The result of regularly eating lentils will be from the benefits of the low-fat protein and array of nutrients in lentils. Lentils have a high dietary fiber content, which may help with your digestion and even weight loss. In addition, the plentiful vitamins and minerals in lentils may help reduce your risk of many chronic diseases.
Types of Lentils
Dry lentils are a kind of pulse and a member of the legume family that includes peas and dried beans. Although a wide variety of lentils are used in the Middle East, Europe, India and Africa, in the U.S., the most common types of lentils are:
- Green lentils are the type most readily available in supermarkets. Slightly peppery in flavor, green lentils are actually brownish-beige in color, so may be confused with brown lentils. Green lentils still have their hulls on and thus hold their shape well after cooking.
- Red lentils look like small salmon-colored disks and are often hulled and split, so contain less fiber. They cook quickly and are best for purées and are commonly used in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines.
- Brown lentils are small and plump and are not hulled. They are russet-brown in color with a disk shape that's more spherical than flat. They have a mild, earthy flavor and are good for lentil soup.
- Yellow lentils are similar to red lentils but have a bright yellow color. They taste sweet and nutty and take about 15 minutes to cook.
- Black lentils are also known as beluga lentils because they resemble beluga caviar. They have a deep, earthy flavor, firm texture and are especially good in salads.
Lentils and Nutritional Content
There are no disadvantages of eating pulses such as lentils. The more lentils you eat, the more health benefits you'll receive. Lentils contain a wealth of B vitamins as well as minerals necessary for your health.
By supplying 37 percent of your daily value (DV) for iron, one cup of cooked lentils will assist with the production of red blood cells and proper cognitive function. Lentils contain 49 percent of your DV per cup for manganese, which your body needs for the formation of bone and amino acids as well as for fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Supplying 36 percent of your DV per cup for phosphorus, lentils will help keep your bones, skin and hair healthy.
Other minerals in lentils vital to your health include calcium, zinc, copper and potassium.
Lentils Provide Carbs for Energy
Of the 230 total calories per cup of cooked lentils, 70 percent is derived from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates give you energy by breaking down glucose, providing fuel for your body to build and repair tissue, including the brain.
Dietary Guidelines recommends that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily caloric intake, which equates to about 130 grams. With 40 grams of complex carbs per cup, lentils provide 13 percent of your DV. This amount is less than a baked potato, which contains 63 grams of carbs.
Read more: A Complete Guide to Complex Carbohydrates
Protein in Lentils for Longer Life
Cooked lentils contain 18 grams of protein per cup, which contributes 36 percent to your DV. National Academy of Medicine recommends 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories consist of protein. That amounts to about 46 grams a day for women and 56 grams a day for men.
Protein is vital for building and maintaining bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Your body also needs protein for the proper formation of enzymes and hormones.
If you are a vegan or vegetarian, lentils are one of the best plant-based sources of protein. Lentils also provide healthy dietary fiber and don't include cholesterol, saturated fat or sodium that animal-based proteins contain.
Eating healthy plant-based protein sources, like lentils, in place of red and processed meat can lower your risk of several diseases and premature death.
A cohort study involving U.S. healthcare professionals compared the risk of mortality from a diet including different protein sources. Findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2016, reported that plant protein was associated with lower all-cause mortality, including cardiovascular mortality.
Read more: Animal Protein vs. Vegetable Protein
Lentils Are Good for Digestion
Lentils are an excellent source of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. For good health, women should strive for an intake of at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day, while men should aim for a daily amount of 30 to 38 grams. Just one cup of cooked lentils provides 15.6 grams of fiber or 63 percent of your DV.
Fiber keeps your digestive system functioning properly because it remains undigested, adding bulk to help food move through your stomach, small intestine, colon and then out of your body. Fiber helps you avoid constipation by softening your stool and increasing its size. Fiber also helps prevent diarrhea by absorbing water and adding bulk to your stool.
Fiber in your diet helps to make you feel satiated, which may reduce your appetite and prevent you from overeating, which is important if you are trying to lose weight. A diet high in fiber may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, says Mayo Clinic. In addition, fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer.
A large-scale Nurses Health study, published by Pediatrics in 2016, found that a high intake of fiber was associated with significantly lowering the risk of breast cancer. Researchers concluded that eating more high-fiber foods, such as lentils, during adolescence and early adulthood may be particularly important.
Read more: What Are the Benefits of Soluble Fiber?
Lentils Protect Your Heart
Not only does the fiber in lentils contribute to the health of your heart, one cup of this small, round legume provides 71.3 milligrams of heart-healthy magnesium.
Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems which help to regulate many reactions in your body, including blood glucose control and blood pressure regulation. National Institutes of Health warns that a deficiency of magnesium can cause symptoms that include abnormal heart rhythms and coronary spasms.
A 2018 study summarized scientific evidence to assess the association between magnesium intake and major cardiovascular risk factors. Researchers concluded that a high magnesium intake is linked to lower risk of diabetes, hypertension and metabolic syndrome leading to cardiovascular risk factors. In addition, findings published in Nutrients found higher levels of magnesium lowered the risk of stroke and total cardiovascular disorders, mainly ischemic heart disease and coronary heart disease.
Folate in Lentils Helps Prevent Cancer
Lentils are outstanding in their folate content with 358 micrograms in each cupful, representing 90 percent of your DV. Folate is most often recognized for its importance to pregnant women. Insufficient folate intake increases the risk of low infant birth weight, preterm delivery and fetal growth retardation, according to National Institutes of Health.
Studies show that folate also plays a significant role in decreasing the risk for many types of cancer. The results of a 2017 study, published in Medicine, indicated that folate has a protective effect against cancers of the head and neck.
Folate has been shown to have a positive effect on lowering the risk of oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers, as reported in a study published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2015.
The Journal of Gastroenterol Hepatol reported the results of a 2014 study that showed that dietary folate intake is associated with a decreased risk of esophageal and pancreatic cancer.
Another meta-analysis in 2014 supported evidence of an inverse association between folate intake and bladder cancer, as published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.
Read more: How Much Folic Acid Can You Take a Day?
Lentils to Control Gout
A common misconception warns against eating lentils which contain purine if you have gout, a type of arthritis in the joints. Purines can be broken down to form uric acid that could accumulate in your body. This may lead to gout, which also raises the risk of kidney stones.
However, a 2015 report from "Informed Health Online" says studies have not found any proof that plant-based foods rich in purines contribute to the development of gout. The report lists increased uric acid may come from medicines, alcohol, sugary foods and meat, fish and seafood, but not plant foods. Lentils, being plant-based, do not have the effect of raising the chance of a painful attack of gout.
NutritionFacts.org recommends a dietary restriction in purine-rich animal proteins by replacing them with alternatives such as beans and lentils, to help control gout flare-ups. In fact, lentils may actually offer protection against uric acid buildup. The high fiber, folate and vitamin C content may increase the excretion of uric acid.
- Berkeley Wellness: Types of Lentils
- Wide Open Eats: 5 Different Types of Lentils + A Recipe for Each One
- Pulses: A Visual Guide to Pulses
- SELFNutritionData: Lentils, Mature Seeds, Cooked, Boiled, Without Salt
- SELFNutritionData: Potato, Baked, Flesh and Skin, Without Salt
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020: Appendix 7. Daily Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Protein
- JAMA Internal Medicine: Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: The Effect of Fiber on Satiety and Food Intake: A Systematic Review
- Mayo Clinic: Chart of High-Fiber Foods
- Pediatrics: Dietary Fiber Intake in Young Adults and Breast Cancer Risk
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: Magnesium
- Nutrients: Dietary Magnesium and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review With Emphasis in Epidemiological Studies
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: Folate
- Medicine: Association Between Folate Intake and Risk of Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma: An Overall and Dose-Response PRISMA Meta-Analysis
- Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology: Folate Intake and the Risk of Upper Gastrointestinal Cancers: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- International Journal of Cancer: Folate Intake and the Risk of Oral Cavity and Pharyngeal Cancer: A Pooled Analysis Within the INHANCE Consortium
- International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition: Folate Intake and Risk of Bladder Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Epidemiological Studies
- "Informed Health Online:" Gout: Overview
- NutritionFacts.org: Plant vs. Animal Food Purines for Preventing Gout