. Since lentils are also able to help you control your weight, you’re adding yet another big benefit in the fight against diabetes. They may not satisfy your craving for sweets, but you’ll thank yourself for eating more lentils later on.
We touched on how fiber can help you to prevent colon cancer, but lentils can help you avoid other types of cancers, as well. One of the big reasons for this is because lentils contain antioxidants that are known as lectins, which are also found in other similar foods that include peanuts and soy. This antioxidant has been shown in early research to prevent the growth of cancer cells, while even stopping the formation of cancerous tumors.
Another aspect of cancer prevention that you’ll find in lentils is the high amount of folic acid (also known as folate). Lentils are one of the best sources for folate that you can find, and this acid has been associated with forming red blood cells and preventing attacks on your DNA, which is another way of preventing cancer. It’s suggested that pregnant women get enough folate, as well, to assist with the development of a baby.
Good For the Heart
The amazing benefits for fiber don’t stop, as an increase in your overall heart health is yet another aspect that is assisted with lentils. With no cholesterol and plenty of fiber found in lentils, you’re much less likely to suffer from heart disease, heart attacks or stroke. Fiber plays a big part in helping to lower your LDL (bad) levels of cholesterol, as well as triglycerides.
The conclusions from research have been outstanding in this regard, with those that get enough legumes such as lentils in their diet cut their chances of heart disease by more than 80 percent. This is especially true for men over 40 years old. You also won’t find much saturated fat at all in lentils, which is another heart healthy bonus.
If you find yourself feeling bogged down or fatigued, there’s a good chance that you’re carrying too much extra weight while not getting enough fiber and iron in your diet. This is all too common for people that eat a lot of processed foods, but eating more lentils can help. We pointed out how lentils can affect your weight and digestive system, but you’ll also get an energy boost thanks to the iron contents that help bring oxygen to the blood. This is great news for those that have anemia and are more prone to fatigue throughout the day.
Summing it Up
Lentils certainly do provide a multitude of health benefits that your body needs, and they are among the healthiest legumes out there. So is there anything negative that can be said about eating more lentils in your diet? Since there’s a solid amount of fiber, your body might take some time to adjust to a high-fiber diet if you’ve been lacking in that department before. This can cause temporary discomfort such as bloating, gas or cramping. It’s nothing major and should go away as your body adjusts.
With the nutrients found in lentils, you shouldn’t have to worry about taking too much of one particular nutrient, though you’ll want to make sure you don’t overdo it on potassium. That could lead to hyperkalemia, but it’s a relatively rare condition. Those are really the only two things that you need to look out for in most cases, and most people won’t even notice anything negative when eating more lentils. With that said, feel free to add them to your diet to get an amazing health boost today!