Lentils : nutrition, shocking 4 medical uses & adverse effects

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Lentils belong to the legume family. They resemble a tiny bean, grow in pods, and come in red, brown, black, and green varieties. They also contain high levels of protein and fiber.

Lentils are relatively quick and easy to prepare, and their low cost makes them an accessible form of high-quality protein for many people around the world.

Lentils Nutritional Profile

• Energy value (calories per serving): Moderate
• Protein: High
• Fat: Low
• Saturated fat: Low
• Cholesterol: None
• Carbohydrates: High
• Fiber: Very high
• Sodium: Moderate
• Major vitamin contribution: Vitamin B6, folate
• Major mineral contribution: Magnesium, iron, zinc

How Many Nutrients in This Food

• Lentils are seeds, a very high-fiber, low-fat, high-protein food. They are an excellent source of insoluble dietary fiber (cellulose and lignin in the seed covering) and soluble dietary fiber (pectins and gums in the bean).

• Their proteins are plentiful but limited in the essential amino acids methionine and cystine. Lentils are a good source of the B vitamin folate and nonheme iron, the form of iron found in plants.

• One-half cup soaked lentils has 7.8 g dietary fiber, 8.9 g protein, 0.4 g fat, 179 mcg folate (45 percent of the RDA), and 3.3 mg iron (6 percent of the RDA for a woman, 41 percent of the RDA for a man).

• Raw lentils contain antinutrient chemicals that inactivate enzymes you need to digest proteins and carbohydrates (starches). They also contain factors that inactivate vitamin A, and they have hemagglutinins, substances that make red blood cells clump together.

• Cooking lentils disarms the enzyme inhibitors and the anti-vitamin A factors, but not the hemagglutinins. However, the amount of hemagglutinins in lentils is so small that it has no measurable effect in your body.

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How To Serve Nutritious Lentils Food

• Cooked, with meat, milk, cheese, or a grain (rice, pasta) to complete the
proteins in the lentils.

Types of Lentils

There are three main types of lentils in the United States. These include:

  • Brown lentils: These have a mild, earthy flavor, hold their shape well, but will become mushy when overcooked. These work great in soups and as a stand-alone side. They range in color from light brown to black.
  • French green, or Puy, lentils: These have a peppery taste and a crunchy texture that can make for a satisfying salad.
  • Red lentils: These are common in Middle Eastern or Indian cuisine and are actually brown Massor lentils after the removal of their hulls.

Other types include black Beluga lentils, which resemble caviar, and are more expensive. White lentils, which are black lentils without the hull, and Macachiados lentils, which have a distinctive strong, nutty taste and often feature in Mexican dishes.

Diets That May Restrict or Exclude Lentils Food

• Anti flatulence diet
• Low-calcium diet
• Low-carbohydrate diet
• Low-fiber diet
• Low-purine (antigout) diet

How To Buying This Food

Look for:

Smooth-skinned, uniform, evenly colored lentils that are free of stones and debris. The good news about beans sold in plastic bags is that the transparent material gives you a chance to see the beans inside; the bad news is that pyridoxine and pyridoxal, the natural forms of vitamin B6, are very sensitive to light.


Lentils sold in bulk. The open bins expose the beans to air and light and may allow insect contamination (tiny holes in the beans indicate an insect has burrowed into or through the bean).

How To Storing This Food

• Store lentils in air- and moistureproof containers in cool, dark cabinets where they are protected from heat, light, and insects.

How To Preparing This Food

• Wash the lentils and pick them over carefully, discarding damaged or withered beans and any that float. The only beans light enough to float in water are those that have withered away inside. Lentils do not have to be soaked before cooking.

What Happens When You Cook Lentils Food

• When lentils are cooked in liquid, their cells absorb water, swell, and eventually rupture, so that the nutrients inside are more available to your body.


Medical Uses and/or Benefits Of Lentils

Lower risk of some birth defects.

Up to two of every 1,000 babies born in the United States each year may have cleft palate or a neural tube (spinal cord) defect due to their mothers’not having gotten adequate amounts of folate during pregnancy.

• The current RDA for folate is 180 mcg for a woman and 200 mcg for a man, but the FDA now recommends 400 mcg for a woman who is or may become pregnant.

• Taking a folate supplement before becoming pregnant and continuing through the first two months of pregnancy reduces the risk of the cleft palate; taking folate through the entire pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects. Lentils are a significant source of folate. One-half cup cooked lentils has 178 mg folate.

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Lower risk of heart attack.

In the spring of 1998, an analysis’ of data from the records for more than 80,000 women enrolled in the long-running Nurses Health Study at Harvard School of Public Health/Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston demonstrated that a diet providing more than 400 mcg of folate and 3 mg vitamin B6 a day from either food or supplements, more than twice the current RDA for each, may reduce a woman’s risk of heart attack by almost 50 percent. Although men were not included in the analysis, the results are assumed to apply to them as well.

NOTE: Fruit, green leafy vegetables, beans, whole grains, meat, fish, poultry, and shellfish are good sources of vitamin B6.

• As a source of carbohydrates for people with diabetes. Beans are digested very slowly, producing only a gradual rise in blood-sugar levels. As a result, the body needs less insulin to control blood sugar after eating beans than after eating some other high carbohydrate foods such as bread or potato.

• In studies at the University of Kentucky, a bean, whole-grain, vegetable, and fruit-rich diet developed at the University of Toronto and recommended by the American Diabetic Association enabled patients with type 1 diabetes (who do not produce any insulin themselves) to cut their daily insulin intake by 38 percent.

• For patients with type 2 diabetes (who can produce some insulin), the bean diet reduced the need for injected insulin by 98 percent. This diet is in line with the nutritional guidelines of the American Diabetic Association, but people with diabetes should always consult their doctors and/or dietitians before altering their diet.

As a diet aid.

Although beans are very high in calories, they have so much fiber that even a small serving can make you feel full. And, since beans are insulin-sparing (because they do not cause blood-sugar levels to rise quickly), they put off the surge of insulin that makes us feel hungry again and allow us to feel full longer.

• In fact, research at the University of Toronto suggests the insulin-sparing effect may last for several hours after you eat the beans, perhaps until after your next meal. When subjects were given one of two breakfasts bread
and cheese or lentils the people who ate the lentils produced 25 percent less insulin after the meal.


Lentils provide a large amount of folate.

Folate is critical for preventing neural tube defects in newborns.

This essential vitamin can also reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. A 2019 study of 14,553 pregnant women found that those who took more folate during pregnancy were less likely to develop gestational diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that females of childbearing age consume a minimum of 400 micrograms folate or folic acid every day. The CDC advise that women increase intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Adverse Effects Associated with Lentils Food

Intestinal gas.

All dried beans, including lentils, contain raffinose and stachyose, sugars that the human body cannot digest. As a result these sugars sit in the gut, where they are fermented by the bacteria that live in our intestinal tract. The result is intestinal gas.

• Since the indigestible sugars are soluble in hot water, they will leach out into the water in which you cook the lentils. You can cut down on intestinal gas by draining the lentils thoroughly before you serve them

Production of uric acid.

Purines are the natural metabolic by-products of protein metabolism in the body. They eventually break down into uric acid, which can form sharp crystals that may cause gout if they collect in your joints or kidney stones if they collect in urine.

• Dried beans are a source of purines; eating them raises the concentration of purines in your body. Although controlling the amount of purine producing foods in the diet may not significantly affect the course of gout, limiting these foods is still part of many gout regimens.

Lentils Food/Drug Interactions

Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are drugs used to treat depression. They inactivate naturally occurring enzymes in your body that metabolize tyramine, a substance found in many fermented or aged foods. Tyramine constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure.

• If you eat a food containing tyramine while you are taking an MAO inhibitor, you cannot effectively eliminate the tyramine from your body. The result may be a hypertensive crisis. Some nutrition guides list lentils as a food to avoid while using MAO inhibitors.

Quick tips Of Lentils:

People can include lentils in their diet in the following simple and tasty ways:

  • Add lentils to any soup or stew recipe for extra nutrients and fiber.
  • Precook lentils, and keep them in the refrigerator for a quick protein source.
  • Use lentils instead of beans in any recipe.
  • Replace half the meat in a Bolognese sauce or lasagna with red lentils.
  • Make a lentil dip by smashing cooked lentils with a fork and adding garlic, onion, chili powder, and chopped tomatoes.
  • Look out for new snacks and foods, such as lentil based crackers or chips and lentil pasta


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