Lentils are a staple of many diets. They are one of humankind’s earliest foods. Evidence of lentil-eating has been discovered in archaeological sites in the Middle East that are over eight thousand years old. To this day, Middle Eastern and Central Asian cooking includes lentils in many of its dishes. Lentils have also been a staple of Lent diets in Catholic countries.
If one walks into a health food market today, one can find over 20 varieties of lentils. There are split versions (for ease of cooking), miniature sizes no bigger than a pencil eraser, and a veritable rainbow of colors from which to choose. There is good reason for this abundance of lentils found in health food stores.
There are multiple benefits to be gained from these legumes if eaten in moderation. According to Purdue University, lentils contain an astronomical 4 grams of fiber per 100 gram serving, or 8 grams per 200 gram serving. To put that in perspective, New York University’s Langone Medical Center listed the fiber count of many fruits, vegetables, legumes, and cereals. Only all-bran cereal has the equivalent number of grams of fiber per serving. High fiber foods have long been known to help prevent two kinds of heart disease: coronary and cardiovascular.
Lentils are also a good source of vitamins and minerals. In particular, lentils offer high amounts of folate and magnesium. Folate helps one’s metabolism, while magnesium aids in blood flow and oxygenation. Lentils also offer a wide variety of B vitamins, Potassium and Zinc. Weighing in at about 230 calories per cooked cup, and no fat, one would be hard-pressed to find a healthier nutritional source than lentils.
There are, however, dangers to over-indulgence of lentils as well. The biggest problem with eating too many lentils has to do with the fact that they are high in purines. When broken down, purines become uric acid. High levels of uric acid in the body can lead to gout as well as the formation of kidney stones. The symptoms of gout include swelling and tenderness of joints (usually a big toe) and red or purple skin or rash around the affected joint. Kidney stones can cause severe back and side pain, nausea, pain upon urination, persistent urge to urinate, and fever. Both of these diseases require treatment by a doctor or hospital.
Lentils are also not a good source of nutrition for anyone suffering from IBS, or other bowel or stomach problems. Because they are so high in fiber, lentils put a strain on the digestive tract in the effort to break the food down into nutrients which are easily absorbed. Over-eating lentils in digestive tract sufferers can lead to abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and problems associated with gas.
That being said, lentils are, overall, one of the healthiest foods to eat in moderation. A diet that includes lentils as part of its legume requirements will be more likely to produce high and consistent energy levels and efficient cardiovascular systems.