In African, Indian, and many European cultures, legumes are a staple in many meals. Lentils are one of the most powerful legumes, and is considered one of the most domesticated crops with evidence of human consumption dating back to 13,000 BC, says chef and certified nutritionist Serena Poon. They’re jam-packed with nutrients and essential needs for our body to perform at its highest capacity, and they offer plenty of flavor variety for different palettes. From brown and green to red and yellow (and even beluga), you can probably find something that fits your fancy. Here, we explore what happens to your body when you eat lentils on a regular basis. And for even more healthy eating tips, be sure to check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
Because lentils are a great source of resistant starches and fiber, they help to improve our gut microbiome, says Dr. Uma Naidoo, MD, a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutrition specialist, and author. How so? They work to nurture this delicate ecosystem, allowing our system to perform at its optimal level.
“The gut microbiome communicates with the brain, making this gut-brain connection more important to our daily health,” she says. “Eating foods like lentils feeds the good microbes which support our overall health, including mental well-being, hormone health, and immunity.”
According to Dr. Naidoo, research has shown that when you eat germinated lentils regularly, they may help prevent and manage diabetes. How so? As she explains, studies have demonstrated that lentils may improve blood glucose, lipid, and lipoprotein metabolism in those with diabetes and healthy people.
“Since metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes are on the rise in the United States, knowing there are foods we can add to help in our diets becomes important,” she says.
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If you’re mindful of your macros and nutrients, you are constantly looking for foods that offer a powerhouse of essentials. If you’re a fan of lentils, you’re in luck! As Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND explains, like other beans, legumes are loaded with protein and fiber but have almost no fat.
Ayoob also notes lentils they’re an excellent source of the critically-important B-vitamin, with high folate and iron levels. In fact, he says one cup of lentils offers 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber alone.
“That’s as many grams of protein as three eggs, and more fiber than the average person eats in an entire day,” he adds.
Thanks to the high fiber content, lentils will promote a functioning, happy digestive system that leaves you feeling satisfied—and ahem, regular, according to Poon.
“A diet that is rich in fiber can help you maintain bowel health, lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, lose weight, and prevent disease,” she says.
There are plenty of plant-based proteins, but not all of them are delicious or great for you. Take, for instance, a veggie burger that has chemical ingredients you can’t pronounce. What’s excellent about lentils is they provide the energy you need but remain natural and easy to configure into various dishes.
“Lentils are also quite versatile and can be used in several delicious plant-based dishes. Lentils are commonly used as a major protein source in a meat-free diet,” she continues. “If you are a vegetarian or vegan, make sure to eat lentils alongside a variety of legumes, grains, and seeds or combined with a whole grain to make sure you are consuming all of the amino acids that you need.”
Overall, lentils are a smart (and yummy!) addition to your diet. However, they do have one drawback to be mindful of, according to Celine Beitchman, the director of nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education. As she explains, if you’re someone who experiences generalized indigestion—like bloating or gassiness—shortly after consuming these mighty legumes, take it slow.
“It may be that your body’s gut bugs are going crazy, eating up resistant starch. When they do that, just like any living thing, they respire gasses, like carbon dioxide, that can make you feel like a champagne bottle about to pop,” she notes.
So, instead of 1/2 a cup, let your body get used to the new food. Try a tablespoon on your next salad or added to rice or other sides. Or try one of these 31+ Healthy Recipes To Make With The Dried Lentils In Your Pantry.