The Health Benefits of Lentils

June 10, 2008

Brief History of Lentils

Lentils are legumes that grow like peas and beans in a pod, with two lentil seeds inside. They are fairly small and flat and when split into halves look like split peas. They never arrive fresh at the dinner table, but are cooked or boiled from dry and have an infinite shelf-life, one of the reason’s they were so popular with our ancestors.

There are hundreds of varieties of lentils, which range in color from yellow, orange, red, green, and brown to black and can be bought either with or without their skins.

Today, lentils are used throughout the world, particularly Eastern Europe and India. The famous Indian dish dhal utilizes the pulse with eight of the essential amino acids – with recipe variations the length and breadth of the country.

Nutrients in Lentils

Lentils are very rich in protein (about 26%), folic acid, and both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Lentils are also very high in Vitamin C and the B vitamins, and contain eight of the essential amino acids. They also contain many trace minerals. Lentils are one of the highest sources of antioxidants found in winter growing legumes.

Lentils, raw
(Dry Weight)
Nutritional value per
100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,477 kJ (353 kcal)
* Carbohydrates 60 g
Dietary fiber 31 g
* Fat 1 g
* Protein 26 g
* Vitamin A equiv.  
Thiamine (Vit. B1) 0.87 mg
* Folate (Vit. B9) 479 ?g
* Iron 7.5 mg
A comprehensive breakdown of nutrients can be found in the Nutrition Database where this food can also be added to a meal planner.

Lentils for Cholesterol Reduction

The soluble fiber in lentils also helps eliminate cholesterol, since it binds 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.

Lentils for Diabetes

Diabetics may be interested to know that the soluble fiber in lentils traps carbohydrates. This in turn slows digestion and absorption, which helps to prevent wide swings in blood sugar level throughout the day.

Lentils for Digestion

Due to their high levels of fiber, lentils increase the size of stool, which speed the journey of waste products through the gut; this means they are great to help alleviate constipation. Fiber can also help both reduce the risk and the symptoms of diverticulosis, a condition in which small pouches form in the colon wall (usually from the pressure of straining during bowel movements).

Lentils for Weight LossLentil Plant

Because insoluble fiber is indigestible and passes through the body virtually intact, it provides few calories. And since the digestive tract can handle only so much bulk at a time, fiber-rich foods are more filling than other foods, so people tend to eat less.

Lentils for Cancer Prevention

A study carried out by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, Boston has shown that diets high in lentils and peas (which both contain high levels of flavones) have a reduced risk of breast cancer. These studies are not exhaustive, but have certainly thrown up some food for thought.

Lentils for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention

The intake of dietary fiber, particularly from lentils has been known to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Glycemic Index (GI) of Lentils

In a study to determine the estimated glycemic index of various foods, it was concluded that lentils have a GI of 21 – 30.

Adverse Reactions from Lentils

The amounts of total oxalate in lentils exceed current recommendations for oxalate consumption by individuals who have a history of calcium oxalate kidney/urinary stones, and consumption should be limited.

1. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray, Joseph Pizzorno, and Lara Pizzorno.
2. Benders’ Dictionary of Nutrition and Food Technology.
3. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
4. Adebamowo CA, Cho E, Sampson L, Katan MB, Spiegelman D, Willett WC, Holmes MD. Int J Cancer. 2005 Apr 20;114(4):628-33. PMID: 15609322.
5. Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, Loria C, Vupputuri S, Myers L, Whelton PK. Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med. 2001 Nov 26;161(21):2573-8. PMID: 11718588.
6. Massey LK, Palmer RG, Horner HT. Oxalate content of soybean seeds (Glycine max: Leguminosae), soyfoods, and other edible legumes. J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Sep;49(9):4262-6. PMID: 11559120.
7. Xu BJ, Yuan SH, Chang SK. Comparative studies on the antioxidant activities of nine common food legumes against copper-induced human low-density lipoprotein oxidation in vitro. J Food Sci. 2007 Sep;72(7):S522-7. PMID: 17995667.

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  3. Debbie Wilson

    July 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Trader Joe’s has an excellent product–steamed lentils in the cold section–only about $2.99, and they are delicious. Heat them up, put them in soup, eat them cold on salad, by themselves, whatever! Even if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s grocery store you can cook up a bag, keep the in the fridge and do the same.

  4. Jenn

    August 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    I put lentils in all of my soups. Beans and lentils are my favorite of all foods! Glad to see them getting their props!

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  6. Sarah

    February 25, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Lentils are a staple with me tasty, inexpensive, and healthy I’m glad to see the nutritional info. My favorite recipe is lentil soup onion, garlic, carrot, and tomato. Spice it up and there you go!

  7. Brian G

    May 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Try “Amys Organic Soups – Lentil Vegetable” sold at Costco. I wondered why I was feeling so good then I Googled Lentils – guess what I’m stocking up on tomorrow…

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