Lentils, are a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family. Believed to have originated in central Asia, having been consumed since prehistoric times. They are one of the first foods to have ever been cultivated. Lentil seeds dating back 8000 years have been found at archaeological sites in the Middle East. Lentils were mentioned in the Bible both as the item that Daniel preferred to eat and as a part of a bread that was made during the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people.
For millennia, lentils have traditionally been eaten with barley and wheat, three foods that originated in the same regions and spread throughout Africa and Europe during similar migrations and explorations of cultural tribes. Before the 1st century AD, they were introduced into India, a country whose traditional cuisine still bestows high regard for the spiced lentil dish known as dal.
Scientists have discovered some surprisingly awesome side-effects to eating lentils.
When you think of the word ‘superfood,’ lentils probably don’t come to mind right away. Some interesting new science from the University of Guelph, however, could skyrocket this humble little legume to the status of dietary superfood. Lentils are astoundingly effective at lowering blood glucose levels, researchers have discovered. When carbohydrates such as rice and potatoes are swapped out for lentils, it can lower blood glucose by up to 35 percent.
In the study, which is the first of its kind, 24 adult participants were given four dishes to eat – one with plain rice, half white rice and half large green lentils, half white rice and small green lentils, and half white rice with small red lentils. Researchers measured blood glucose levels prior to eating and two hours after. The process was repeated with two more dishes — white potatoes alone and half white potatoes with lentils.
Study author Allison Duncan, professor at the Department of Human Health and Nutrition, said,
“We mixed the lentils in with the potatoes and rice because people don’t typically eat pulses on their own, but rather consume them in combination with other starches as part of a larger meal, so we wanted the results to reflect that.”
What does that mean?
Lentils are low on the glycemic index (GI), they keep your blood sugar levels balanced without spikes and crashes. While foods low on the glycemic index are especially helpful for people with diabetes, everyone can benefit. In fact, low-GI foods can help prevent you from developing diabetes. Studies have shown that the low GI diet may also result in weight loss, reduce blood sugar levels, and lower the risk of heart disease.
Did you now?
Gram for gram, lentils have as much protein as steak (with less than 10 percent of the fat!). A half-cup of these pulses (pulses are a type of legume, like dried peas or chickpeas) provides you with nine grams of protein and eight grams of healthy fibre–that’s almost a third of the daily recommended amount!
Here’s why they’re a superfood:
Lentils are a plentiful source of fibre, folic acid, and potassium. These nutrients all support heart health. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), increased fibre intake can reduce levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or bad cholesterol.
Not only does fibre have links to a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, but it might slow the progression of the disease in high risk individuals.
Lentils add essential vitamins, minerals, and fibre to the diet. They also provide protein and are an excellent plant-based replacement for meat in meals.
When a person replaces meat in the diet with a high fibre food, such as lentils, they decrease their risk of heart disease.
Lentils provide a large amount of folate. Folate is critical for preventing neural tube defects in new-borns.
This essential vitamin can also reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. A 2019 study of 14,553 pregnant women found that those who took more folate during pregnancy were less likely to develop gestational diabetes.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that females of childbearing age consume a minimum of 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate or folic acid every day. The CDC advise that women increase intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Lentils also provide selenium. Selenium may decrease the rates that tumours grow. It may also improve a person’s immune response to infection by stimulating the production of T cells. T cells kill disease.
The NIH note that selenium may help reduce rates of colorectal, prostate, lung, bladder, skin, oesophageal, and gastric cancers.
However, scientists must carry out further research into the cancer preventing benefits of selenium, as studies on the mineral have, so far, produced mixed results.
A 2019 meta-analysis of 405 articles suggests that fibre may also have links to a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
Iron deficiency is a common cause of fatigue. Not getting enough iron in the diet can affect how efficiently the body uses energy. There are two types of iron: heme and nonheme.
Plants provide nonheme iron, and lentils are a particularly good source. Meat and fish provide heme iron.
Nonheme iron is an essential form of iron for people who do not consume meat for health or other reasons. However, the body cannot absorb nonheme iron as well as heme iron. So, try combining it with vitamin C rich foods, such as citrus, berries, and peppers, which will improve absorption.
Digestion, regularity, and satiety
Adequate fibre intake serves as an important factor in weight loss by functioning as a “bulking agent” in the digestive system.
Fibre in the diet helps to increase the feeling of fullness and reduce appetite. This can reduce a person’s overall calorie intake.
The high fibre content in lentils also helps keep the digestive tract healthy, which in turn, prevents constipation and promotes regular bowel movements.
Lentils are a highly nutritious food. They are rich in minerals, protein, and fibre.
100 grams (g) of cooked lentils contains:
- 116 calories (kcal)
- 9.02 g of protein
- 0.38 g of fat
- 20.13 g of carbohydrates, including 7.9 g of fiber and 1.8 g of sugar
Lentils also provide the following essential nutrients:
- vitamin B-6
Lentils are also a source of:
- pantothenic acid
Why we love them:
They’re eco-friendly! Lentils use few resources to grow and, calorie for calorie, produce only 2.5 percent of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as beef, and 10 percent of the carbon dioxide of tofu. That makes lentils one of the greenest crops to grow—especially when you factor in their high protein content.
Safe to say, we’re bat sh*t lentils 😉