Lentils belong to the same family as beans -- the legume family -- which means they share the same benefits: They're a rich source of fiber and lean protein. After meat, poultry, fish and soybeans, lentils are the next highest source of protein. Lentils have an advantage when it comes to preparation time. You don't have to spend time soaking them because they're smaller and flatter than other types of dried legumes.
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Protein Plus Lysine for Vegetarians
One cup of cooked lentils has 230 calories, barely a trace of fat and 40 grams of total carbohydrates. The same serving size supplies 16 percent to 18 percent of your daily value of potassium, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6. You’ll get 18 grams of protein, which is 36 percent of the daily value, according to NutritionValue.org. Lentils do not provide complete protein because they lack a sufficient amount of two amino acids: methionine and cysteine. But they’re a good source of lysine, which is the most important amino acid to include in vegan and vegetarian diets, notes VeganHealth.org.
One cup of cooked lentils contains 16 grams of fiber, or 64 percent of your daily value, according to NutritionValue.org. This is such a high amount that you should start with small portions and gradually increase the amount if you’re not used to eating fiber. Suddenly adding too much fiber to your diet may cause side effects, such as gas and diarrhea. If you’re not sure how much fiber you consume, track what you eat for a few days and compare it to the recommended intake. Women should consume 25 grams daily, while men need 38 grams. For those over 50, the daily numbers are 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men. If you eat less than that, you’re missing out on fiber’s ability to lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar.
Folate for Cell Growth
Folate is essential for the normal growth of red blood cells, so a deficiency may cause anemia. It also helps your body synthesize protein and DNA. In this role, it's so vital for the growth of new cells that it helps prevent birth defects called neural tube defects. These birth defects occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy, so it’s important for women to include it in their daily diet before becoming pregnant. One cup of cooked lentils contains 358 micrograms of folate. Because the recommended dietary allowance is 400 micrograms, that represents almost an entire day’s intake of folate.
Iron Supports Immune Health
Iron is well-known as an integral part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in red blood cells. In another form called myoglobin, iron stores oxygen in your muscles, so you have an extra supply ready to support muscles as your activity level increases. Your immune system also depends on iron, where it supports the growth of white blood cells and serves as a pro-oxidant. Pro-oxidants help synthesize free radicals used by white blood cells to kill invading pathogens, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. If you consume 1 cup of cooked lentils, you’ll get 6.6 milligrams of iron, which provides 37 percent of your daily value.