Lentils are a rich source of dietary fiber.
Lentils are a powerhouse of nutrition. They are a good source of potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin and vitamin K, but are particularly rich in dietary fiber, lean protein, folate and iron. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods like lentils can lessen your risk of many serious medical problems. Lentils are not only one of the oldest commonly consumed legumes in history, but they are also one of the simplest to prepare since they don’t require a lengthy soaking time like other beans. Some people may experience flatulence and abdominal discomfort when initially adding legumes like lentils into their diet. Cookbook author Mark Bittman recommends incorporating lentils into regular meals slowly, over a period of weeks, and using a commercial digestive aid.
A single cup of cooked lentils contains 16 grams of dietary fiber, or 63 percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily allowance of fiber for an adult man or woman on a 2,000-calorie diet. Lentils contain some soluble fiber, but are an outstanding source of insoluble fiber. According to The Cancer Project, a diet that includes plenty of insoluble fiber can regulate bowel movements, promote digestive system health and may significantly decrease the risk of colon, breast, throat and esophageal cancer. Fiber-rich foods like lentils may also help prevent stroke, heart disease, diabetes, high blood cholesterol and hypertension.
Cooked lentils provide 18 grams of protein per cup, with less than 1 gram of fat, negligible saturated fat and no cholesterol. When compared to beef, poultry and fish, all of which are good sources of protein but contain much higher amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, the Harvard School of Public Health names legumes such as lentils a better protein choice. A 2012 study published in the “Archives of Internal Medicine” reported that substituting lean protein sources like beans for red meat could lower your overall risk of dying from most diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Lentils do not contain all of the amino acids required by the body for protein synthesis. Combine them with a grain like rice or whole-wheat bread for a meal providing complete protein.
Each cup of cooked lentils has 358 micrograms of folate. This amount supplies nearly 100 percent of the 400-microgram daily requirement of folate for adults. Folate, also known as folic acid or vitamin B-9, supports nervous system health, aids in energy metabolism and is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA and red blood cells. If your diet lacks adequate folate, you may be more likely to develop cancer, depression, heart disease and age-related vision or hearing loss. It is especially important for pregnant women to include folate-rich foods like lentils in their diets. Pregnant women who eat at least 600 micrograms of folate daily may lessen the risk of their child being born with a birth defect.
A cup of lentils provides 87 percent of the iron men need daily and 38 percent of the amount a woman needs. The body uses iron to produce red blood cells and adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. People who are deficient in iron may develop anemia or neurological problems like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The iron in plant-based foods like lentils is nonheme iron, a form of iron that is not absorbed as easily as the heme iron in meat, poultry and fish. You can increase the amount of iron you get from lentils by eating the legumes with meat or with a rich source of vitamin C. Serve lentils in meat-based soups or braises, or toss them into salads featuring dark, leafy greens and orange or grapefruit segments.