Lentils, a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family, are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Not only do lentils help lower cholesterol, they assist in managing blood-sugar disorders since because they help prevent blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. Lentils also provide good to excellent amounts of six important minerals, two B-vitamins, and protein—all with virtually no fat. Canned or dried, lentils are an economical choice. Lentils are a staple part of  vegetarian, Middle Eastern and South Asian diets.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recommended these beans, calling them “little wonders.”  Lentils may have been one of the very first foods to be cultivated in Asia. Now available throughout the world, lentils can be prepared in many ways: soups, salads, dips, quiches and even as an extra ingredient in breads.

While lentils share many health benefits with their legume cousins, they are much easier to prepare: lentils need no pre-soaking and cook in under 30 minutes to an hour. Of the varieties, red lentils cook the fastest, as they are sold with their hulls removed. Briefly rinse lentils before cooking.

Variety of dishes
Lentils are very versatile. Stored dry in the pantry, they can always be on hand.

Soups – In soups, lentils are often flavored with onions, garlic, olive oil, carrots, celery, dried oregano, dried basil, dried lentils, vinegar, salt, pepper and spinach. They  readily absorb flavor and are therefore best paired with aromatic spices and flavorings. Lentil based soups are also very filling.

Salads – Lentils can add a nutritional dimension to salads, with other ingredients including dried brown lentils, baby spinach, pepper, salt, vegetable stock, garlic, bay leaves, green bell pepper, olive oil and tomatoes.

Dips – Like hummus, lentils can be boiled down and blended into a paste that forms a nutritious and tasty dip for vegetables or crackers. Add garlic, lemon juice, oil, tahini and hot pepper.

Casseroles—Lentils can be the foundation for many casseroles. Cooked in onion and spices, the lentils can then be mixed with vegetables, rice and cheese.

Health benefits
Lentils reduce inflammation while providing a steady stream of energy. They are  good for individuals suffering from diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis because they help regulate blood sugar levels. They are also a great source of the following:

  • Molybedenum – Lentils provide molybedenum, which aids nutrients like iron and copper in receiving oxygen. It also helps enzymes in the metabolism processes.
  • Iron – This mineral carries oxygen to the body and strengthens the immune system, brain, and muscle function. Iron prevents IDA (iron deficiency anemia).
  • Manganese – Like calcium, manganese helps to strengthen bones. It serves as an antioxidant to heal damaged cells. It also aids vitamin absorption and is essential for a healthy metabolism, brain function and nerve function.
  • Potassium – Potassium helps to relieve muscle disorders and lowers blood sugar levels. It also reduces stress and strengthens muscle function.
  • Phosphorus – Phosphorus is a very important mineral for bone formation. It also helps regulate normal digestion and brain function.
  • Zinc – Zinc enhances enzyme activities in the body. It also boosts immune systems by preventing sicknesses like colds.
  • Copper – Copper helps the body use iron. It also aids in enzyme activities and body growth. Copper also contributes to healthy eyes and hair.
  • Folate – Folate is a very important mineral for fetal development. It primarily helps developing the brain and spinal cord of babies. Folate also strengthens mental function, reduces stress and lowers the risk of having heart disease.
  • Vitamin A – Vitamin A (or retinol) keeps your eyes healthy. It also serves as an antioxidant in the body, which aids healing damaged tissues and cells.
  • B-Vitamins – B-vitamins are important to many body functions. B-vitamins found in lentils include vitamins B1, B2, B6, and Pantothenic Acid. All B-vitamins found in lentils help in relieving stress, migraines, and reducing cholesterol. These vitamins also play an important role in carbohydrate-energy conversion.
  • Vitamin C – Ascorbic acid (or vitamin C) is an essential vitamin that aids in the healing of damaged cells. It also helps in boosting immune systems. Like copper and molybedenum, Vitamin C also aids in iron absorption.
  • Vitamin E – Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps in cellular and tissue repair. It also aids the circulatory system and may play a role in preventing breast disease.
  • Vitamin K – Vitamin K helps to prevent continuous bleeding from wounds. It also helps with kidney function.

Moderation is best
Lentils are good for your health, but should be consumed in moderation. Because they are rich in minerals and vitamins, overconsumption might lead to stomach irritation, nausea, fatigue, hair loss. Specifically:

  • Vitamin A – Too much vitamin A can lead to birth abnormalities, growth deficiency and enlargement of the liver.
  • B- Vitamins – Vitamin B toxicity can cause irregular heartbeat, birth defects, liver complications and allergic reactions. It can also damage your nervous system.
  • Vitamin C – Excessive consumption of Vitamin C (more than 2000 mg daily) may cause headache, diarrhea and kidney infections.
  • Anti-nutritional contents – Consuming too many lentils may lead to high levels of anti-nutritional contents such as trypsin inhibitors. Trypsin inhibitors can increase the risk of digestive system problems. Soaking lentils overnight also helps to reduce anti-nutritional contents.
  • Phytate – Lentils are also high in phytate, chelates away important minerals in the intestines. However, these anti-nutritional contents are decreased if lentils are cooked well.

Lentils are an easy, affordable and tasty way to eat healthily. They are the perfect choice for someone trying to reduce their consumption of meat. Low fat, lentils can add protein to a weight loss diet. They can be combined with vegetables, added to soups or ground into flour and cooked into bread or pancakes. Highly absorbent, lentils pick up the flavors around them. Try them with your favorite spices and broths.

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