What Are Lentils?
Apart of the legume family, lentils are an edible pulse. The bushy plant displays whitish to light purple pea-like flowers with pods, containing the edible lens-shaped seeds. Following their harvest, lentils are used like dry beans and peas and should be kept unshelled until their use. While lentils come in numerous varieties, they are mostly recognized in green, brown, yellow, and red color assortments, complimenting a wide-variety of dishes. But with the lentil nutrition identified below, you will notice their benefits to dishes is much more than visual appearance!
Lentils are bursting at the seams with nutrients and while considered to be a carbohydrate source, the protein content of lentils is ample. For those following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, or individuals simply trying to cut back on meat intake, lentils are recognized as a substantial plant-based protein source. Lentils are also a good source of fiber along with valuable micronutrients, including potassium, folate, iron, phosphorus, manganese, thiamin, and vitamin B6.
*Adapted from USDA’s National Nutrient Database
Lentil Health Benefits
1. Aids in Digestion
Fiber is often recognized as the hallmark of good digestive health and for good reasons. Dietary fiber helps to bulk stools, keeping waste moving through the intestines and reducing constipation risk. They also contain probiotic’s relative, known as pre Acting as food for probiotics, prebiotics are fibers that aid in flourishing the housed “good” bacteria. Considering the recommendations of daily fiber intake (38 grams for men and 25 grams for women), one cup of cooked lentils can offer approximately 42 and 64 percent of fiber requirements, respectively!
2. Promotes a Healthy Heart
The fiber content not only supports digestion, but promotes heart health. Soluble fiber has shown to reduce cholesterol levels, specifically by binding to cholesterol and excreting it from the body before its absorption. Fiber-rich foods are further shown to protect against heart attack and stroke, even showing promise in the reduction of lowering blood pressure. Related to its ability to lessen homocysteine levels (an amino acid associated with with arterial hardening and thickening), folic acid has also significantly shown to lower stroke risk and protect against heart disease. And alongside iron’s responsibility to oxygenate the blood, newer research suggests deficiency grows mortality (death) risk in patients with heart failure. Adequate potassium and calcium also have great roles in reducing blood pressure.
3. Stimulates and Maintains Muscle Mass
As mentioned, lentils offer significant volumes of protein, the promised macronutrient required for muscle synthesis and maintenance. And with its low fat content, lentils are considered to be a “lean” and worthy plant-based protein. General recommendations of protein include no less than 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women per day with lentils offering at least a third of daily protein needs per one cup!
4. Facilitates Weight Loss
Though weight loss has multiple factors, nutrient-rich foods low in calories have shown to naturally facilitate weight loss. Additionally, individuals obtaining adequate fiber intake have shown to display a healthy body mass index (BMI). Increased lean body mass (mostly encouraged by protein) also increases basal metabolic rate, the speed at which calories are burned at rest.
5. Supports A Healthier Pregnancy
Along with its prominent role in heart health, folate is a critical B vitamin in supporting a healthy pregnancy. Especially if adequate leading up to pregnancy, its impact can prevent against birth defect and can reduce risk of early childbirth. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) especially encourages women of childbearing years consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day (one cup of lentils offers almost 90 percent of folate needs)!
6. Inexpensive and Versatile
Lentils offer a bang for your buck, as they are nutritionally dense for a low monetary cost. They are also extremely versatility and can top salads, be tossed into soups, or incorporated into one of these 20 lentil recipes for easy weeknight meals!