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Health Benefits Of Lentils

Jan 15, 2011 2:25:46 PM - thesundayleader.lk

By Dr. Harold Gunatillake – Health Writer

We have derogated some schools in Sri Lanka in the past, as “parippu” schools and have ridiculed the boys of those respective schools, without realizing and appreciating the health values of lentils. In most hostels they restrict the quantity of rice on your plate, but lentil curry is served separately, and that is God given to fill your stomach. The reason being lentils were cheaper compared to rice those days, and you could eat lentils curry ad lib to supplement your hunger.
Lentils are legumes that grow like peas and beans in a pod, with two lentil seeds inside each pocket. The seeds are dried and exported mainly from India. They have a very long shelf life and could be stored in bags for years.

There are hundreds of varieties of lentils, which range in colour from yellow, orange, red, green and brown to black and can be bought with or without their skin. The most popular one in Sri Lanka is the orange one we call “Mysore dhal” which never comes from Mysore in India.

Today, lentils are used throughout the world, particularly Eastern Europe, India and Sri Lanka. Lentil soups are quite popular in five-star hotel menus.

Nutrients in lentils

Lentils are full of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. When the fiber content is high, it helps reduce absorption of cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels, and encourages good bowel movement.

Protein content of lentils is exceptionally high and becomes the poor man’s protein, like sprats.

There is high folic acid content, too.

Lentils are one of the highest sources of antioxidants and helps longevity.


Lentils, raw     Nutritional value per
(Dry Weight)    100 g (3.5 oz)

Energy    1,477 kJ (353 kcal)
*     Carbohydrates    60 g
*    Dietary fiber    31 g
*     Fat    1 g
*     Protein    26 g
*     Vitamin A equiv.
*    Thiamine (Vit. B1)    0.87 mg
*     Folate (Vit. B9)    479 g
*     Iron    7.5 mg
Low Glycaemic Index (GI)

Lentils have a low GI of 30, like many other pulses and seeds. They delay absorption of food and as a result prevent swings in blood sugar level through the day.

People with diabetes should eat plenty of lentils, daily.

Coronary Heart disease

High fibre in lentils helps reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering the absorption of cholesterol. Low fat content is another factor.

Cancer prevention

A study carried out by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, has shown that diets high in lentils and peas (which both contain high levels of flavones) have reduced the risk of breast cancer. These studies are not exhaustive, but have certainly thrown up some food for thought.

Adverse reactions from Lentils

The oxalate content of the seeds is very high, and too much lentils are not recommended to those who suffer from calcium oxalate kidney stones. Lentils can be cooked in so many ways. Try this one, the author’s choice.

Red Lentil Curry
Inspired by The Modern Vegetarian

This list of ingredients is long but much of it is spices.  The stew actually comes together quite quickly.


Vegetable oil or grape seed oil
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. black or yellow mustard seeds
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 ½ inches of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno chili, seeded, finely chopped
1 ½ tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
Pinch of chili powder
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups red lentils
2 cinnamon sticks (or 1, if large)
2 cups water
1 15-oz. can “light” coconut milk
Sea salt
Juice of 1 lemon
A bunch of mint, chopped
A bunch of cilantro, chopped


Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a large pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds.  Be careful as they will begin to pop.  Immediately add the onion, adjust the heat to medium, and cook until softened – for about 5 minutes.  Add the ginger, garlic, chili, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, and chili powder and fry for 3 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and fry the mixture for 1 minute.
Add the lentils and stir to coat them with the oil and spices.  Add the cinnamon stick, water, and coconut milk.  Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat so the dhal is at a simmer.  Cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom, until the lentils have partially lost their shape and are soft – for about 15 minutes.  Stir in more liquid as necessary for the consistency you want.

Remove the pot from the heat, season with sea salt and add the lemon juice to taste.  At this point, you can allow the dhal to cool and then cover and refrigerate it overnight.  When reheating on the stove, you will need to add more liquid as it will thicken as it sits.

About 10 minutes before serving, add the herbs.  You will want them to cook down a bit but not so much that they lose their color.

Serve warm over basmati rice and with a raita if desired.

Total Servings: 6

Nutritional Information Per Serving

Calories: 455.9
Carbohydrates: 53.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Fat: 19.0 g
Saturated Fat: 15.1 g
Fiber: 26.0 g
Sodium: 100.7 mg
Protein: 22.3 g

For more recipes go to Foodily.com

(Dana Treat — WebMD Recipe from Foodily.com)