5 Benefits of Lentils That Will Change the Way You Look at LegumesTom Levin
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Lentils are the crown jewel of legumes (or pulses). They are a go-to plant-based protein source both high in fiber and low in fat. They contain notably few calories yet are packed with nutritional value — from vitamins and minerals to age-defying antioxidants. For the novice cook, lentils are also easy to prepare; no soaking for hours like beans. A bowlful of lentils will leave you feeling fuller longer, too. There are benefits for the planet, too, making these little bites of deliciousness a big bite in the fight against climate change. Seems the benefits of lentils are near endless. But we’ve got five here you really need to know about. Some are sure to surprise you.
Before we dive into the juicy details, how about a quick history lesson?
Lentils are among the first crops to undergo agricultural processing in the East. Archeological evidence suggests that lentils were consumed as far back as 10,000 years ago. The book of Genesis contains a famous lentil stew transaction between Jacob and Esau.
Lentils have been cultivated since before the agricultural revolution, and went on to form part of many flagship dishes for cultures across the globe. There’s Arabic mejadra, Indian Dal, and Ethiopian yellow lentil stew (often given to babies as their first taste of solid food), just to name a few.
Couple exceptional durability during drought and their nitrogen-fixing benefits to soil, along with being an easy, affordable, and nutritious crop to grow, it’s no wonder the United Nations named 2016 “the year of pulses.”
Nutritional Benefits of Lentils
The little lentil packs a punch: they are a great source of nutritional fiber. A one-cup serving contains 16 grams of fiber, about half the recommended daily intake (RDI). You don’t get fiber from animal protein; and a growing body of research points to the health benefits of fiber.
A 2019 study commissioned by the World Health Organization found that for every eight-gram increase in daily fiber intake, risks for total deaths and incidences of heart disease, type22 diabetes, and bowel cancer fell between 5 to 27 percent. Fiber also added protection against stroke and breast cancer risks.
A one-cup serving contains 18 grams of protein and more than 36 percent of the RDI for iron. They’re also rich in potassium and B6 (both at 20 percent RDI), as well as 17 percent of the daily intake for magnesium.
5 Benefits of Lentils
1. Reduced Cholesterol
Thanks to an abundance of nutritional fiber, lentils effectively decrease LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels. Recent research also found that plant-based protein is best when considering cholesterol. The study found that both red and white meat raised levels the same amount, despite longheld beliefs that white meat like poultry wasn’t as bad for cholesterol as red meat.
2. Heart Health
A rich source of magnesium and iron, lentils may help to promote heart health. They’re both critical to heart function. Likewise, the absence of cholesterol helps to keep blood cholesterol levels down for people who consume more lentils. The high fiber content is also a contributing factor to heart health.
3. Balanced Blood Sugar
Lentils, along with other legumes, can help to slow the release of sugars from other foods into the bloodstream. This can reduce blood glucose levels, making lentils a smart choice for those suffering from diabetes or prediabetes. A 2011 study found that eating just 3.5 ounces of red meat a day increased the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by as much as 19 percent.
4. Sustainable Protein
Lentils aren’t just healthy for humans. They’re one of the most sustainable protein sources on the planet. There’s no resource-intensive factory farming involved in lentil production. Animal agriculture accounts for more than 14 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. But lentils are also regenerative; they help to nitrogen fix soil, allowing it to sequester more carbon. This makes the crops highly beneficial to farmers and to the planet (and your body).
5. Diverse (and Cheap!)
Ounce for ounce, lentils cost pennies on the dollar compared with animal protein. But they can do anything meat can do, and then some. From giving meaty taste and texture to burgers, roasts, meatballs, and more, you get your protein punch with that healthy fiber kick. Serve up a walnut-lentil pate with crudités, for a healthy appetizer or snack. Add them to chili, soups, and stews to up the protein and fiber. Sprout them and make a simple lentil salad with a shallot-mustard vinaigrette for a lovely anytime dish. The options are endless!