Lentils (Lens culinaris) are the earliest food crops from the legume family. These quick-to-prepare edible seeds are high in protein and fiber. They are gluten-free and are a staple food in vegan cooking. They contain polyphenols and bioactive compounds that help treat several ailments. They improve heart health, support the digestive system, and may also benefit pregnant women. In this article, we explore the health benefits of lentils, their types, nutrition, recipes, and potential side effects. Keep reading.
In This Article
Different Types Of Lentils
Lentils are classified into different categories based on their color. You can usually find brown, red, green, black, and yellow lentils.
Here are some of the most common types of lentils:
- Brown Lentils: These are the most common variety of lentils. They have a mild, earthy flavor. They are available in colors ranging from light brown to very dark brown. They take 20 to 30 minutes to cook and can hold their shape well during cooking. They taste best in soups and stews.
- Puy or French Green Lentils: These are small and mottled green with a glossy outer cover. They also can retain their shape after cooking and have a peppery taste. They have originated from the French region of Le Puy. These puy lentils have a crunchy texture and are ideal for salads and other side dishes.
- Red Lentils: These lentils are the fastest to cook. They can cook within 10 minutes or less. These are a great addition to your meal and are rich in iron. These are the sweetest lentils and have a nutty flavor. You will find them as masoor dal in Indian and Middle Eastern markets.
- Beluga: These are disk-shaped, tiny, and black. They very closely resemble caviar. They are naturally gluten-free and can make a great base for warm salads.
These are some of the important types of lentils available worldwide. We will look at their health benefits in the next section.
What Are The Benefits Of Lentils?
1. May Improve Heart Health
Lentils are rich in bioactive compounds like polyphenols that help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences suggests that consumption of lentils may help protect against cardiovascular diseases (CVD) (1). Another study conducted by the University of Indonesia (Jakarta) found that lentils can protect against cardiovascular diseases (2). Lentil sprouts also showed a positive effect on serum lipid levels in overweight and obese individuals with type 2 diabetes. Intake of 60 grams of lentil sprouts for eight weeks could positively impact their lipid levels (3).
Lentils are also rich in dietary fiber and may help lower LDL cholesterol levels and improve heart health (4), (5). They also can potentially prevent the development of atherosclerosis (build-up of fat in artery walls) (6).
2. May Support Digestive System
Lentils contain prebiotics that help promote the growth of Lactobacillae in the gastrointestinal tract. This, in turn, may promote gut health (7). Their high dietary fiber content also has a protective action against colon cancers (8). Lentils can also help promote bowel movements, prevent constipation, and keep the digestive tract healthy. Another study conducted by the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) found that consumption of green lentils may increase fecal weight (9).
3. May Be Beneficial During Pregnancy
One cup of cooked lentils has 358 µg of folate (10). Intake of foods rich in folate may help prevent neural tube defects in babies (11). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women should consume 400 mcg of folate every day (12). Pregnant women are also recommended to consume diets rich in high-quality carbohydrates like lentils (13).
4. May Have Anticancer Properties
Lentils contain a unique protein known as plant lectin that has anticancer potential (14). They act as anticancer agents and may inhibit tumor growth cancer cell proliferation. In addition, the selenium in lentils may help reduce cancer risk (15). A diet rich in selenium may reduce the risk of cancer of the colon, prostate, skin, and bladder. However, more studies are warranted to understand this benefit of lentils in humans.
5. May Help Manage Blood Sugar Levels
A review published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine suggests that foods high in dietary fibers help control blood sugar levels (16). Another study conducted on 3349 people found that regular lentils can help prevent type 2 diabetes in older adults with a high cardiovascular disease risk (17). However, more studies are needed to prove this claim.
Intake of lentils in optimal amounts may also help in weight control (18). The high iron content in lentils may also help treat iron-deficiency related anemia (1).
These are the health benefits of eating lentils. We discuss the nutritional breakdown of lentils in the following section.
Nutrition Profile Of Lentils
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one cup (198 g) of cooked lentils contains (10):
- Calories: 230 kcal
- Protein: 17.9 g
- Fat: 0.752 g
- Carbohydrate: 39.8 g
- Fiber: 15.6 g
- Calcium: 37.6 mg
- Magnesium: 71.3 mg
- Iron: 6.59 mg
- Phosphorus: 356 mg
- Potassium: 731 mg
- Sodium: 3.96 mg
- Zinc: 2.52 mg
- Vitamin C: 2.97 mg
- Niacin: 2.1 mg
- Pantothenic acid: 1.26 mg
- Thiamin: 0.335 mg
- Riboflavin: 0.145 mg
These vitamins, minerals, plant compounds, and phytochemicals offer several health benefits. They also are high in plant protein and dietary fiber. Adding lentils to your daily diet can help you reap their benefits.
How To Add Lentils To Your Diet?
- Serve crispy glazed pork belly with aromatic lentils with baked eggs and toast for a luxurious spin of bacon and eggs.
- Add lentils to any soup for added nutrients.
- Warming French lentils with walnuts and goat cheese can be a protein-packed vegetarian lunch option.
- Broil salmon over lentil salad for your dinner.
- Make lentil soup with lots of vegetables.
- Prepare stews with lentils.
- Try making dips and spreads with lentils.
- Use lentils instead of beans in any recipe.
- Precook lentils and keep them in the refrigerator for a quick protein source.
- Make a lentil dip by mashing cooked lentils with a fork and adding garlic, onion, chili powder, and chopped tomatoes.
You may also try the following simple and delicious recipes.
3 Simple Recipes You Can Try
1. Red Lentil Curry
What You Need
- Red lentils – 2 cups
- Vegetable oil – 1 tablespoon
- Curry powder – 1 tablespoon
- Onion – 1
- Curry paste – 2 tablespoons
- Ground cumin – 1 teaspoon
- Ground turmeric – 1 teaspoon
- White sugar – 1 teaspoon
- Salt – 1 teaspoon
- Minced garlic – 1 teaspoon
- Minced ginger – 1 teaspoon
- Tomato puree – 1 can (14.25 ounce)
- Wash the lentils in cold water.
- Add lentils to a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, place a cover on the pot, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer. Add water during cooking to keep the lentils covered, until tender, for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain.
- Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Cook and stir onions in the hot oil until caramelized, for about 20 minutes.
- Mix curry paste, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, salt, sugar, garlic, and ginger in a large bowl. Stir into the onions.
- Increase heat to high and cook, constantly stirring, until fragrant, for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato puree, remove from heat, and stir into the lentils.
2. Lentil Tacos
What You Need
- Chopped tomatoes – 1 cup
- Shredded lettuce – 1 cup
- Chopped fresh cilantro – ¼ cup
- Vegan corn or flour tortillas – 8 (6 inches)
- Lime – 1 (cut into eight wedges)
- Guacamole – 1 cup
For Spice Mix
- Ground ancho chili powder – 2 teaspoons
- Ground coriander – ½ teaspoon
- Salt – ½ teaspoon
- Ground fennel seed – ¼ teaspoon
- Ground cumin – 1 teaspoon
- Dried oregano – ½ teaspoon
- Cooked brown or green lentils – 2 ½ cups
- Tomato paste – 3 tablespoons
- Minced onion – 1
- Hot sauce – 1 teaspoon
- Water – 2 tablespoons
- Chipotle chilis – 2
- Minced garlic – 2 cloves
- Olive oil – 2 teaspoons
- Combine ancho chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, salt, and fennel in a small bowl.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Cook onion and garlic, occasionally stirring until lightly browned, for about 3 minutes. Add spice mixture and cook, and stir until toasted, for about 30 seconds.
- Reduce heat to medium and add cooked lentils, tomato paste, a few splashes of water, and chipotle peppers.
- Cook, mashing lightly with a fork and adding water if necessary, until lentils are heated through and hold together for about 5 minutes.
- Season with additional salt if needed and adobo or hot sauce.
- Lightly toast tortillas in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat.
- Spread about 1/3 cup of the filling down the center of each tortilla. Top with lettuce, tomatoes, and cilantro. Serve with guacamole and lime wedges.
3. Cranberry Lentil And Quinoa Salad
What You Need
- Dried lentils – 1 cup
- Bay leaves – 2
- Quinoa – 1
- Water – 2 cups
- Olive oil – 3 tablespoons
- Finely chopped green onion – 1
- Honey – 1 teaspoon
- Lemon juice – 3 tablespoons
- White wine vinegar – 1 tablespoon
- Salt – ¼ teaspoon
- Dried cranberries – ½ cup
- Crumbled feta cheese – ½ cup
- Coarsely chopped walnuts – ½ cup
- Ground black pepper – to taste
- Place lentils and one bay leaf in a saucepan with enough water to cover and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until lentils are tender, for about 30 minutes. Drain and discard the bay leaf. Rinse with cold water until lentils cool. Transfer to a large bowl.
- Bring 2 cups water, quinoa, and remaining bay leaf to a boil in a saucepan.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender and water has been absorbed, for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Rinse quinoa with cold water until cool, and discard the bay leaf. Stir quinoa into lentils.
- Heat lemon juice in a microwave-safe bowl in a microwave until warm, for about 30 seconds.
- Stir honey into juice until dissolved. Add vinegar and salt. Whisk in the olive oil and season with black pepper.
- Pour lemon juice mixture into lentils and quinoa.
- Mix walnuts, cranberries, feta cheese, and green onion into the lentil and quinoa salad.
- Toss to coat. Refrigerate until chilled, for about an hour.
Lentils are generally considered safe for many people. But they may also cause side effects in some. Scroll down to know in detail.
Side Effects Of Lentils
Intake of lentils is generally safe for many. However, lentils also contain compounds like trypsin inhibitors and anti-nutrients. These compounds include phytic acids that may bind to minerals like zinc, calcium, and iron and reduce their absorption in the body (19). Tannins and lectins are other natural compounds that may prevent the absorption of certain nutrients if consumed in excess (20), (21). The anti-nutrient content of lentils may decrease if they are soaked in water. Intake of lentils in higher amounts may also cause constipation and flatulence. They may even cause allergic reactions due to the presence of Len c 1 and 2 allergens (22). However, more studies are warranted to further understand these side effects.
Lentils are edible legumes with a high protein content. They are low in calories and rich in nutrients. They help improve heart health, help manage blood sugar levels, and may treat several other ailments. However, be mindful of their intake as they contain anti-nutrients. Soak and eat them in limited quantities to enjoy their benefits.
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- Polyphenol-Rich Lentils and Their Health Promoting Effects
- Candidate foods in the asia-pacific region for cardiovascular protection: “nuts” “soy” lentils and tempe
- Lentil Sprouts Effect On Serum Lipids of Overweight and Obese Patients with Type 2 Diabetes
- Seed Protein of Lentils: “Current Status” “Progress” and Food Applications
- Dietary fibre intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis
- Comparative Studies on the Antioxidant Activities of Nine Common Food Legumes Against Copper-Induced Human Low-Density Lipoprotein Oxidation In Vitro
- Plant prebiotics and human health: Biotechnology to breed prebiotic-rich nutritious food crops
- Dietary Fibre Protective against Colorectal Cancer Patients in Asia: A Meta-Analysis
- Effect of green lentils on “colonic function” “nitrogen balance” and serum lipids in healthy human subjects
- “Lentils” “mature seeds” “cooked” “boiled” without salt
- Women Need 400 micrograms of Folic Acid Every Day
- Current Concepts of Maternal Nutrition
- Lectins as bioactive plant proteins: a potential in cancer treatment
- Dietary Fiber Intake and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses
- Legume consumption is inversely associated with type 2 diabetes incidence in adults: A prospective assessment from the PREDIMED study
- “Pulse Consumption” “Satiety” and Weight Management
- Minerals and phytic acid interactions: is it a real problem for human nutrition?
- “Effect of dehulling” germination and cooking on “nutrients” “anti-nutrients” fatty acid composition and antioxidant properties in lentil (Lens culinaris)
- “Lectins” “agglutinins” and their roles in autoimmune reactivities
- Lentil (Lens culinaris) lipid transfer protein Len c 3: a novel legume allergen