What Are the Health Benefits of Toor Dal?

Toor dal, also known as arhar dal, is a staple in Indian cuisine. The quick-cooking pulse has a mild, nutty flavor and makes a healthy addition to any soup, stew or rice dish. A good source of protein, fiber and other nutrients, toor dal benefits any diet plan.

Toor dal is high in fiber, low in calories and good source of protein. (Image: AnnaPustynnikova/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

Toor dal is high in fiber, low in calories and good source of protein. Adding more pulses like toor dal to your diet offers many health benefits, including helping you manage your weight and lowering your risk of common chronic health issues, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Toor Dal: An Indian Staple

According to Indian Foods: AAPI's Guide to Nutrition, Health and Diabetes, 2nd Edition, published by Allied Publishers Private Limited in 2011, each of the four regions of India has its own distinct customs and food practices. However, toor dal is a staple among many of the diverse cultures and cuisines, serving as a source of protein and a vegetarian meat alternative.

The mild-flavored toor dal goes well with many flavors, including curry, coconut, ginger, onion and turmeric. In addition to serving the pulse as a source of protein in a main meal, toor dal is also used to make sweets and snacks, such as dal halwa (dense, moist, sweet confection) and paruppa vada (type of fritter).

What Is Toor Dal?

Given the diversity of its uses, you may be wondering, what exactly is toor dal? In addition to being known as toor dal and arhar dal, the pulse is also called the split pigeon pea. A pulse is part of the legume family, which includes beans, lentils and other types of peas, such as green split peas.

According to Kansas State University, pulses refer to the edible portion of a legume. So, the fresh split pigeon pea in the pod is a legume. Then, when the pea is dried it becomes a pulse. Like other pulses, toor dal makes a healthy addition to your diet. Due to the high nutritional quality of pulses like toor dal, the USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov has classified it as both a protein food and a vegetable.

Toor Dal Nutrition

Nutritionally, toor dal is rich in healthy carbohydrates and fiber and is a good source of protein. The pulse can also help you meet your daily iron and calcium needs.

According to the USDA, a 1/4-cup serving of dried toor dal provides:

  • 120 calories
  • 8 grams of protein
  • 22 grams of carbohydrates
  • 6 grams of fiber
  • 2 percent of the daily value (DV) for calcium
  • 6 percent of the DV for iron

Compared to its nutritional cousin the lentil, calories in toor dal are the same, but protein in toor dal is slightly lower, with the 8 grams per 1/4 cup dry, versus 10 grams in the same serving of dry lentils. Lentils are also a better source of iron and fiber.

Toor Dal Benefits

However, despite toor dal nutrition not quite matching up to legumes like lentils, it still makes a healthy addition to your diet. According to an October 2015 review published in Clinical Diabetes, increasing your intake of legumes like toor dal offers many health benefits, from lowering your risk of Type 2 diabetes to helping you manage your weight.

With 6 grams of fiber per 1/4-cup serving, toor dal can help you get closer to meeting your daily fiber needs and gaining all the health benefits that come with a higher fiber intake.

According to a December 2015 Position Paper published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on the health implications of dietary fiber, the average American only consumes about 17 grams of fiber a day, which is significantly less than the recommended 25 grams a day for adult women and 38 grams a day for adult men.

In addition to improving bowel regularity, eating more fiber-rich foods like toor dal may also lower your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Fiber is also calorie free, yet it's filling and it slows digestion which makes you feel full longer, benefiting your waistline.

Toor dal may not be considered a significant source of iron, but it provides the same amount of iron as 3 ounces of chicken, 3 ounces of light canned tuna or 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Iron is an essential component needed for the production of red blood cells. Not getting enough of the mineral in your diet may affect red blood cell production and lead to anemia. Iron is also needed for cellular function and synthesis of certain hormones.

As a plant source of iron, the mineral may not be as bioavailable as the iron in the chicken or tuna. However, you can improve your body's absorption of the iron in your toor dal by combining the versatile pulse with a food rich in vitamin C, such as potatoes, tomatoes or red peppers.

A 1/4-cup serving of dry toor dal isn't considered a good source of calcium, but since calcium is often lacking in the diets of children, teens, older women (age 50 to 70) and older men (70 and up), according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, every little bit helps. In addition to keeping your bones strong, calcium also supports muscle contractions, nerve transmissions and the secretion of hormones.

Preparing Toor Dal

Like lentils and other split peas, it doesn't take as much effort or time to prepare dry toor dal as it does for dry beans. Before cooking toor dal, wash the dry peas under cool running water to rinse away any residue. Combine 4 cups of water with 1 cup of dried toor dal and bring to a boil, then simmer over medium-low heat uncovered for 30 to 60 minutes or until tender. Stir your toor dal periodically as it cooks and add more water as needed.

To vary your toor dal, add different seasonings while cooking, such as curry, turmeric or ginger. You can even use coconut milk in place of some of the water during cooking to add creaminess and flavor. Add your prepared toor dal to soups or stews or serve as your protein with grains and veggies. Use any leftover toor dal to make a veggie dip by blending with oil, tahini, lemon juice and garlic.

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