6 best reasons not to overlook lentils

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One of the oldest known sources of food dating back over 9,000 years ago and still in demand today are lentils.  As a member of the legume family, lentils are lens-shaped edible seeds or pulses which probably are why they are named Lens culinaris in Latin.  Lentils are regularly consumed in Asian countries but even more so in India.  A large portion of people living in India are vegetarians making lentils a perfect substitute for animal protein. 

Approximately five million tons of lentils are produced around the world by the major lentil producing countries of Canada, India, Turkey, Australia, and the United States. Lentils come in a variety of colors and are marketed in four general categories – brown, green, red/yellow, and specialty.

Let’s look at why lentils should be more of a staple food in the United States:

Lentils are loaded with valuable nutrients

Here is the nutritional breakdown of what a ½ cup of lentils provides:

·      115 calories

·      9 grams of protein

·      0.5 grams of fat

·      20 grams of carbohydrates

·      8 grams of fiber

·      3.3 milligrams of iron

·      179 micrograms of folate

·      493.5 milligrams of potassium

·      0.5 milligrams of manganese

Lentils also provide riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium.  There’s a lot packed into those little seeds.

Potential health benefits lentils provide

All plant-based foods have the possibility of reducing the risk of many health conditions.  Lentils are no different.  In fact, lentils have a strong association of being known to play a role in improving and/or reducing risks of many lifestyle-related health conditions. 

1. Heart health

Lentils have just about everything you want in a heart healthy food – fiber to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, sufficient protein to replace more highly-saturated, high-fat meat, contains almost no fat, and is a good source of potassiumand magnesium helping to decrease blood pressure.  A 2014 study found a daily intake of pulses such as lentils had a significant reduction of LDL cholesterol levels. 

2. Cuts cancer risk

Lentils are a good source of the mineral selenium.  Selenium is vital in reducing cancer risk as it prevents inflammation, decreases tumor growth, and activates the production of killer T-cells improving our immune system s response to infections.  It can also help detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body by playing a role in liver enzyme function.  Then there are the phytochemicals saponins and tannins found in lentils possessing anti-oxidant and anti-carcinogenic effects appearing to have significant anti-cancer properties.  Studies have shown consumption of lentils to be effective in the prevention of colon cancer due to its bioactive compounds.

3. Improves digestion, regularity and satiety

 

Lentils generous eight grams of fiber in ½ cup means business in functioning as a “bulking agent” in the digestive system.  Most of us are woefully inadequate when it comes to sufficient intake of fiber.  The average American gets in approximately 15grams of fiber daily when it needs to be at least 25 grams for women and 38 grams daily for men.  Fiber is necessary to attract water to it as it passes through the colon helping to create a bulkier, softer stool to pass promoting regular bowel movements andprevent constipation.  Fiber also slows down digestion increasing satiety leaving you with a fuller feeling helping to reduce your appetite. 

 

4. Provides folate for a healthier pregnancy

A critical nutrient during pregnancy is the B vitamin folate.  Adequate intake of folate helps minimize the risk of a baby born with a neural tube defect of spina bifida or microcephaly by 50% when consumed for at least a year before pregnancy.  Each day, 400 mcg of folate is required for women of childbearing age.  Consuming one cup of lentils provides 358 mcg or almost 90% of folate needs for an entire day.  In fact, a 2015 study recommends lentils as a valuable source of providing folate for adults in comparison to the amount found in chickpeas or peas. 

5. Decreases iron deficiency

For a plant-based food, lentils are a great source of iron at 6.6 milligrams in one cup out of the total required of 8 milligrams a day for men and 18 milligrams a day for women who have not gone through menopause.  Adequate iron intake is necessary to prevent iron deficiency which can lead to feelings of fatigue and weakness.  Unlike other grains, lentils are very low in phytic acid which binds with iron and zinc making them less likely to be absorbed in the body.

6. A nutrient-rich food to combat world hunger

Over 800 million people around the world suffer from hunger making it mandatory of finding food sources both affordable and nutritious.   Lentils are the ideal food for meeting this need.  They provide a variety of essential nutrients, contains high levels of protein, minerals, vitamins, and prebiotic carbohydrates.  They also are a high-yield crop and can be grown at a low cost making them an affordable source of key nutrients.  A 2015 review outlines how lentils can be a strong player in the fight against global malnutrition.

How to add more lentils to your diet

The nice thing about lentils is unlike dried beans, lentils do not require soaking.  Simply rinse away any dirt or residue from them in a colander under cold running water.  Add to a pot, 2 cups of water for every one cup of lentils, bring the water to a boil reducing heat to a simmer and cook to desired tenderness, usually about 15 to 20 minutes.

Here are some ideas to add lentils to your daily diet:

·      Use lentils in place of beans

·      Add lentils to soups, stews, casseroles, even ground meat for extra protein and fiber

·      Precook lentils, keeping them in the fridge for adding to recipes boosting protein intake

·      Here’s recipe for a lentil dip: Smash cooked lentils with a fork and add garlic, onion, chili powder, and choppedtomatoes.

·      Visit this website for more information on lentils and recipes on how to use them:

www.cookingwithpulses.com