A popular New Year’s Eve tradition states that eating lentils (Lens culinaris) at midnight will bring one financial prosperity in the year to come. While this is nothing more than an entertaining custom, lentils consumption does have some impressive health benefits. The legume boasts a good nutritional profile and holds several impressive benefits of the digestive, cardiovascular, nervous and immune system.
As a member of the legume (Leguminosae) family, lentils are an excellent source of dietary fiber, contributing to digestive and cardiovascular health. Moreover, they contain generous amounts of almost all essential nutrients, notably B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. As a result, lentils support carbohydrate synthesis and brain activity, help lower high blood pressure, contribute to both bone health and boost immunity.
What do lentils look like? Lentils are flat-looking, disc-shaped greenish beans found in bright green pods, elongated and slightly shorter and plumper than bean pods. There are several varieties of lentils with the beans ranging in color from green and yellow to red, brown and black.
What do lentils taste like? Brown lentils, readily available almost anywhere, have a mild, slightly earthy, nutty taste. Red lentils are slightly nuttier than brown ones, while green ones are just a bit pungent. They generally have a poor flavor on their own which is why they absorb the flavor of other foods and spices you cook them with.
What are the benefits?
See below a list of the most impressive 6 nutrition facts and health benefits of lentils:
1) Great for cardiovascular health. With 10.7 g of dietary fiber/100 g, lentils rank high among the fiber-rich foods. Fiber prevents the intestines from absorbing all the fat that comes with the food we eat, indirectly contributing to lowering blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol may deposit on artery walls and cause them to constrict, limiting blood flow to the heart and brain. In time, deposits may thicken and increase heart attack risks or cause a stroke.
2) Relieve constipation. Dietary fiber passes unmodified through the digestive tract, absorbing water, a process which adds bulk to stools, facilitating their expulsion. Being rich in fiber, lentils act as a potent natural laxative, relieving constipation naturally. Moreover, according to researchers, reducing the time our colon is exposed to the toxins in bowel movements may have significant health benefits, possibly reducing colon cancer risks. The disadvantage to eating lentils is experiencing digestive side effects such as bloating, gas and burping, loose stools and diarrhea with painful abdominal cramps.
3) Great source of protein. For every 100 g of lentils we get about 24.5 g of protein, making them ideal for anyone leading a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, and not only. As you may already know, our body breaks down proteins during digestion to obtain amino acids, a type of essential nutrients required to keep us alive and in good health.
Amino acids are involved in a myriad of different processes in the human body and regulate everything from nervous system activity to digestion, sleep and mood. Tryptophan is one such essential amino acid found in lentils, one that our body uses to increase serotonin (the happiness hormone) levels and improve both mood and sleep. See benefits of tryptophan.
4) Blood sugar management. The fiber in lentils appears to help stabilize blood sugar (glucose) levels, providing constant levels of energy throughout the day. Lentils as well as other legumes (beans, soybeans, peanuts, chickpeas and peas) are recommended for insulin resistance and diabetes.
5) Good source of iron. Eating lentils on a regular basis helps prevent irritability, headaches and fatigue, all symptoms of iron deficiency. Moreover, a good intake of iron gives us energy to go up and about all day and essentially counteracts anemia symptoms.
6) Rich in B vitamins. Lentils are a great source of B vitamins, notably, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B9. B vitamins improve brain function, support carbohydrate synthesis and digestion and even help maintain hormonal balance and reduce inflammation.
Lentils are a great source of vitamins and minerals with excellent cholesterol-lowering as well as laxative properties. Regular consumption is not only beneficial, but also highly recommended for achieving good nutrition and managing certain conditions such as constipation, anemia or fatigue. Nevertheless, the information provided here serves informative purposes only and does not replace professional medical advice or substitute conventional medication. Remember: good health is the foundation of a happy, fulfilled life and what we eat can build our health up, provided we make informed decisions.