Today we are talking about LENTILS.
Lentils are part of the food group called pulses or legumes. Other foods in this classification include beans, chic peas and peanuts. Lentil plants have been grown domestically for over 8500 years. The plants don’t need a lot of water and they have been a staple food in parts of the East, Mediterranean and African nations. In America they are grown in Idaho and Washington where the growing season is dry. In Australia, lentils were introduced as a commercial crop in 1994 and are grown in the southern states of Victoria and South Australia.
Lentils send nitrogen into the soil, making them a great rotation crop for cereals, reducing the need for farmers to add nitrogen to the soil.
Lentils are highly nutritious. 100gm of cooked lentils (about 30gm dry) has only 116 calories and 9 gm of protein. That is 31% protein. This is almost as much as beef which has about 39% protein.
Lentils do not contain digestive inhibitors so are easily digestible. They have virtually no fat and 20 gms of carbohydrates, making them a great energy source. They are packed with vitamins and minerals such as folate that plays a role in DNA synthesis and iron – that helps oxygen bind to haemoglobin in the blood. 100gm of lentils has 127% of your daily requirements of Vitamin b6 – pyridoxine – that is essential for assisting enzymes that metabolise amino acids, and also helps synthesize serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Lentils are also full of fibre that assists the digestive process and helps maintain weight by keeping you full.
Lentils have 18 of the 20 dietary amino acids so make an excellent source of fuel for muscle building. The two amino acids not found in lentils, methionine and cysteine are abundant in brown rice. So eating your lentils with brown rice, gives you all the amino acids.
Lentils come in a rainbow of colors from white through to yellow, red, green, brown and black. Whilst the total protein content of each variety differs, it is marginal and the amino acid profile is pretty similar. Unlike vegetables, where deepened color represents more concentrated nutrients – this is not the case with lentils.
The fibre, potassium and folate in lentils support heart health. Added dietary fibre has been shown to reduce low density lipoproteins (the bad LDL cholesterol), lowering the risk of heart and vascular diseases such as atherosclerosis. Replacing animal proteins with lentils, instead of adding them to the diet, reduces the risk even further.
The folate in lentils is an essential nutrient in pregnancy. Folate assists with DNA manufacture and is imperative for proper fetal growth and to prevent congential deformaties such as neural tube defects and spinabifida. The incidence of premature birth can be reduced by up to 50% if folate is consumed for 1 year prior to becoming pregnant.
Selenium is a mineral found in lentils, not present in most other foods. Selenium prevents inflammation, decreases tumor growth rates, and improves immune response to infection by stimulating the production of disease-killing T-cells. It also plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. The fiber in lentils is also associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
Lentils are a high source of non-heam iron. Just one cup of cooked lentils contains over 33% of your daily iron needs. Iron is used in muscle contraction and enzymatic reactions for the production of amino acids, collagen, neurotransmitters and hormones. Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia which can result in can cause lethargy, and fatigue as iron is needed to transport oxygen around the body. Menstruating women are most susceptible to iron deficiency anaemia. Eating lentils regularly keeps a woman’s iron store high enough to cope with blood loss during menstruation.
Some people avoid lentils as they are afraid of bloating and gas. But the nutritional benefit far outweighs any discomfort. Lentils contain raffinose, which is a sugar that the body finds hard to digest as we do not produce the enzyme necessary to break it down to glucose. This sugar is also found in vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, asparagus, cabbage and beets. You can reduce gas by cooking your lentils – and any beans actually – by adding a little wakame (seaweed) to the water. Rinse and then use in your cooking. You can also use digestive spices in your recipes such as ginger, turmeric and fennel. If lentils really give you the toots, you can drink a glass of water with a drop of peppermint essential oil just before dinner and this should calm things down. If you forget – you can always rub some peppermint essential oil on your belly after dinner. Remember though – it must be 100% therapeutic grade essential oil – not peppermint flavouring.
So how do you incorporate lentils into your diet? If you are from India you might already be eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but if you are Western they might be a new food to you.
Red lentils are the easiest to cook as they have had their husks removed and require no soaking prior to cooking. I add them to soups and stews to create a creamy texture. Once cooked, they almost dissolve.
Green lentils stay firm when cooked so are a great addition to salads. Just cook up a couple of cups and leave them in your fridge to add as you wish.
White lentils make great high protein flour for savoury pancakes and dosa. Black lentils are commonly used in a dish called Dal Bukhara made famous by the New Delhi restaurant Bukhara. It is full of cream and butter, but if you ask nicely, your favorite Indian restaurant can make it’s sister dish Dahl Makani – dairy free and vegan.
So now you know all about the health benefits of lentils. As a nutritionist, I recommend you include lentils into your regular diet. Get online, experiment with recipes and find ones that you like.
I hope you found some value in this post. Tell me, in the comments below, how you like to eat lentils.
Live your life Fabulously and have a great day.