These low-fat, protein-rich legumes offer substantial phytochemical power, folate, and an impressive amount of fiber, more than a quarter of which is the heart-healthy soluble type
They also have decent amounts of iron and calcium
What's in it?
Fiber. Lentils are rich in insoluble fiber, which may stave off hunger and alleviate constipation. The soluble pectin and gum fiber in lentils helps to lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar. (A half cup of cooked lentils has a total of 7.8g dietary fiber, with 1 .3g of it soluble.)
Folate. A half cup of cooked lentils provides almost half of the daily requirement for this B vitamin, which may be instrumental in preventing birth defects, cancer, and heart disease.
Iron. Most lentils are good sources of this mineral, which is vital for immunity, healthy pregnancy, and anemia prevention.
Isoflavones. These phytoestrogens may lower the risk for heart disease and manage some of the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.
Plant sterols. Similar in structure to cholesterol, these compounds help reduce blood cholesterol levels by competing with dietary and body-synthesized cholesterol for absorption.
Protease inhibitors. Found in lentils (and other legumes), these plant chemicals may inhibit tumor growth by short-circuiting processes necessary for cancer cell survival.
Saponins. Plentiful in lentils, saponins may prevent cardiovascular disease by binding cholesterol in the digestive tract. Laboratory studies suggest that these phytonutrients may also inhibit cancer by increasing the number of natural killer immune cells, and by blocking cancerous changes in cells.
Tyrosine kinase inhibitors. These compounds may work with fiber to stabilize blood-sugar levels. Preliminary studies suggest that tyrosine kinase inhibitors may lower levels of a chemical in the blood that contributes to mature cardiovascular disease in diabetics.
Maximizing the benefits
Eat foods high in vitamin C along with lentils to enhance iron absorption. To protect the B vitamin content, do not cook lentils in too much water, and if there is any cooking liquid that needs to be drained off, try to use it in the recipe or save for soups or other dishes. Soluble fiber in lentils is made available as the lentils cook and the fiber dissolves (this also softens the lentils).
Add more to your diet
⁃ Cook lentils, puree along with garlic, yogurt, and fresh lemon juice, and use as a dip or spread.
⁃ Stir cooked lentils into pancake batter along with a touch of curry powder for a vegetarian, Indian-style main course.
⁃ Mash cooked seasoned lentils; add an egg white and enough bread crumbs so the mixture can be formed into patties. Sautee as you would a burger.
⁃ Toss cooked lentils in a lemony dressing along with cherry tomatoes and diced red pepper.
⁃ Make a lentil soup using carrot juice instead of water for the base.
⁃ Add cooked lentils to pasta sauce.
Fight Back With Food, Reader’s Digest.