Lentils are a type of pulse. Pulses, in turn, are the edible seeds of legumes (like peas, chickenpeas, beans and lentils). Lentils are fairly small and flat and are born in pods. Lentils are often clubbed together into one category but, in reality, there are hundreds of varieties of lentils, ranging in taste as well as color, from yellow, orange, red, green, and brown to black. They are available either with or without their skins. By the time they reach our kitchens, the seeds have been cleaned and dried. They are never eaten raw, rather are cooked or boiled.
Lentils are used all over the world, particularly in Eastern Europe and India. The Indian dish ‘dal’, with recipe variations that span the length and breadth of the country, is an integral part of every home cooked Indian meal.
One of the reasons for the popularity of legumes is their infinite shelf life. Apart from this, legumes offer a number of nutritional benefits. Pulses are considered to be the elementary building blocks for a balanced diet. They are very rich in proteins (about 26%). They are a good source of vitamins A and B, iron and contain eight of the essential amino acids. They also contain many trace minerals. Most pulses contain folic acid as well and have a low glycemic index (21-30). They are rich in both soluble and insoluble dietary fibre, contain resistant starch and complex carbohydrates called oligosaccharides. Because of their high protein content, lentils are widely acknowledged as a protein source for vegetarians, but they can serve as a healthy alternative for meat-eaters too.
Lentils are good for your health!
Weight loss: Pulses are the perfect recommendation for those on the rocky road to weight loss or for those suffering from cardiac problems. The low glycemic index of lentils brings down the triglycerides present in the body and thereby reduces the fat deposition in the body. The capacity of lentils to increase the blood sugar upon ingestion is very low. Because insoluble fiber is indigestible and passes through the body virtually intact, it provides few calories. Also, the fibre rich lentils are more filling than other foods and so people tend to eat less.
Coronary heart disease: The soluble fiber in lentils helps eliminate cholesterol overall, since it attaches itself to it, reducing blood cholesterol levels. There is also evidence to prove that lentils can slow the liver’s manufacture of cholesterol, which similarly helps to reduce levels in the body. The intake of dietary fiber from lentils has been known to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Fewer deposits in the arteries and blood vessels mean reduced risk of blockages.
Diabetes: Diabetics may find some respite in lentils as the soluble fiber in lentils traps carbohydrates. This slows down digestion and absorption, which in turn helps to prevent large variations in blood sugar levels in the span of a day.
Digestion: Lentils contain high levels of fibre which aids the journey of waste products through our intestines, helping to keep the stomach clean and ease constipation.
Given the range of advantages lentils offer it is unsurprising that they are an essential dietary component in some cultures. The combination of their properties makes for an ideal food that can be simultaneously filling and nutritious. So, what are you waiting for?