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Lentils
Lentils

Compared to other types of dried beans, lentils are relatively quick and easy to prepare. They readily absorb a variety of wonderful flavors from other foods and seasonings, are high in nutritional value and are available throughout the year.

Lentils are legumes along with other types of beans. They grow in pods that contain either one or two lentil seeds that are round, oval or heart-shaped disks and are oftentimes smaller than the tip of a pencil eraser. They may be sold whole or split into halves with the brown and green varieties being the best at retaining their shape after cooking.

Lentils, cooked
1.00 cup
(198.00 grams)
Calories: 230
GI: low

NutrientDRI/DV


 folate90%

 fiber63%

 copper56%



 iron37%

 protein36%



 zinc23%




This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Lentils provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Lentils can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Lentils, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.

Health Benefits

Lentils, a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family, are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Not only do lentils help lower cholesterol, they are of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. But this is far from all lentils have to offer. Lentils also provide good to excellent amounts of seven important minerals, our B-vitamins, and protein—all with virtually no fat. The calorie cost of all this nutrition? Just 230 calories for a whole cup of cooked lentils. This tiny nutritional giant fills you up—not out.

Lentils—A Fiber All Star

Check a chart of the fiber content in foods; you'll see legumes leading the pack. Lentils, like other beans, are rich in dietary fiber, both the soluble and insoluble type. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that snares bile (which contains cholesterol)and ferries it out of the body. Research studies have shown that insoluble fiber not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.

Love Your Heart—Eat Lentils

In a study that examined food intake patterns and risk of death from coronary heart disease, researchers followed more than 16,000 middle-aged men in the U.S., Finland, The Netherlands, Italy, former Yugoslavia, Greece and Japan for 25 years. Typical food patterns were: higher consumption of dairy products in Northern Europe; higher consumption of meat in the U.S.; higher consumption of vegetables, legumes, fish, and wine in Southern Europe; and higher consumption of cereals, soy products, and fish in Japan. When researchers analyzed this data in relation to the risk of death from heart disease, they found that legumes were associated with a whopping 82% reduction in risk!!

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that eating high fiber foods, such as lentils, helps prevent heart disease. Almost 10,000 American adults participated in this study and were followed for 19 years. People eating the most fiber, 21 grams per day, had 12% less coronary heart disease (CHD) and 11% less cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to those eating the least, 5 grams daily. Those eating the most water-soluble dietary fiber fared even better with a 15% reduction in risk of CHD and a 10% risk reduction in CVD.

Lentils' contribution to heart health lies not just in their fiber, but in the significant amounts of folate and magnesium these little wonders supply. Folate helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an intermediate product in an important metabolic process called the methylation cycle. When folate (as well as vitamin B6) are around, homocysteine is immediately converted into cysteine or methionine, both of which are benign. When these B vitamins are not available, levels of homocysteine increase in the bloodstream—a bad idea since homocysteine damages artery walls and is considered a serious risk factor for heart disease.

Lentils' magnesium puts yet another plus in the column of its beneficial cardiovascular effects. Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker. When enough magnesium is around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart. Want to literally keep your heart happy? Eat lentils.

Lentils Give You Energy to Burn While Stabilizing Blood Sugar

In addition to its beneficial effects on the digestive system and the heart, soluble fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, legumes like lentils can really help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy. Studies of high fiber diets and blood sugar levels have shown the dramatic benefits provided by these high fiber foods. Researchers compared two groups of people with type 2 diabetes who were fed different amounts of high fiber foods. One group ate the standard American Diabetic diet, which contains with 24 grams of fiber/day, while the other group ate a diet containing 50 grams of fiber/day. Those who ate the diet higher in fiber had lower levels of both plasma glucose (blood sugar) and insulin (the hormone that helps blood sugar get into cells). The high fiber group also reduced their total cholesterol by nearly 7%, their triglyceride levels by 10.2% and their VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein—the most dangerous form of cholesterol)levels by 12.5%.

Iron for Energy

In addition to providing slow burning complex carbohydrates, lentils can increase your energy by replenishing your iron stores. Particularly for menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency, boosting iron stores with lentils is a good idea—especially because, unlike red meat, another source of iron, lentils are not rich in fat and calories. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. And remember: If you're pregnant or lactating, your needs for iron increase. Growing children and adolescents also have increased needs for iron.

Description

Lentils are legumes, seeds of a plant whose botanical name is Lens ensculenta. They grow in pods that contain either one or two lentil seeds.

Lentils are classified according to whether they are large or small in size with dozens of varieties of each being cultivated. While the most common types in the United States are either green or brown, lentils are also available in black, yellow, red and orange colors. These round, oval or heart-shaped disks are small in size, oftentimes smaller than the tip of a pencil eraser. They are sold whole or split into halves.

The different types offer varying consistencies with the brown and green ones better retaining their shape after cooking, while the others generally become soft and mushy. While the flavor differs slightly among the varieties, they generally feature a hearty dense somewhat nutty flavor.

History

Lentils are believed to have originated in central Asia, having been consumed since prehistoric times. They are one of the first foods to have ever been cultivated. Lentil seeds dating back 8000 years have been found at archeological sites in the Middle East. Lentils were mentioned in the Bible both as the item that Jacob traded to Esau for his birthright and as a part of a bread that was made during the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people.

For millennia, lentils have been traditionally been eaten with barley and wheat, three foodstuffs that originated in the same regions and spread throughout Africa and Europe during similar migrations and explorations of cultural tribes. Before the 1st century AD, they were introduced into India, a country whose traditional cuisine still bestows high regard for the spiced lentil dish known as dal. In many Catholic countries, lentils have long been used as a staple food during Lent. Currently, the leading commercial producers of lentils include India, Turkey, Canada, China and Syria.

How to Select and Store

Lentils are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the lentils are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure its maximal freshness. Whether purchasing lentils in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that the lentils are whole and not cracked.

Canned lentils can be found in some grocery stores and most natural foods markets. Unlike canned vegetables, which have lost much of their nutritional value, there is little difference in the nutritional value of canned lentils and those you cook yourself. Canning lowers vegetables' nutritional value since they are best lightly cooked for a short period of time, while their canning process requires a long cooking time at high temperatures. On the other hand, beans require a long time to cook whether they are canned or you cook them yourself. Therefore, if enjoying lentils is more convenient for you, by all means go ahead and enjoy them. We would suggest looking for those that do not contain extra salt or additives. (One concern about canned foods is the potential for the can to include a liner made from bisphenol A/BPA. To learn more about reducing your exposure to this compound, please read our write-up on the subject).

Store lentils in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place. Stored this way, they will keep for up to 12 months. If you purchase lentils at different times, store them separately since they may feature varying stages of dryness and therefore will require different cooking times. Cooked lentils will keep fresh in the refrigerator for about three days if placed in a covered container.

Tips for Preparing and Cooking

Tips for Preparing Lentils

Lentils can be prepared the day of serving since they do not need to be presoaked. Before washing lentils you should spread them out on a light colored plate or cooking surface to check for, and remove, small stones or debris. After this process, place the lentils in a strainer, and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water.

The Healthiest Way of Cooking Lentils

To boil lentils, use three cups of liquid for each cup of lentils. Lentils placed in already boiling water will be easier to digest than those that were brought to a boil with the water. When the water returns to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer and cover. Green lentils usually take 30 minutes, while red ones require 20 minutes.

These cooking times can be slightly adjusted depending upon the final use. If you are going to be serving lentils in a salad or soup and desire a firmer texture, remove them from the stove top when they have achieved this consistency—typically 5-10 minutes earlier than their usual cooking time. If you are making dal or some preparation that requires a mushier consistency, achieving this texture may take an additional 10-15 minutes.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas
  • Combine cooked lentils, and chopped sweet peppers to make a delicious cold salad. Season with your favorite herbs and spices.
  • Toss buckwheat soba noodles with cooked lentils, small broccoli florets and leeks. Dress with olive oil mixed with garlic and ginger.
  • Moroccan lentil soup is easy to make. After cooking lentils, add diced vegetables of your choice and season with soy sauce, coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne.

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Nutritional Profile

Lentils are an excellent source of molybdenum and folate. They are a very good source of dietary fiber, copper, phosphorus and manganese. Additionally they are a good source of iron, protein, vitamin B1, pantothenic acid, zinc, potassium and vitamin B6.

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn't contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food's in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients - not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good - please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you'll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food's nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's "Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling." Read more background information and details of our rating system.

Lentils, cooked
1.00 cup
198.00 grams
Calories: 230
GI: low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
molybdenum148.50 mcg33025.9excellent
folate358.38 mcg907.0excellent
fiber15.64 g634.9very good
copper0.50 mg564.4very good
phosphorus356.40 mg514.0very good
manganese0.98 mg493.8very good
iron6.59 mg372.9good
protein17.86 g362.8good
vitamin B10.33 mg282.2good
pantothenic acid1.26 mg252.0good
zinc2.51 mg231.8good
potassium730.62 mg211.6good
vitamin B60.35 mg211.6good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

In-Depth Nutritional Profile

In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, here is an in-depth nutritional profile for Lentils. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.

Lentils, cooked
(Note: "--" indicates data unavailable)
1.00 cup
(198.00 g)
GI: low
BASIC MACRONUTRIENTS AND CALORIES
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Protein17.86 g36
Carbohydrates39.86 g18
Fat - total0.75 g--
Dietary Fiber15.64 g63
Calories229.6813
MACRONUTRIENT AND CALORIE DETAIL
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Carbohydrate:
Starch-- g
Total Sugars3.56 g
Monosaccharides-- g
Fructose-- g
Glucose-- g
Galactose-- g
Disaccharides-- g
Lactose-- g
Maltose-- g
Sucrose-- g
Soluble Fiber2.57 g
Insoluble Fiber13.07 g
Other Carbohydrates20.65 g
Fat:
Monounsaturated Fat0.13 g
Polyunsaturated Fat0.35 g
Saturated Fat0.10 g
Trans Fat0.00 g
Calories from Fat6.77
Calories from Saturated Fat0.94
Calories from Trans Fat0.00
Cholesterol0.00 mg
Water137.89 g
MICRONUTRIENTS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Vitamins
Water-Soluble Vitamins
B-Complex Vitamins
Vitamin B10.33 mg28
Vitamin B20.14 mg11
Vitamin B32.10 mg13
Vitamin B3 (Niacin Equivalents)4.77 mg
Vitamin B60.35 mg21
Vitamin B120.00 mcg0
Biotin-- mcg--
Choline64.75 mg15
Folate358.38 mcg90
Folate (DFE)358.38 mcg
Folate (food)358.38 mcg
Pantothenic Acid1.26 mg25
Vitamin C2.97 mg4
Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamin A (Retinoids and Carotenoids)
Vitamin A International Units (IU)15.84 IU
Vitamin A mcg Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE)0.79 mcg (RAE)0
Vitamin A mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)1.58 mcg (RE)
Retinol mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)0.00 mcg (RE)
Carotenoid mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)1.58 mcg (RE)
Alpha-Carotene0.00 mcg
Beta-Carotene9.90 mcg
Beta-Carotene Equivalents9.90 mcg
Cryptoxanthin0.00 mcg
Lutein and Zeaxanthin0.00 mcg
Lycopene0.00 mcg
Vitamin D
Vitamin D International Units (IU)0.00 IU0
Vitamin D mcg0.00 mcg
Vitamin E
Vitamin E mg Alpha-Tocopherol Equivalents (ATE)0.22 mg (ATE)1
Vitamin E International Units (IU)0.32 IU
Vitamin E mg0.22 mg
Vitamin K3.37 mcg4
Minerals
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Boron-- mcg
Calcium37.62 mg4
Chloride-- mg
Chromium-- mcg--
Copper0.50 mg56
Fluoride-- mg--
Iodine-- mcg--
Iron6.59 mg37
Magnesium71.28 mg18
Manganese0.98 mg49
Molybdenum148.50 mcg330
Phosphorus356.40 mg51
Potassium730.62 mg21
Selenium5.54 mcg10
Sodium3.96 mg0
Zinc2.51 mg23
INDIVIDUAL FATTY ACIDS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids0.07 g3
Omega-6 Fatty Acids0.27 g
Monounsaturated Fats
14:1 Myristoleic0.00 g
15:1 Pentadecenoic0.00 g
16:1 Palmitol0.00 g
17:1 Heptadecenoic0.00 g
18:1 Oleic0.12 g
20:1 Eicosenoic0.00 g
22:1 Erucic0.00 g
24:1 Nervonic0.00 g
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
18:2 Linoleic0.27 g
18:2 Conjugated Linoleic (CLA)-- g
18:3 Linolenic0.07 g
18:4 Stearidonic-- g
20:3 Eicosatrienoic-- g
20:4 Arachidonic-- g
20:5 Eicosapentaenoic (EPA)-- g
22:5 Docosapentaenoic (DPA)-- g
22:6 Docosahexaenoic (DHA)-- g
Saturated Fatty Acids
4:0 Butyric-- g
6:0 Caproic-- g
8:0 Caprylic-- g
10:0 Capric-- g
12:0 Lauric-- g
14:0 Myristic0.00 g
15:0 Pentadecanoic-- g
16:0 Palmitic0.09 g
17:0 Margaric-- g
18:0 Stearic0.01 g
20:0 Arachidic-- g
22:0 Behenate-- g
24:0 Lignoceric-- g
INDIVIDUAL AMINO ACIDS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Alanine0.75 g
Arginine1.38 g
Aspartic Acid1.98 g
Cysteine0.23 g
Glutamic Acid2.77 g
Glycine0.73 g
Histidine0.50 g
Isoleucine0.77 g
Leucine1.29 g
Lysine1.25 g
Methionine0.15 g
Phenylalanine0.88 g
Proline0.75 g
Serine0.82 g
Threonine0.64 g
Tryptophan0.16 g
Tyrosine0.48 g
Valine0.89 g
OTHER COMPONENTS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Ash1.64 g
Organic Acids (Total)-- g
Acetic Acid-- g
Citric Acid-- g
Lactic Acid-- g
Malic Acid-- g
Taurine-- g
Sugar Alcohols (Total)-- g
Glycerol-- g
Inositol-- g
Mannitol-- g
Sorbitol-- g
Xylitol-- g
Artificial Sweeteners (Total)-- mg
Aspartame-- mg
Saccharin-- mg
Alcohol0.00 g
Caffeine0.00 mg

Note:

The nutrient profiles provided in this website are derived from The Food Processor, Version 10.12.0, ESHA Research, Salem, Oregon, USA. Among the 50,000+ food items in the master database and 163 nutritional components per item, specific nutrient values were frequently missing from any particular food item. We chose the designation "--" to represent those nutrients for which no value was included in this version of the database.

References

  • Bazzano LA, He J, Odgen LG et al. Dietary intake of folate and risk of stroke in US men and women:NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Stroke 2002 May;33(5):1183-9. 2002.
  • Davies M, Ghosh A. Towards evidence based emergency medicine: best BETs from the Manchester Royal Infirmary. Prophylactic magnesium in myocardial infarction. Emerg Med J. 2001 Mar;18(2):119-20. 2001.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986. 1986. PMID:15210.
  • Kharb S, Singh V. Magnesium deficiency potentiates free radical production associated with myocardial infarction. J Assoc Physicians India. 2000 May;48(5):484-5. 2000.
  • McIntosh M, Miller C. A diet containing food rich in soluble and insoluble fiber improves glycemic control and reduces hyperlipidemia among patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutr Rev 2001 Feb;59(2):52-5. 2001.
  • Menotti A, Kromhout D, Blackburn H, et al. Food intake patterns and 25-year mortality from coronary heart disease: cross-cultural correlations in the Seven Countries Study. The Seven Countries Study Research Group. Eur J Epidemiol 1999 Jul;15(6):507-15. 1999.
  • Sueda S, Fukuda H, Watanabe K, et al. Magnesium deficiency in patients with recent myocardial infarction and provoked coronary artery spasm. Jpn Circ J. 2001 Jul;65(7):643-8. 2001.
  • Touyz RM. Role of magnesium in the pathogenesis of hypertension. Mol Aspects Med 2003 Feb 6;24(1-3):107-36. 2003.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988. 1988. PMID:15220.

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