What are lentils?
Lentils (lens culinaris) are edible seeds of the legume family and come in a variety of colours including red, green, brown, yellow and black. Like other members of the legume family, they grow in pods.
Quick to prepare and typically good value for money, lentils are a rich source of nutrition providing protein, fibre and numerous minerals.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides and also check out some of our delicious lentil recipes, from beetroot, lentil, celeriac and hazelnut salad to our warming sweet and sour lentil dhal with grilled aubergine.
Nutritional benefits of lentils
A 100g serving of green/brown lentils (boiled) provides:
- 105 kcal/446KJ
- 8.8g protein
- 0.7g fat
- 16.9g carbohydrate
- 5.1g fibre
- 3.5mg iron
- 40mcg selenium
- 30mcg folate
What are the top 5 health benefits of lentils?
1. Reduces risk of certain chronic diseases
Studies demonstrate that regularly eating lentils reduces your risk of chronic disease such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease. This is thanks to their rich content of protective plant compounds called phenols – lentils being amongst the top ranked legumes for phenolic content. It comes as no surprise then that lentils boast an antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effect and are cardio-protective.
2. Support the digestive system
Lentils are especially rich in prebiotic fibre which promotes digestive function and ‘fuels’ the beneficial gut bacteria which are so important for our health. A diet rich in fibre is associated with a number of health benefits including a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.
Lentils are rich in fibre, folate and potassium making them a great choice for the heart and for managing blood pressure and cholesterol. They are also a source of energising iron and vitamin B1 which helps maintain a steady heartbeat.
4. Helps to manage blood sugar levels
Legumes, and lentils are no exception, have a low glycaemic index (GI) which slows the rate at which the energy they supply is released into the bloodstream. This helps improve blood sugar management. The high fibre content also makes them very filling which helps appetite control.
5. A source of plant protein
Lentils are a rich source of protein making them a great alternative to meat or fish. As much as a third of the calories from lentils comes from protein, which makes lentils the third highest in protein, by weight, of any legume or nut. Like other legumes, lentils are low in a couple of the essential amino acids, namely methionine and cysteine. This is easily addressed by combining lentils with cereal grains such as rice or wheat.
Are lentils safe for everyone?
For the majority of people, lentils are a healthy inclusion to a balanced diet. It’s worth noting, however, that like other legumes, lentils contain natural compounds commonly referred to as ‘anti-nutrients’. These include phytic acid which binds with nutrients like iron and zinc, making the minerals harder for us to absorb. The phytic acid content of lentils is actually lower than that of corn, wheat and soya beans. Furthermore, these anti-nutrients can be reduced by soaking and cooking.
An allergy to lentils has been reported in parts of Europe, most notably Spain, where it’s said to be more common than peanut allergy. This is thought to relate to the fact that lentils are commonly used as a weaning food in Spain. If you have an allergy to other legumes such as chickpeas and peas, you may be more likely to experience lentil allergy.
If you are concerned, please consult your GP or registered dietitian for guidance.
Discover our best lentil recipes…
This article was published on 16 March 2021.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in personalised nutrition & nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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