Lentils: Properties and Benefits

Lentils

Lentils are one of the oldest legumes in history. Thanks to their nutritional properties, they were already cultivated in 7000 BC in Asia


The lentils plant, botanical name Lens culinaris, belongs to the Papilionaceae family and can reach a height of 40 cm. This legume cannot be eaten raw as it contains non-digestible substances which are eliminated by cooking.

Lentils: properties and benefits
Lentils: properties and benefits

The lentils have sizes, colors and flavors depending on the variety to which they belong and that we can divide into two large groups. Small-seeded and large-seeded lentils. In Italy the varieties of Altamura with large seeds and that of Castelluccio with small seeds are well known. This variety is highly appreciated as it is particularly tasty.

These legumes are appreciated all over the world by vegans and vegetarians because they are an excellent food rich in vegetable proteins and nutrients. Lentils are believed to have been the basis of Middle Eastern and Indian food for thousands of years. There are documents showing that in the East these legumes were consumed from 6,000 years ago!

Some of the longest-lived populations on earth such as Italy and Greece follow the Mediterranean diet and therefore regularly eat legumes.

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The plant has its origins in Mesopotamia in ancient times, so much so that in the Bible, precisely in Genesis, they are mentioned in reference to Jacob and Esau. In the Louvre museum, ancient lentils from the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs are exhibited.

The lentils exist as a spectrum of colors, including yellow, orange, red, green, brown or black, depending on the cultivar and seed composition. ( 1 )

According to the statistical report of the Food and Agriculture Organization, in 2014 world  production of lentils ranks first in Canada and India. These two countries were estimated at 1,99 million and 1,1 million tons, followed by Turkey (0,34 million), Nepal (0,22 million) and China (0,125 million). ( 2 )

Several studies have shown that the consumption of lentils is linked to the reduction of the incidence of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, tumors and cardiovascular diseases. This is thanks to its bioactive compounds. Thanks to their polyphenol content, these legumes are considered a potential functional dietary ingredient for the human diet. ( 3 )

Chemical Composition

Chemical composition per 100 g of raw lentils
Water g 10,4
Protein g 25,8
Carbohydrates g 60,1
Fibers g 30,5
Sugars g 2
Ashes g 2,7
Omega 3 mg 109
Omega 6 mg 404
Minerals
Calcium mg 56
Iron mg 7,5
Magnesium mg 122
Phosphorus mg 451
Potassium mg 955
Sodium mg 6
Zinc mg 4,8
Copper mg 0,5
Manganese mg 1,3
Selenium mg 8,3
Vitamins
Vitamin A IU 39
B1 mg 0,9
B2 mg 0,2
B3 mg 2,6
B5 mg 2,1
B6 mg 0,5
Vitamin C mg 4,4
Vitamin E mg 0,5
Vitamin J mg 96,4
Vitamin K mcg 5
Beta Carotene mcg 22
Folate mcg 479

Source: Nutritiondata

The predominant proteins are globulin (47% of the total seed proteins) and a good amount of albumin. ( 4 )

Amino acids: aspartic acid and glutamic acid, alanine, arginine, cystine, glycine, phenylalanine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, proline, methionine, serine, tyrosine, tryptophan, valine and threonine.

High quantities of these essential proteins and amino acids in lentils offer an important food source for low and middle income countries. ( 5 )

Calories

100 grams of lentils  have a calorie intake of 353 kcal.

Lentils: Properties and Benefits

Suitable for Celiacs

Nowadays this type of legume is recommended by dieticians. In addition to containing a good percentage of phosphorus and potassium, it is very digestible and does not contain fats or cholesterol.  It also does not contain gluten and is therefore to be considered an excellent food for celiacs.

Rich in polyphenols

They have the highest phenolic content compared to other common legumes such as peas, chickpeas, green beans and peanuts. ( 6 ) Polyphenols have potential health benefits as complementary and alternative medicines and are used in the treatment of various diseases.

Antioxidants

A wide range of in vitro tests implies that this food has the highest antioxidant capacity compared to other legumes. ( 78 )

Evidence has shown that these legumes have a greater potential to eliminate oxygen radicals than various vegetables and fruits, such as onion, horseradish, potatoes, wheat germ, blueberries and cherries.

Anticancer

The lentils are considered among the legume contain more antioxidant properties. Together with the high content of isoflavones, they represent an excellent ally in the prevention of some forms of cancer.

Recent studies claim that lentil consumption reduces the incidence of various cancers including colon, thyroid, liver, breast and prostate cancers. These legumes have a high content of polyphenols which can potentially prevent the effect of carcinogens. ( 910 )

A large study of 90.630 women examined the effects of polyphenols of lentils on breast cancer. The results confirmed the inverse relationship that exists between lentils and breast cancer. ( 11 )

Scientific research has also analyzed the properties of lectins present in this food against tumors.  The results confirm that these compounds have anticancer activity and therefore inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells. ( 12 )

These plant seeds have a high polyphenol content which could potentially prevent cancer agents through chemotherapy activities. ( 13 )

They Lower Cholesterol

The good content of dietary fiber helps to regulate the activity of the intestine and to keep the  blood  cholesterol level under control. Thanks to the fact that they contain very few unsaturated fats, they allow to prevent certain cardiovascular diseases.

A 2014 study conducted in rats suggests that regular intake of these legumes, in addition to being beneficial for hypertension, also reduces total cholesterol levels. ( 14 )

Another 2009 study claims that regular consumption of legumes reduces LDL bad cholesterol levels. ( 15 )

Lentil of Altamura IGP 500gr, Made in Italy 100%, Quick Cooking, Easy to Cook, Very Tasty, Rich in Iron, Fiber, reduces blood cholesterol, excellent for vegans and vegetarians

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Antimicrobial

Studies inform us that this plant food contains bioactive peptides called  defensins which have antimicrobial properties. ( 16 ) Their activity counteracts various infections associated with bacteria and fungi. These peptides are rich in cysteine ​​and inhibit the growth of  Aspergillus niger. ( 17 )

Nervous System

The equivalent of a cup of cooked lentils provides almost the entire need for folic acid (vitamin B9) for an adult. This vitamin is useful for the proper functioning of the nervous system, in the production of energy and is necessary for the synthesis of DNA.

Anemia

They are also rich in iron, a mineral used by the body for the production of red blood cells. An iron deficiency can lead to developing anemia or even neurological problems such as attention deficit.

Studies have shown that their consumption in the diet prevents iron deficiency anemia. ( 18 )

Sense of Satiety

There are foods that cause sudden spikes in blood sugar, forcing the body to burn large quantities of sugar in no time. Lentils, on the other hand, can keep sugar levels stable for a long time and consequently also a sense of satiety.

Weight Loss

The lentils are low in calories but plenty of protein and dietary fiber. In this way, their intake  increases the sense of satiety by preventing you from taking in more calories during the day.

In this regard, we find studies published in Advances in Nutrition that show a relationship between the consumption of these legumes and a correct body weight. ( 19 )

A 2012 study shows that lentil consumption reduces food intake, body weight and waist circumference.  Other studies confirm the inverse relationship between the consumption of this food and the risk associated with obesity. ( 2021 )

Several prospective epidemiological studies have reported that the intake of phenol-rich lentils is inversely related to the incidence of obesity and diabetes. ( 22 )

The flavonoids present in this vegetable have the property of inhibiting the actions of α-glucosidase and lipase. This suggests that the consumption of lentils could manage post-prandial blood sugar and body weight. ( 23 )

Digestion

Studies have shown that insoluble fiber is not only useful for the prevention of constipation . It also promotes the digestive process and prevents irritable bowel syndrome. A diet with the right amount of fiber increases intestinal motility and promotes digestion. Furthermore, the insoluble fiber binds to toxins and promotes their expulsion. ( 24 )

Studies inform us that these plants are known to be a good source of prebiotics. ( 25 ) They also have significant quantities of prebiotic carbohydrates (12.3-14.1 g / 100 g of dried lentils) which help to maintain a healthy intestinal microbial environment and prevent diseases associated with the intestine. ( 2627 )

Heart Disease

A study published in the  Archives of Internal Medicine  suggests that a high fiber diet helps prevent heart disease. The study considered 10,000 people over a 19-year period. The results confirmed that people who took more fiber from their diet reduced their risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 12%.

Another 2014 study found that a diet rich in these legumes prevents hypertension and reduces cholesterol levels. All this for the benefit of heart health. ( 28 )

However, it is not only fiber that brings benefits to heart health. The lentils also contain good amounts of folate and magnesium which are important for maintaining healthy the walls of arteries.

An Australian study suggests that the consumption of these phenol-rich plants has been inversely linked to the occurrence of various cardiovascular events. ( 29 )

A recent Spanish study suggests that bioactive compounds of lentils have a higher antioxidant and cardioprotective. ( 30 )

In addition to this, lentils rich in polyphenols have the ability to anti hypiperlipidemic, anti cholesterolemic and a cardioprotective effect that reduces the risk of hypertension and coronary heart disease. ( 3132 )

Musculature

Our organs and muscles in particular need a constant supply of protein to function properly.  The lentils are an ideal food for our body as they contain many of the constituents of which our body needs to function well. In particular, lentils contain all the essential amino acids.

Diabetes

Some studies suggest that regular consumption of these sprouted legumes is beneficial for the prevention and treatment of diabetes. According to research, their intake has the ability to improve glycemic and lipid metabolism in humans. ( 33 )

Lentils has the property of improving blood sugar, lipid and lipoprotein metabolism in diabetic and healthy humans. ( 34 )

Other studies report that regular consumption of 50 g of cooked lentils leads to significant reductions in blood sugar in diabetic patients. These benefits have been attributed by science to the presence of polyphenols which are also useful for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. ( 353637 )

Furthermore, in vitro and in vivo studies have also shown that lentils regulate starch digestibility, glycemic load and glycemic index, which decrease complications of diabetes. ( 3839 )

Recent studies suggest that the high level of soluble fiber present in these legumes retains glucose and slows digestion. This means that lentils can help stabilize blood sugar levels. ( 40 )

Pregnant Women

They are rich in folic acid whose presence in the right quantity prevents birth defects. A study conducted at the  Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, England, has shown that very often a lack of folic acid often results in a defect in the neural tube.

Red Lentil

 

Lentils: Properties and Benefits

The red lentil , also known as the Egyptian lentil, is widespread in the Middle East where it is normally sold skinless (peeled). This legume is very low in fat and the few contained in it are called “good fats”, known as Omega 3 with antioxidant properties and therefore able to bring benefits to our body.

The red lentils are also cholesterol-free and for this reason are a food recommended in the diet of children. They have the particularity of cooking in a short time and do not require, unlike other legumes, the soaking period before being cooked. Thanks to the absence of the skin that covers them, they are very digestible and do not cause annoying fermentations.

Contraindications

The lentils not have particular contraindications but they are to be used in moderation in subjects suffering from colitis, the abundance of fibers could in fact increase the irritation of the mucous membranes.

Lentils contain purines, people with gout problems must refrain from consuming purine-rich foods as these could cause an accumulation of uric acid body.

However, it must be pointed out that recent studies have shown that purines of animal origin (meat and fish) increase the risk of gout.

Curiosity

Lentils: Properties and Benefits

The name derives from the Latin word lenticula which is the diminutive of lens. The word takes its cue from the characteristic shape of this legume.

The lentils, by tradition, are a symbol of luck and wealth typical of the Christmas festivities and especially the New Year’s Eve. Eating a dish after the toast to the new year has a meaning of good wishes in terms of wealth and prosperity.

In some places tradition and popular belief maintain that lentils should be consumed without oil to prevent money from slipping away.

Currently lentils are grown a bit all over the world, in Asia, Africa, North America and Turkey, but those of higher quality are produced in our country which is Italy.

Like all legumes, they are rich in vegetable proteins. For this reason they represent a valid  alternative to foods of animal origin that contain cholesterol instead. They can be eaten as a main dish in replacement of meat or fish.

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The main producing regions are Puglia, Abruzzo, Lazio and Campania.

This legume is mainly available for sale in two forms: cooked lentils, ready to be consumed and usually stored in metal or glass jars.

The dried lentils  need to be cooked before being consumed without needing to be put to soak before.

When you intend to buy cooked lentils, it is best to make sure that the product does not contain preservatives and dyes. For dry ones it is good to check that there are no parasitic organisms inside the package.

Some 8.000-year-old lentil seeds have been found in archaeological sites in the Middle East.

Lentils: Properties and Benefits

Italian language version

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