Benefits Of Lentils

Benefits of Lentils:

Description

Lentils are legumes, seeds of a plant whose botanical name is Lens ensculenta. They grow in pods that contain either one or two lentil seeds.

Lentils are classified according to whether they are large or small in size with dozens of varieties of each being cultivated. While the most common types in the United States are either green or brown, lentils are also available in black, yellow, red and orange colors. These round, oval or heart-shaped disks are small in size, oftentimes smaller than the tip of a pencil eraser. They are sold whole or split into halves.

The different types offer varying consistencies with the brown and green ones better retaining their shape after cooking, while the others generally become soft and mushy. While the flavor differs slightly among the varieties, they generally feature a hearty dense somewhat nutty flavor.

Nutritional Benefits

Lentils are some of the most nutritious, and at the same time economical, foods in the world. These legumes that are grown like peas in a pod, and come in a wide array of colors including brown, pink, green and orange. They are widely popular in Eastern Europe, India and in some parts of Asia. Whatever color you choose to eat, you can enjoy the same nutritional lentils that are low in fat, low in calories, and free from cholesterol. Here are the nutritional highlights of lentils.

Nutritional Value

Lentils are rich sources of protein, folic acid, dietary fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, essential amino acids and trace minerals. A 100 g serving of lentils contains 60 g carbohydrates, 31 g dietary fiber, 1 g fat, 26 g protein, 0.87 mg thiamine, 479 μg of folate and 7.5 mg iron. Among the winter growing legumes, lentils have the highest concentration of antioxidants.

Cholesterol Reduction

Since lentils are low in fat and high in fiber, they can help get rid of cholesterol and reduce blood cholesterol levels. It sweeps cholesterol from the body to avoid accumulation and buildup that can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. It can also slow down the liver's manufacture of cholesterol.

Improvement for Diabetes

People who suffer from diabetes are advised by doctors to include lentils in their diet. This is because the high amount of soluble fiber in the lentils help trap carbohydrates, which can slow digestion and absorption and help reduce the risks of spikes in the blood sugar levels.

Boosts Digestion

With the high levels of fiber in lentils, they can expedite the detoxification of the body. In simpler terms, they make it easier for the body to get rid of toxins. Moreover, these legumes can also reduce the risk of diverticulosis, a health problem in which pouches form in the walls of the colon due to pressure sustained during bowel movements.

Weight Loss Aid

Still on the fiber found in lentils, these legumes are found to help in weight loss programs. This is because fiber makes people feel full, and they tend to eat less when they include lentils in their diet. Lentils also have few calories, so even if you over-indulge, you don't have to worry about gaining excess weight.

Health Benefits

Lentils, a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family, are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Not only do lentils help lower cholesterol, they are of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. But this is far from all lentils have to offer. Lentils also provide good to excellent amounts of six important minerals, two B-vitamins, and protein—all with virtually no fat. The calorie cost of all this nutrition? Just 230 calories for a whole cup of cooked lentils. This tiny nutritional giant fills you up--not out.

Lentils - A Fiber All Star

Check a chart of the fiber content in foods; you'll see legumes leading the pack. Lentils, like other beans, are rich in dietary fiber, both the soluble and insoluble type. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that snares bile (which contains cholesterol)and ferries it out of the body. Research studies have shown that insoluble fiber not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.

Love Your Heart - Eat Lentils

In a study that examined food intake patterns and risk of death from coronary heart disease, researchers followed more than 16,000 middle-aged men in the U.S., Finland, The Netherlands, Italy, former Yugoslavia, Greece and Japan for 25 years. Typical food patterns were: higher consumption of dairy products in Northern Europe; higher consumption of meat in the U.S.; higher consumption of vegetables, legumes, fish, and wine in Southern Europe; and higher consumption of cereals, soy products, and fish in Japan. When researchers analyzed this data in relation to the risk of death from heart disease, they found that legumes were associated with a whopping 82% reduction in risk!!

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that eating high fiber foods, such as lentils, helps prevent heart disease. Almost 10,000 American adults participated in this study and were followed for 19 years. People eating the most fiber, 21 grams per day, had 12% less coronary heart disease (CHD) and 11% less cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to those eating the least, 5 grams daily. Those eating the most water-soluble dietary fiber fared even better with a 15% reduction in risk of CHD and a 10% risk reduction in CVD.

Lentils' contribution to heart health lies not just in their fiber, but in the significant amounts of folate and magnesium these little wonders supply. Folate helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an intermediate product in an important metabolic process called the methylation cycle. When folate (as well as vitamin B6) are around, homocysteine is immediately converted into cysteine or methionine, both of which are benign. When these B vitamins are not available, levels of homocysteine increase in the bloodstream--a bad idea since homocysteine damages artery walls and is considered a serious risk factor for heart disease.

Lentils' magnesium puts yet another plus in the column of its beneficial cardiovascular effects. Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker. When enough magnesium is around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart. Want to literally keep your heart happy? Eat lentils.

Lentils Give You Energy to Burn While Stabilizing Blood Sugar

In addition to its beneficial effects on the digestive system and the heart, soluble fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, legumes like lentils can really help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy. Studies of high fiber diets and blood sugar levels have shown the dramatic benefits provided by these high fiber foods. Researchers compared two groups of people with type 2 diabetes who were fed different amounts of high fiber foods. One group ate the standard American Diabetic diet, which contains with 24 grams of fiber/day, while the other group ate a diet containing 50 grams of fiber/day.

Those who ate the diet higher in fiber had lower levels of both plasma glucose (blood sugar) and insulin (the hormone that helps blood sugar get into cells). The high fiber group also reduced their total cholesterol by nearly 7%, their triglyceride levels by 10.2% and their VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein--the most dangerous form of cholesterol)levels by 12.5%.

Iron for Energy

In addition to providing slow burning complex carbohydrates, lentils can increase your energy by replenishing your iron stores. Particularly for menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency, boosting iron stores with lentils is a good idea--especially because, unlike red meat, another source of iron, lentils are not rich in fat and calories. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. And remember: If you're pregnant or lactating, your needs for iron increase. Growing children and adolescents also have increased needs for iron.

Consumption Tips

Start cooking the lentils by cleaning them thoroughly. First, remove the debris and stones from the lentils. Also, remove the cracked and damaged lentils. Then, place the lentils in a strainer and wash them properly under the cold running water.

Lentils can be cooked without presoaking as well. Use three cups of water for each cup of lentils and boil them properly before using them in a recipe.

You can also cook lentils by putting them in boiling water. Prepared in this way, they are easier to digest, when compared with the ones that are brought to boil with the water.

Green lentils usually take 30 minutes to cook, whereas the res ones need lesser time, of around 20 minutes.

The cooking time of the lentils can be adjusted as per your needs. For instance, to serve lentils in salad or soup, which needs them in firm texture, you need to remove them from the stove 5-10 minutes earlier than their usual cooking time. On the other hand, for the preparation of dal, which requires a mushier texture, you need to boil them for an additional 10-15 minutes.

Caution

Lentils contain naturally-occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called "gout" and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. Yet, recent research has suggested that purines from meat and fish increase risk of gout, while purines from plant foods fail to change the risk.

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