Lentils are a high-protein, high-fiber member of the legume family. Like a mini version of a bean, lentils grow in pods and come in red, brown, black, and green varieties.
They are relatively quick and easy to prepare compared with dried beans, and their low cost makes them an accessible form of high-quality protein for many people around the world.
Contents of this article:
Fast facts on lentils
Here are some key points about lentils. More detail is in the main article.
- Lentils are an excellent natural source of folate and manganese.
- They are an economical source of protein.
- Evidence suggests they protect heart health.
- Lentils are an easy-to-prepare, versatile, and nutritious ingredient.
Lentils are rich in minerals, protein, and fiber.
Lentils are a highly nutritious food, rich in minerals, protein, and fiber.
100 grams (g) of cooked lentils contains:
- 352 calories
- 25 grams of protein
- 1.1 g of fat, including 0.2 g of saturated fat
- 63 grams of carbohydrates, including 11 grams of fiber and 2 grams of sugar
That same 100 g serving provides the following proportion of your daily intake:
- 45 percent of folate
- 36 percent of iron
- 70 percent of manganese
- 28 percent of phosphorus
- 58 percent of thiamin
- 14 percent of potassium
- 127 percent of vitamin B6
Possible health benefits
Consuming plant-based foods of all kinds is associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like lentils decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Lentils can be highly beneficial for heart health.
The fiber, folic acid, and potassium in lentils all support heart health.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), increased fiber intake can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol levels, beyond what can be achieved by a diet low in saturated and trans fats alone.
Not only is fiber associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, but also with a slower progression of the disease in high-risk individuals.
Lentils add essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber to the diet, and they provide protein and sustenance that can replace meat in meals.
When meat, a major source of saturated and trans fats in the diet, is replaced with a high-fiber food like lentils, the risk for heart disease is further decreased.
The United States (U.S.) Surgeon General recommends lowering meat consumption by 15 percent.
Fewer than 2 percent of US adults currently meet the daily 4,700 mg recommendation for potassium.
Folate is critical for preventing congenital disabilities. It has been shown to cut the chances of early delivery by 50 percent or more if consumed for at least a year before pregnancy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that women consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day during their childbearing years.
One cup of lentils provides almost 90 percent of the required folate needs for a day.
Selenium is a mineral found in lentils. It is not present in most other foods.
It also plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body.
Lentils are a great way to keep energy up and combat fatigue.
Iron deficiency is a common cause of fatigue.
Women aged 18 to 50 years are particularly susceptible to iron deficiency. Not getting enough iron in the diet can affect how efficiently the body uses energy.
Lentils are a good non-heme source of iron.
One cup of cooked lentils contains over one-third of daily iron needs.
Non-heme means that the source of iron is not the hemoglobin in the blood. Meat and fish contain heme iron, while plant sources are non-heme.
Non-heme iron is less easy for the body to absorb, but it is valuable for people who do not consume meat for health or other reasons.
Digestion, regularity, and satiety
Adequate fiber intake is commonly recognized as an important factor in weight loss by functioning as a "bulking agent" in the digestive system.
Fiber in the diet helps to increase satiety and reduce appetite, giving a "full" feeling for longer. This can lower the overall calorie intake.
The high fiber in lentils also helps prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.
Adding lentils into the diet
There are four main types of lentils:
- Brown lentils are the cheapest and soften the most upon cooking. They are best used in soups and stews.
- Green lentils have a nuttier flavor. They stay firm when cooked and make good salad or taco toppers.
- Red lentils have a milder taste. They are used in Indian dals and purees.
- Black lentils are also known as beluga lentils, as they look like caviar when cooked.
Unlike dried beans, lentils do not require soaking. Rinse away any dirt from the lentils and discard any damaged lentils or foreign material.
Place the lentils into a pot and add 2 cups of water.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer to desired tenderness, typically about 15 to 20 minutes. One cup of dried lentils will swell to 2 cups when cooked.
Here are some easy and tasty ways to used lentils in cooking:
- Add lentils to any soup or stew recipe for extra nutrients and fiber
- Precook lentils and keep them in the refrigerator for a quick protein source
- Use lentils in place of beans in any recipe
- Replace half the meat in Bolognese sauce or lasagna with red lentils
- Make a lentil dip by smashing cooked lentils with a fork and adding garlic, onion, chili powder, and chopped tomatoes
- Look out for new snacks like lentil-based crackers, chips, or crisps
Potential health risks
Consuming large amounts of fiber may cause flatulence and constipation.
Anyone who is increasing their fiber intake should:
- drink plenty of liquids to prevent constipation
- take in small amounts of fiber at each meal
- gradually increase intake for 1 or 2 months
These tips can help prevent digestive discomfort as the body adjusts to the change.