Health benefits of lentils include high protein supply, improved digestion, healthy heart, diabetes control, control of cancer, weight loss, as a solution for anemia and better electrolytic activity with potassium. It is good for pregnant women, prevention of atherosclerosis, and helps in maintaining a healthy nervous system.
Lentils are edible pulses or seeds that belong to the legume family. These lentils mostly consist of two halves covered in husk. Both the seeds are lens shaped, which is probably why they are named as Lens culinaris in Latin. Lentils are also one of the oldest known sources of food, dating back to more than 9000 years.
Lentils are consumed with or without the husk. Prior to the invention of milling machines, lentils were eaten with husk. The husk contains the highest amount of dietary fiber. After the milling process was invented, the husk or skin was removed and the dietary fiber in lentils disappeared. Some of the popular kinds of lentils include black lentils, red lentils, brown lentils, mung bean, yellow split peas, yellow lentils, macachiados lentils, French green lentils, black-eyed pea, kidney beans, soy beans and many more varieties. Each country has its own native group of lentils which are more or less similar and provide the same benefits.
Lentils with high protein content are considered as cheap source of protein. They are a rich source of essential amino acids like isoleucine and lysine. They are also a good source of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
Lentils have higher consumptions in Asian countries, particularly India. India has the largest number of vegetarians and so, lentils substitute meat in supplying the required protein. A very good way to have lentils is after sprouting because sprouted lentils contain methionine and cysteine. These two amino acids are very significant in muscle building and strengthening of our body. Methionine is an essential amino acid which is supplied through the food and cysteine is a non-essential amino acid which can be synthesized.
Nutritional Value of Lentils
Lentils contain the highest amount of protein originating from plants. The amount of proteins found in lentils is up to 35% which is comparable to red meat, poultry, fish and dairy products. Lentils contain carbohydrates (15-25 g per 100 g). It is good source of dietary fiber and also has low amount of calories. Other nutritious components found are molybdenum, folate, tryptophan, manganese, iron, phosphorous, copper, vitamin B1, and potassium.
Lentils are also another source of phytochemicals and phenols. Both these organic chemicals are known to provide health benefits, but the mechanism behind their work is yet to be determined. Often lentils and meat are compared for their effectiveness and many people vote for meat as the best source of protein. It is true that lentils do not contain all the amino acids but has less fat content when compared with meat.
Health Benefits of Lentils
Lentils, as an ancient food has been known to mankind for a very long time. The cultivation of lentils is as old as early agriculture. It provides lot of health benefits which include:
Good for muscle generation: Our organs and muscles need constant supply of protein for repair and growth of the body. Lentils, especially sprouted lentils contain all the essential amino acids that are needed by our body for good muscle building and smooth functioning of the body.
Controls Diabetes: A study conducted by Anderson and Bridges, showed that in the various categories of foods, dietary fiber was found to be high in case of legume family. Lentils along with beans and peas belong to the legume family. Dietary fiber found food such as lentils helps in controlling the blood sugar level. Dietary fiber slows down the rate at which the food is absorbed by the blood and thus maintains the sugar level constantly.
Improves digestion: As lentils contain high dietary fiber, it improves digestion, if consumed regularly. It also helps in easy bowel movement resulting in decreased constipation.
Heart healthy: Lentils with negligible amounts of fat makes it an ideal source of protein without adding any extra fat to the body and promotes healthy heart. Lentil contains magnesium, which helps in relaxing cardio muscles and helping lowering blood pressure.
Prevent atherosclerosis: Research conducted by Xu, Yuan and Chang, Department of Cereal and Foods Sciences, North Dakota, showed that consumption of lentils provides supply of antioxidants which decreased the chances of atherosclerosis disease. Also these antioxidants play the role of neutralizing free radicals and thereby preventing cellular and gene damage (aging).
Counteracting cancer: Studies conducted by Elvira González De Mejía & Valentin I. Prisecaru at the University of Illinois, have found that plant lectins, a separate type of plant proteins originating from foods like lentil, wheat, peanut, pea, and soybean, etc. have a great influence on cancer cells. Research studies showed that these lectins caused cytotoxicity, apoptosis and have a great potential in controlling cancer growth.
Good source of folic acid: Lentils are good source of Vitamin B like folate or folic acid. Consumption of folic acid by pregnant woman helps in preventing birth defects. According to study by Susan J Duthie, at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, UK, lack of folic acid often results in neural tube defects. Folate found in lentils helps formation of red blood cells, is good for pregnant woman and has a key role in maintaining homocystine levels. It is also known to be effective against hypertension and DNA damage which may result in cancer.
Weight management: Research studies suggest regular consumption of lentils can help in weight control and increases satiety.
Healthy nervous system: It was long believed that micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals did not have an effect on the functioning of the brain. But, further research suggested that for proper functioning of the brain, vitamins and minerals were equally important. According to the research conducted by J.M. Bourre at the Department of Neuro-pharmaco-nutrition, Fernand Widal Hospital, Paris vitamins and minerals found in lentils are helpful in optimum brain functioning.
High Iron: Lentils contain high amounts of iron which is needed by the body for optimum haemoglobin production. About 36% of the iron of the Daily Recommended value comes from taking 1 cup or 200 g of lentils every day.
Improved electrolytic activity: Potassium one of the minerals found in lentils is regarded as a better substitute for electrolytic activity than sodium. Many diseases have been associated with high sodium content and low potassium content in the body. Apart from acting as an electrolyte, potassium is also helpful for functioning of number of organs like heart, brain and kidney.
Boost Metabolism: Lentils is a good source of many vitamins including vitamin B3 which plays a significant role in boosting the digestive system and the nervous system. Vitamin B3 offers many other benefits which include cholesterol control, decreased risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, osteoarthritis and diabetes.
Lentils contain phytic acid and require soaking, sprouting or fermenting to reduce or eliminate the anti-nutrients.