Lentils, an edible pulse, have been consumed for thousands for years, even finding mention in the Hebrew Bible, the chief source for most of the Old Testament. In many cultures across the world, this legume has been praised as a highly nutritious, easy to grow, and even easier to cook food. Dr. Perricone, a regular on the Oprah show, ranks beans and lentils number four on his super food list, behind Acai, foods such as garlic and onions, and barley.
As a food, lentils have a very low calorific value, while being packed with nutritional goodness in the form of protein, fiber, folate, magnesium, and other vital nutrients. As a result, this humble food makes an intelligent choice in any healthy diet.
Lentils as a Protein Source
In many vegetarian cultures, lentils are still the main source of non-animal protein. Nearly 30 percent of the calories are in the form of protein, which is only slightly lesser than soy beans. In fact, lentils have the third-highest level of protein among all nuts or beans! With increasing awareness of the health risks associated with processed meat, lentils are a very good option of getting healthy, heart-friendly protein.
Lentils and Your Heart
Lentils are rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, which help in reducing the risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease. The soluble fiber binds itself to harmful cholesterol in your arteries, removing it from the body. This is great news since arteries blocked by cholesterol are a major source of fatal heart attacks.
The presence of folate and magnesium in lentils adds to the heart-friendly nature of this legume. Folate helps lower levels of homocysteine in the body, an amino acid that is known to damage artery walls, leading to cardiovascular disease. Magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker and helps to dilate arteries and veins. This improves the flow of blood and reduces stress on your heart.
Lentils and Weight Loss
A single cup of cooked lentils adds less than 230 calories to your diet, which is amazing when you consider all that protein and nutrition! In addition, lentils contain almost zero fat, which is a great improvement over traditional meat protein sources. The high amounts of fiber in lentils help you to feel full even with a smaller serving. This helps you eat a nutrition-packed meal that has a smaller serving size, a great benefit for any diet plan. The fiber content is also beneficial for anyone dealing with blood sugar disorders. This is because fiber slows down the release of food energy after a meal, thus preventing spikes in blood sugar levels.
One challenge faced by many dieters is that some healthy foods can be bland and boring. Lentils, on the other hand, easily absorb additional flavors. Feel free to experiment with different flavorings and spices or even combine lentils with other types of foods. For example, a combination of brown rice with lentils is a staple in many cuisines and provides a delicious wholesome protein combination. Especially with some olive oil drizzled over the top.
Unlike beans, lentils do not require soaking but can be used straight way after a light rinse to remove any impurities, making them user friendly in these busy times.
So go ahead and try and introduce this tiny power packed super food into your diet somewhere and reap the many health benefits.