Lentils Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
Lentils are an inexpensive, versatile, easy-to-find source of healthy carbohydrates. These disc-shaped pulses make a nutritious base for soups, salads, and a variety of other dishes. A pulse is the seed of a legume.
There are different sizes and different types of lentils. You’re likely to find green lentils or brown lentils on local grocery store shelves, but there are also lentil varieties including split red lentils, orange, red, yellow, and black lentils. Lentils’ impressive nutrition facts, long shelf-life, and easy cooking make them a smart and healthy addition to any diet.
Lentil Nutrition Facts
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 cup (180g) of cooked lentils with no added fat or salt.
- Fiber: 14.2g
A one-cup serving of lentils that has been cooked with no added fat or sodium provides 207 calories, most of which comes from carbohydrate. You’ll benefit from over 14 grams of fiber when you consume a cup of lentils. Fiber helps to stabilize blood sugar, lower cholesterol, boost satiety, and improve digestive health.
Lentils also provide about 3 grams of naturally-occurring sugar. The remaining carbohydrate in lentils is starch. There are over 18 grams of starch in a single serving of lentils, which provides the body with quick energy.
Lentils have a glycemic index (GI) of about 35, although the number varies slightly depending on the type of lentil and whether or not they are cooked. As a reference, foods with a GI of 55 or below are considered low glycemic foods. All lentils are considered low glycemic foods.
There is almost no fat in lentils, which makes them a naturally fat-free food. However, many cooks add fat such as olive oil when they cook lentils, and that will change the nutrition facts.
Each 1 cup serving of lentils provides a healthy 16 grams of protein. For this reason, many vegans and vegetarians use lentils to boost their protein intake. However, lentils are not considered a complete protein. Complete proteins provide all of the essential amino acids that cannot be made by the body and therefore must be consumed in the diet.
You’ll need to combine lentils with a whole grain or with seeds in order to get all essential amino acids at mealtime.
Vitamins and Minerals
Lentils are packed with nutrients. You’ll get 81% of your daily recommended intake of folate if you consume a cup of lentils. Folate, a B vitamin, helps boost red blood cell production and provides other health benefits.
Lentils are also rich in thiamin, phosphorus, iron, potassium, copper, and manganese. They are a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and zinc. These pulses also provide smaller amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, riboflavin, calcium, and selenium.
Lentils have been studied by nutrition researchers for years because the food is commonly consumed around the world and because increasing your intake of this versatile food seems to provide health benefits.
Improved Heart Health
Several studies have shown that legume consumption is associated with a lower risk of different types of heart disease. In fact, several heart-healthy diets, including the DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean-style diet plans promote an increased intake of plant-based foods such as legumes for the heart-healthy benefits that they provide.4 Lentils are part of the legume family, along with beans and peas.
A nutritional analysis of lentils has shown that the polyphenol-rich seeds have the ability to provide cardioprotective effects including reducing the risk of hypertension and coronary artery diseases. Human studies, animal studies, and in vitro studies have suggested that lentils may provide a cardioprotective effect.
May Help Decrease Cholesterol
A review published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that including pulses like lentils helps to lower LDL cholesterol (also called “bad” cholesterol).
Improves Glycemic Control
Another review of studies found that increasing intake of pulses like chickpeas, beans, peas, lentils can help both diabetic and non-diabetic patients improve long-term glycemic control in their diets.
An evaluation of the nutritional value of legumes published in Obesity Reviews determined that “replacing energy-dense foods with legumes has been shown to have beneficial effects on the prevention and management of obesity and related disorders, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome.”
Study authors suggest replacing high-calorie, high-fat meaty foods (such as burgers and sausage) with lentil-based products or combining meat with lentils in the production of those foods to reduce fat and calorie content.
There is some research suggesting that the lectins in lentils may provide cancer-preventing properties. Lectins are a type of protein commonly found in grains and legumes.
Nutritional analysis of lentils has shown that lentils have the highest total phenolic content in comparison to six other common legumes, including green pea, chickpea, cowpea, yellow pea, mung bean and peanuts. Lentils also have the highest total antioxidant capacity when they are compared to chickpeas, common beans and soybeans.
Both in vitro (test tube) and human studies have suggested that lentils have anticancer properties and that lentil intake may reduce the risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, lentil allergies are not only possible but also common in children in certain areas of the world (primarily the Mediterranean, Middle East, and some Asian countries). However, the organization acknowledges that the wide variety of lentils can make clinical recommendations and guidelines difficult.
Symptoms of a legume (including pulse) allergy may include swelling in the face, difficulty breathing, severe asthma, abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting, according to the Anaphylaxis Campaign, an allergy support network based in England.
If you suspect that you have an allergy to legumes or lentils, speak with your healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis.
There is some limited evidence that sprouted lentils interact with the cardiovascular drug trichlormethiazide. Sprouted lentils are those that have begun to grow. You’ll see tiny stems emerging from lentils if you buy this type of pulse. If you take this medication, speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized advice regarding a potential interaction.
Some people are concerned about antinutrients in lentils. These are compounds that interfere with nutrient absorption. However, the term is misleading because all plants contain these nutrients, which have an effect only when consumed in extremely large quantities. The effects of these nutrients are negligible at the quantities you likely consume lentils.
Trypsin inhibitors and phytate are the two “antinutrients” in lentils. Tryspin inhibitors hinder the function of an enzyme called trypsin, which helps break down proteins. Phytate (phytic acid) binds minerals like iron and zinc, impairing their ability to be absorbed and used by the body—but it also contributes anti-cancer properties and plays other preventive roles in conditions like heart disease and insulin resistance.
So, unless you have a condition that may be impacted by these nutrients (such as iron-deficiency anemia) you shouldn’t worry about them too much. As a precautionary measure, rinsing your lentils before cooking and cooking them appropriately reduces the amount of phytate they contribute to your diet.
There are many different varieties of lentils. Brown lentils are the most common. They have an earthy flavor and are the type that you are most likely to find at your grocery store. Green lentils are also commonly found in supermarkets and have a similar taste with a peppery edge.
Less common varieties include yellow, red, black beluga, and Puy lentils, known for their blue-grey color.
Research suggests that lentils with a green or grey color offer a greater abundance of flavonols, making them the healthiest choice.
When It’s Best
You’ll find lentils in the grocery store all year long. When you buy lentils, look for uncracked discs that have not been exposed to dust or moisture. You can buy lentils in pre-packed containers (like bags or boxes), but many stores also sell lentils in the bulk section so you can buy only the amount that you need.
You can also purchase canned lentils that are pre-cooked. However, you should check the ingredients list to make sure that no sodium or other unwanted ingredients are added to the product.
Storage and Food Safety
Store lentils in an air-tight container in your pantry or in another cool dark place. If stored properly, lentils should stay good for up to 12 months.
Freezing lentils is possible, but it is best after they are cooked. Because lentils take a long time to prepare, you can cook a large batch, divide into small portions, and freeze in small, air-tight containers. Then take them out as needed for soups, stews, and other dishes.