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Lentil as anything

By Pamela Allardice
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Lentil as anything

Want to live to a ripe old age? Pamela Allardice has the scoop on what might just be the nutritional fountain of youth.

Long considered food for peasants or even livestock, the humble lentil is making a culinary comeback in smart restaurants. More importantly, lentils are a nutritional powerhouse, with research linking these seeds with longevity and disease prevention.

  • Help your heart In one study, men with high blood cholesterol levels ate a set diet for 3 weeks, then for the next 3 weeks added 115g of lentils daily, keeping total calorie and fat intake the same. Their blood cholesterol fell by 19%, and 'bad' LDL cholesterol by 24%. Lentils also contain folic acid, which protects against heart disease by lowering blood levels of the inflammatory amino acid homocysteine.

  • Reduce diabetes risk Lentils slow down digestion, meaning they are gradually absorbed into your bloodstream as glucose, so only small amounts of the hormone insulin need to be released to keep blood sugar levels steady. Lentils are low on the Glycaemic Index (GI), making them valuable to type 1 and type 2 diabetics. In fact, one study showed that women eating lentils regularly were one-third less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

  • Fight cancer Lentils contain insoluble fibre, which isn't digested in your small intestine but moves instead to your colon. There, bacteria act on it to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which encourage gut-friendly bacteria. Insoluble fibre also bulks up stools, helping to avoid constipation and prevent carcinogenic substances from adhering to the colon walls. Plus, the folate and vitamin B6 in lentils protects against breast cancer, with one study equating two servings per week with a massive 24% reduction in risk.

  • Balance your diet (and your budget) Lentils offer an impressive amount of protein and blood-fortifying iron — a 130g serving supplies almost as much iron as a 100g serving of lean beef, and whereas the beef has nearly 6g of fat, the lentils have under 1g. They also weigh in at a fraction of the cost of animal-derived protein and they are wonderfully versatile. Use them in a tomato-based pasta sauce; to 'stretch' a stew in these belt-tightening times; or curl up with the original comfort food – a steaming bowl of lentil and vegetable soup.

    P.S. Worried about lentils', um, musical nature? Add digestion-enhancing spices like ginger and cumin to reduce wind.

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