Lentil Health Benefits: The Budget-Friendly Superfood
Eating a high-quality, nutritious diet does not mean that you always need to spend on expensive meat cuts. In fact, some foods loaded with nutrients are absolutely affordable. The humble lentil tops the list as it is densely packed with essential nutrients, fiber, and protein. Whether you are looking to beat fatigue, lose pounds, or build muscles, these lentil health benefits can make a real world of difference to your overall health.
What Makes Lentils So Healthy?
Lentils are tiny, edible, lens-shaped, nutrient-dense legumes. The great thing about lentils is that they are high in plant-based protein, making them a great healthy alternative to meat. There are many lentils to choose from. Red, French green, brown, black, and yellow are some of the most popular varieties, each with a unique flavor. Whole lentils come with a husk, making them more nutritious and hearty than the split versions. Lentils also keep for a long time without the need for refrigeration when stored in an airtight container away from moisture.
Lentils have been an integral part of Indian cuisine since ancient times. In almost every Indian kitchen, lentils are served as dahl or lentil curry, which is eaten with roti or rice. These nutritious legumes have been a staple food in several cultures across the world. In these cultures, lentil health benefits have been known for thousands of years.
So what makes these tiny legumes so impressively healthy? Lentils are low in calories and densely packed with plant-based protein, fiber, and several essential vitamins and minerals including vitamin B5, vitamin B6, iron, zinc, folate, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, thiamin, and magnesium. Despite being highly nutritious, readily available, and inexpensive, lentils and other legumes make up a relatively small percentage of the American diet. The western world is now gradually realizing the lentil health benefits and trying to include this superfood in their diet.
Lentils for Adrenal Fatigue
Your body fights stress through the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response system which is a network of various organs and six circuits. They work in unison to help fight stress. When your body detects a stressful situation, the NEM signals your adrenal glands to secrete the anti-stress hormone cortisol. Constant exposure to stress exerts additional pressure on your adrenals for the secretion of additional cortisol. As a result, your adrenals get overburdened and are no longer able to secrete adequate amounts of anti-stress hormones. This reduces your body’s natural stress-fighting ability which can lead to adrenal fatigue.
If you experience extreme fatigue along with symptoms of insomnia, difficulty in waking up, anxiety, low concentration levels, constipation, low energy levels, stubborn weight gain, or craving for salty and fatty food, then it could be due to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Nutrition is the cornerstone of adrenal fatigue recovery. The adrenal fatigue diet emphasizes having nutrient-dense foods such as lentils.
The bioenergetics circuit of the NEM includes the liver, thyroid, and pancreas. Any imbalance in this circuit can lead to sugar cravings, mitochondrial disorder, weight gain, organ resistance, catabolism, dizziness, reactive hypoglycemia, or insulin resistance.
Lentil health benefits can prove extremely helpful in alleviating symptoms of AFS and an imbalanced bioenergetics circuit. Lentils are packed with vitamin B5, one of the cofactors that the adrenals need to make hormones. These nutrient-dense foods are also packed with plant-based protein, fiber, and essential minerals that help boost energy levels, fight fatigue, stabilize blood sugar levels, curb cravings, promote weight loss, and reduce constipation.
Remarkable Lentil Health Benefits
A powerhouse of essential vitamins and minerals, lentils provide your body with loads of health-promoting nutrients. Here are the top health benefits of lentils:
Fights Adrenal Fatigue
Lentils are nutrient-dense food loaded with essential minerals such as folate, vitamin B and iron which helps fight adrenal fatigue. Eating lentils gives you a feeling of fullness throughout the day and keeps you energetic. The good news for vegetarians and vegans is that lentils are rich sources of plant-based protein, making them a healthy alternative to meat. Proteins are vital for the synthesis of hormones, enzymes, and other body chemicals.
Lentil health benefits can prove especially helpful in people with fatigue. These nutrient-rich foods are high in complex carbohydrates and fiber that provide consistent, slow-burning energy. They are also rich in iron that helps circulate oxygen throughout the body which is a key to metabolism and energy production.
Stabilizes Blood Sugar
An imbalanced bioenergetics circuit can lead to reactive hypoglycemia and insulin resistance. The soluble fiber found in lentils traps glucose from the carbohydrates, thus slowing down the digestion process which in turn stabilizes blood sugar. This proves helpful in preventing mood changes, energy dips, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and insulin resistance associated with blood sugar spikes and crashes.
Fights Inflammation and Cancer
Lentils are full of polyphenols that are health-promoting phytochemicals. Some of the polyphenols present in lentils include flavanols and procyanidin which are known to possess potent neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties that help inhibit cancer cell growth.
Promotes Weight Loss
Lentil health benefits extend to weight loss as well. Loaded with fiber and protein yet low in calories, lentils give you a feeling of fullness and help fight cravings, thus supporting effective weight loss. Including lentils in your diet can prove helpful in fighting stubborn weight gain, especially due to AFS. Studies link lentil consumption with healthy body weight.
Supports Heart Health
Studies have linked eating fiber-rich foods such as lentils with reduced risk of cardiovascular illness. Studies show that in people with obesity and type 2-diabetes, eating one-third cup of lentils every day significantly increased level of good HDL cholesterol and reduced level of bad LDL cholesterol. The presence of high soluble fibers in lentils minimizes blood cholesterol, thus helping to keep your arteries clean and free from blockages. This significantly cuts down the risk of heart diseases and stroke. Lentils are also rich in magnesium and folate, which promotes heart health. Folate reduces the risk of stroke as well by lowering homocysteine levels.
Lentil health benefits support digestive health. Lentils are an excellent source of insoluble fiber. This type of fiber is helpful because it absorbs water from the digestive tract and expands, helping to ease bowel movements and prevent constipation. Including lentils in your diet helps fight inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome. Drinking plenty of water also helps ensure a smooth passage of the consumed fiber through the digestive tract.
Studies suggest that dietary fiber can help boost digestive health and immunity. The fiber in lentils functions as a prebiotic that supports the health of gut bacteria and microflora. This protects your digestive system from oxidative damage, enhances nutrient absorption, and detoxifies the body. Lentils contain zinc, folate, manganese, and iron that support immune health as well.
How to Choose and Cook Lentils
The type of lentils you choose mainly depends on what you’re cooking as each variety has its distinct flavor and texture. Whole lentils or lentils with skin tend to remain intact after cooking, whereas the split versions tend to become a puree. These versatile legumes can be cooked in various ways and easily incorporated into almost any dish. Make sure to wash the lentils thoroughly with water before cooking them. Soaking your lentils in water helps considerably cut down the cooking time, although they cook much faster than any other dried bean.
To get you started, here is an easy, healthy lentil recipe that makes a side dish.
Vegetable Lentil Dhal Recipe
- 1 cup split yellow lentils, washed and soaked in water for around 15 min
- 2 medium potatoes, halved
- Salt to taste
- 2 cups water
- ½ cup French green beans, chopped into 2-inch length
- ¼ cup green peas
- 1 tsp ghee
- Place ingredients A into a slow cooker. Cover and cook until the lentils are almost done.
- Stir in ingredients B for the last ten minutes and continue cooking.
- When the lentils and vegetables are cooked, allow 5 min standing time in the cooker with the lid on. Lastly, stir in the ghee.
Lentils are a staple food through much of the world for a good reason, and they pack serious health benefits. These low-calorie, nutrient-dense legumes are loaded with fiber, protein, and several essential vitamins and minerals including vitamin B5, vitamin B6, iron, zinc, folate, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and magnesium. There are various types of lentil each with their own unique flavor.
Extremely nutritious, readily available, and inexpensive, the lentil health benefits are immense. Incorporating these delicious and versatile legumes in your diet helps fight adrenal fatigue, boosts energy, stabilizes blood sugar, fights inflammation, promotes weight loss, supports heart health, improves digestion and boosts immunity. With such profound lentil health benefits, it is time to take your nutrition to the next level by incorporating these superfoods into your diet.
© Copyright 2015 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
Can lentil health benefits help if you’re building muscle?
Lentil health benefits can help build lean muscle and promote weight loss. Lentils are high in protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals but low in calories and fat. Therefore, incorporating these superfoods in your everyday diet helps support healthy muscle growth and its maintenance.