Lentils: Types, Health Benefits, Nutrition And Ways To Cook

The Indian staple diet is incomplete without lentils because they are tasty, nutritious and a cheap source of protein. Lentil curry is a must at the lunch or at the dinner table in an Indian home. Belonging to the legume family, lentils are high in protein and fibre. In this article, we will be writing about the health benefits of lentils, nutritional value and how to cook them.

Lentils come in different varieties ranging from red, brown, black, yellow, and green. And each type of lentil has its unique composition of phytochemicals and antioxidants [1] , [2] .

lentils benefits

Different Types Of Lentils

1. Brown lentils - They are commonly found and range from brown to dark brown in colour. These lentils have a mild, earthy flavour and they are ideally used in casseroles, soups, stews and salads.

2. Green lentils - They come in a range of sizes, they are robust and have a fiery flavour. Green lentils are ideal for side dishes or salads.

3. Red and yellow lentils - These lentils are sweet and have a nutty flavour. They are great for cooking dal.

4. Black lentils - They almost look like caviar as they are shiny and black. Black lentils have a rich earthy flavour, soft texture and are great for adding in salads.

Nutritional Value Of Lentils

100 g of lentils contain 360 kcal of energy and 116 calories. They also contain:

  • 26 grams protein
  • 1 gram total lipid (fat) 
  • 60 grams carbohydrates
  • 30 grams total dietary fibre
  • 2 grams sugar
  • 40 milligrams calcium
  • 7.20 milligrams iron
  • 36 milligrams magnesium
  • 369 milligrams potassium 
  • 4.8 milligrams vitamin C
  • 0.2 milligrams vitamin B6
lentils nutrition

Consuming plant-based foods can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and other lifestyle-related health conditions [3] .

Health Benefits Of Lentils

1. Promotes heart health

The presence of fibre, iron and magnesium in lentils are linked to lower risk of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, the intake of fibre can reduce LDL cholesterol (bad) which lowers the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Another risk factor for heart disease is the high levels of homocysteine which increase when your dietary folate intake is insufficient. And lentils can prevent the rise of homocysteine levels because they are a great source of folate.

2. Good for diabetics

Lentils contain polyphenols which play a major role in improving blood sugar levels[4] . It is found that consuming lentils can help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin activity in diabetic patients. People with diabetes should incorporate lentils into their diet to prevent a spike in blood sugar levels.

3. Speeds up digestion

Lentils can prevent constipation and other digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis due to the presence of high dietary fibre. This promotes regularity for a healthy digestive tract. A study found that people who increased their dietary fibre intake had reduced constipation and increased stool frequency [5] . Fibre helps in regular bowel movements and the growth of healthy gut bacteria.

4. Aids in weight loss

Consumption of high fibre foods like lentils can help in better weight management as fibre suppresses appetite and increases satiety, thereby keeping your stomach full for longer. Also, lentils are low in calories which can lower your overall calorie intake [6] .

5. Prevents cancer

Lentils are rich in polyphenols like flavanols and procyanidin which have been known to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects [7] . The polyphenols in lentils can stop the growth of cancer cells, especially skin cancer and the fibre content can lower the risk of colon cancer. A study found that lentils have the potent ability to inhibit the production of inflammation-promoting molecule cyclooxygenase-2 [8] .

6. Fights fatigue

As lentils are an excellent source of iron, it can prevent iron deficiency. Less amounts of iron in the body can deplete your stores and cause you to feel weak and tired. This further leads to fatigue. Vitamin C helps in better absorption of iron from foods and both these nutrients are present in lentils which means that your body is getting the right dose of nutrients [9] .

benefits of lentils infographics

7. Builds muscles and cells

Lentils are good sources of protein containing about 26 grams of the nutrient. Protein is required for building new cells, repairing old cells, creating hormones and enzymes and keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Also, protein is needed for building muscles, especially those who are body-builders. Most vegan and vegetarian diet do not contain ample amount of protein as compared to a non-vegetarian diet. So, incorporating lentils into the diet will fulfil your body's protein requirements.

8. Good for pregnant women

Folate is considered a beneficial nutrient for pregnant women as an increase in folate before and during pregnancy helps prevent brain and spinal cord defects in babies [10] . Also, folate cuts the risk of early pregnancy by 50 per cent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women need 400 mcg of folate during their childbearing years.

9. Triggers electrolyte activity

Electrolytes play an important role in the proper functioning of the cells and organs. Lentils contain good amounts of potassium, an electrolyte that is lost during exercise. The potassium in lentils acts as an electrolyte by retaining the amount of fluid in the body.

10. Increases energy

Lentils act as an energy booster due to its fibre and complex carbohydrates content. Also, lentils are rich in iron which helps in the production of haemoglobin, a protein responsible for transporting oxygen to the red blood cells and other parts of the organs. If your haemoglobin is low in the body, you start experiencing low energy.

Best Ways To Cook Lentils

Lentils are easy to cook and requires less cooking time. It can be added to your meals in different ways like:

  • Lentils can be added to soups and stews for additional nutrients.
  • Precook lentils and store them in the fridge for a quick protein source. 
  • You can swap beans with lentils in any recipe.
  • If you are a non-vegetarian, add lentils to your meat recipes for additional nutrients.

Precautions

Eating excess lentils can cause certain carbohydrates to ferment and release gas in the body and this can cause discomfort in the stomach. Hence, avoid eating large portions of meals containing lentils.

View Article References
  1. [1] Ganesan, K., & Xu, B. (2017). Polyphenol-Rich Lentils and Their Health Promoting Effects. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(11), 2390.
  2. [2] Xu, B., & Chang, S. K. C. (2010). Phenolic Substance Characterization and Chemical and Cell-Based Antioxidant Activities of 11 Lentils Grown in the Northern United States. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(3), 1509–1517.
  3. [3] Leterme, P. (2002). Recommendations by health organizations for pulse consumption. British Journal of Nutrition, 88(S3), 239.
  4. [4] Ganesan, K., & Xu, B. (2017). Polyphenol-Rich Lentils and Their Health Promoting Effects. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(11), 2390.
  5. [5] Yang, J. (2012). Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: A meta analysis. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 18(48), 7378.
  6. [6] McCrory, M. A., Hamaker, B. R., Lovejoy, J. C., & Eichelsdoerfer, P. E. (2010). Pulse Consumption, Satiety, and Weight Management. Advances in Nutrition, 1(1), 17–30. doi:10.3945/an.110.1006
  7. [7] Zhang, B., Deng, Z., Tang, Y., Chen, P. X., Liu, R., Dan Ramdath, D., … Tsao, R. (2017). Bioaccessibility, in vitro antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of phenolics in cooked green lentil ( Lens culinaris ). Journal of Functional Foods, 32, 248–255.
  8. [8] Zia-Ul-Haq M, Landa P, Kutil Z, Qayum M, Ahmad S (2013) Evaluation of anti-inflammatory activity of selected legumes from Pakistan: In vitro inhibition of Cyclooxygenase-2. Pakistan Journal Of Pharmaceutical Sciences 26, 185–187.
  9. [9] Hallberg L, Brune M, Rossander L. (1989) The role of vitamin C in iron absorption. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 30,103–108.
  10. [10] Chitayat, D., Matsui, D., Amitai, Y., Kennedy, D., Vohra, S., Rieder, M., & Koren, G. (2015). Folic acid supplementation for pregnant women and those planning pregnancy: 2015 update. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 56(2), 170–175.
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