Lentils are a staple in an Indian diet. Vegetarian based diets use a variety of lentils, ranging from urad daal, toor daal, masoor daal, channa daal and moong daal. Lentils can be made into a plain daal, sambhar or can be added to vegetables. Lentil sprouts can be eaten as a healthy snack or added to salads. Due to their small size, one should not underestimate them. They are high on nutritive value and low on calories. They are also rich sources of protein and fiber.
Let us look at their health benefits.
1. Fiber Rich and good for digestion:
Lentils contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Fiber is beneficial for the body since it helps prevent problems like constipation by increasing dietary bulk. The insoluble fiber helps in easy bowel movement. In addition, a diet rich in fiber prevents cholesterol buildup. For those looking to lose weight, lentils are a good option. They create a feeling of fulness while being low in calories. Fiber rich lentils are also good sources of antioxidants.
2. Heart Friendly:
The magnesium present in lentils is a calcium channel blocker. Magnesium helps in maintaining heart rhythm and is important for a normal heart beat. If the magnesium: calcium ratio is skewed, it can increase the risk of various heart diseases and stroke. Magnesium enables the smooth flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients through the body.
3. Helps regulate blood sugar:
Soluble fiber is important for the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels. Being high in fiber, lentils cause a slow and steady release of energy which is important to balance blood sugar levels effectively. This is especially important for those with insulin resistance or diabetes, who need to keep their blood sugar levels steady.
4. Muscle Building:
Protein forms the building blocks of tissue and muscles in the body. 100 g of lentils contain anywhere between 10 to 25 g of protein on an average. Protein contains amino acids that help build muscle. Working out and exercising causes protein to be broken down and these stores need to be replenished. By replacing fat with muscle, the body can burn calories more effectively, resulting in a higher metabolism. Since vegetarian protein tends to be incomplete (lacks some of the essential amino acids), it is important to use a mix of lentils rather than just a single type. Lentils should also be combined with grains to form complete proteins.
5. Iron Intake:
Lentils are excellent vegetarian sources of iron. Iron is important for hemoglobin formation. Heme iron is better absorbed and utilized by the body and comes from animal sources. Lentils are sources of non- heme iron and do not contain saturated fat, they are also lower on calories. Hemoglobin supplies oxygen to muscle tissues and regulates metabolism and enzyme release. Sufficient iron stores prevent problems like Iron Deficiency Anemia.
Lentils contain folate which is heart friendly. Studies claim that a daily intake of folic acid can lower heart disease by 20%. Folate prevents arterial walls from thickening. When a diet is low in folic acid, this could increase levels of homocysteine levels which negatively affect the heart as they increased risk of blood clots. Cooked lentils contain folate. This B vitamin is important for a healthy nervous system. In addition, it helps in the synthesis of red blood cells and RNA (Ribo Nucleic Acid). Folate helps protect the heart and prevents problems like cancer and age related macular degeneration. Folic acid is a key nutrient during pregnancy that helps prevent birth defects like spina bifida.
Ways to include lentils in the diet:
• Lentils can be made in to daal. Mix 3-4 types for a complete protein
• Sprouted lentils can be added into salads
• Urad daal is a key ingredient in idlis and dosas
• Lentils can also be added to vegetable sabjis for an added protein boost
• Well-cooked lentils can be mashed and used as an ingredient for a healthy and nourishing soup.
Caution: For those with gout or kidney related issues, a limited amount of lentils should be consumed. Lentils contains purines, that could lead to an accumulation of uric acid in the body.
With inputs from: