THE BENEFITS AND HARMS OF LENTILS
Lentils boast the highest protein content of any member of the legume family. In addition to proteins, this unique plant is rich in complex carbohydrates, fats, fiber (which is found in the product in soluble and insoluble forms), mineral salts, and vitamins. All these components are balanced, which gives the maximum benefit to the digestive system. As for the minerals and vitamins that are part of lentils, the extremely high molybdenum content is worth noting. Also, lentils contain almost a full daily allowance of folic acid and about 50% of the daily allowance of phosphorus, copper, and manganese; in slightly smaller quantities, it contains magnesium, zinc, and potassium. This member of the legume family is rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as B vitamins.
VARIETIES OF LENTILS
Large lentils (6–7 mm in diameter) with a green seed coat are plate lentils. In such lentils, yellow cotyledons are hidden under the shell. Lentils with a smaller seed size come in different colors: green, green marble (“French”), black (“beluga”), brown-red, etc. But the most common varieties in Russia are lentils with green and brown-red shells. In brown-red lentils (crimson variety), under the shell of the cotyledon is red-orange.
Shelled lentils need to be boiled for 25-30 minutes and are good as a side dish as they hold their shape well after being cooked.
Sometimes, lentil grains are polished while obtaining new products in appearance and culinary properties. So, from green lentils, in which the cotyledons are yellow inside, after removing the shell, yellow lentils are obtained, and when the shell is removed from Crimson lentils, red lentils are obtained.
Cooking time for polished lentils is much less – 10-15 minutes. But it retains its shape worse after cooking and is therefore suitable for mashed soups, pates, and cereals.
With the help of technological equipment, lentils are split into cotyledons, and lentils have obtained both wholes and chopped (halves of cotyledons). Also, with the help of polishing technology, you can get different colors in intensity. Bright lentils (red and yellow) – polished, paler colors with a slight powdery coating – unpolished.
Also, green, unpolished lentils may differ in color on the shelves – over time, it becomes brown. Its color largely depends on storage conditions. If it is left in daylight for a long time (for example, shelves in a store next to a window), it will turn brown faster no matter how fresh it is since chlorophyll under the influence of daylight (and even more so direct sunlight) will break down faster. The brown surface of the seeds of green lentils affects only its presentation. You can eat such lentils, but the taste remains normal.
WHICH LENTILS TO CHOOSE FROM – RED, GREEN, OR BROWN?
Lentils should be chosen based on taste preferences and on what kind of dish you intend to cook. Each type of lentil is unique in its way, both in taste and in culinary properties. Unpolished varieties with seed coats contain more fiber, retain their shape after cooking, and are great for side dishes and salads. Unpolished lentils can be sprouted because germinated seeds of many crops have more nutrients, and lentils are no exception.
Beluga lentils are the smallest variety; their grains are round, black, and shiny, like black eggs, hence the name. After cooking, it retains its shape perfectly and has a unique taste and aroma, as if a whole bouquet of fragrant spices has already been added to it. This variety of lentils is so self-sufficient that you can cook salt dishes from it. “Beluga” is perfect for salads, stews, soups, and side dishes.
Polished lentils practically do not retain their shape after cooking due to the lack of a shell. It has a delicate texture, and porridges, mashed soups, meatballs, pates, stews, and other dishes are excellent.
WHICH LENTIL IS HEALTHIER?
It is impossible to answer which lentils are more useful unequivocally. Each variety of lentils has some nutrients to a greater extent and some to a lesser extent. For example, the red type contains a large amount of iron, which is necessary for proper blood formation, and the green one has a better effect on the intestines due to the higher fiber content in the shell. All varieties of lentils contain the most necessary nutrients for the human body in a bioactive form, which allows them to be well and quickly absorbed.
All varieties of lentils have the following beneficial properties:
Benefits for digestion. Lentils are one of the leaders in fiber content among the representatives of the legume family; it contains both soluble and insoluble form. Both types of dietary fiber have a positive effect on the digestive system. Insoluble fiber absorbs fluid, swells, and promotes faster elimination of processed foods from the body. Soluble fiber turns into a jelly-like substance, maintaining a feeling of satiety for a long time.
Maintain normal blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Lentils help stabilize blood glucose and cholesterol levels, especially for people with diabetes, hypoglycemia, and insulin resistance. In the course of scientific research, it was found that people who consume 24–50 g of fiber daily have lower blood glucose levels. Against the background of regular high-fiber product consumption, the “bad” cholesterol content decreased by almost 12.5%. Lentils have a low glycemic index, so the sugars don’t get absorbed too quickly. In addition, this representative of the legume family contributes to the rapid restoration of damaged tissues, which often regenerate for a long time due to diabetes.
Prevention of atherosclerosis. Lentils contain essential antioxidants that prevent the risk of damage to blood vessels by atherosclerotic plaques. These antioxidants neutralize free radicals, preventing them from absorbing and destroying healthy cells in the body.
Fighting chronic fatigue. The lack of iron in the body causes increased fatigue, which is especially felt by the fair sex. One serving of boiled lentils allows you to replenish a third of the daily iron requirement. It is also worth mentioning that iron plays an important part in the process of transporting oxygen to all organs in the body. The absence of hypoxia allows a person to remain alert throughout the day.
Help the cardiovascular system. Inclusion in the diet of legumes, including lentils, helps reduce the risk of developing coronary artery disease (coronary heart disease) by almost 80%. It also became known that people with a diet rich in fiber (and as mentioned above, fiber is found in abundance in lentils) are less susceptible to diseases of the cardiovascular system.
BENEFITS OF LENTILS FOR WOMEN AND MEN
- This unique member of the legume family is very useful for women. Lentils contain isoflavones, phytoestrogens, and plant compounds similar to the female hormone estrogen and are often recommended as a menopausal supportive remedy.
- Men are also advised to include lentils in their regular diet, especially men who lead an active lifestyle, play sports, or do physical labor. Due to their high protein content, legumes provide support for muscle mass. And, of course, the beneficial effect of lentils on the cardiovascular system is important.
CONTRAINDICATIONS AND HARM OF LENTILS
Despite all the beneficial properties, lentils can be harmful to health due to their content of antinutrients. These substances are present in all legumes. They make it difficult for nutrients to be absorbed in the intestines. The amount of these substances is significantly reduced during the soaking and heat treatment of lentils.
Lentils contain proteins called lectins, which are not broken down by digestive enzymes and negatively affect bowel function. When consumed excessively, lectins can disrupt the intestinal barrier and increase intestinal permeability. Saponins cause the same harm to the body. To avoid getting this protein into the body, lentils should be boiled at a temperature of 100 ° C for at least 10 minutes, or the beans should be soaked overnight, then drained.
Phytic acid, also present in these legumes, interferes with the normal absorption of iron, calcium, and zinc. To reduce its content, be sure to soak the beans before cooking.
Lentils contain a lot of fiber, and if overused, this product can cause flatulence and constipation. The recommended norm of lentils is a portion of 200 g, while it is enough to consume only 2-3 days a week.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT LENTIL?
“First of all, you should pay attention to the integrity of the package and evaluate the quality of the product inside,” explains Veronika Sarvarova. – To make this possible, lentils in transparent packaging should be preferred. The color of the beans should be uniform; the seeds should not have impurities and damage. Of course, you need to carefully study the composition and expiration date because this affects the quality of the product.