Red lentils are legumes that grow in pods. The pods contain either one or two round, oval or heart-shaped lentil seeds, sometimes smaller than the tip of a pencil eraser. Sold whole or split into halves, red lentils are a significant source of protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber. A diet rich in lentils promotes low cholesterol and normal blood sugar levels.
Red lentils are an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. A 1/4-cup serving of lentils contains 7 grams of fiber, or 28 percent of the recommended daily value. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that helps lower blood cholesterol and keep blood sugar levels stable. Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive tract, which helps prevent constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis. Eating a high-fiber diet also helps protect against heart disease and diabetes.
Red lentils contain about 100 micrograms of folate per quarter cup, or 25 percent of the recommended daily value. Folate is a B-vitamin that helps produce and maintain new cells, which is especially important for pregnant women and infants. Folate also helps reduce high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can damage artery walls and increase your risk for heart disease. In the presence of folate, homocysteine rapidly converts to the more beneficial amino acids cysteine or methionine.
Eating red lentils can help you replenish your iron stores -- a 1/4-cup serving provides about 15 percent of the mineral's recommended daily value. Iron helps transport oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body. An iron deficiency limits oxygen delivery to cells, making you feel tired and decreasing your immunity. Lentils and other plant sources contain non-heme iron, which is not as bio-available as the iron found in animal sources. Consuming lentils with foods that are high in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, significantly boosts the amount of iron your body is able to absorb.
Red lentils are a significant source of magnesium, the fourth most abundant mineral in your body. A 1/2-cup serving provides about 8 percent of the nutrient's daily value. Over 300 biochemical reactions in your body require magnesium. Muscle, nerve, heart and immune system function all depend on proper levels of magnesium. Magnesium also helps build strong bones, regulate blood sugar levels and maintain normal blood pressure. A magnesium deficiency not only increases your risk of heart attack, but also the severity of injury after one occurs.
With 50 percent of the daily recommended value per 1/4-cup serving, red lentils are high in molybdenum. This essential trace nutrient functions as a co-factor for a number of enzymes important to your body's ability to metabolize carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. Molybdenum deficiencies are rare, and usually result from genetic errors affecting the function of molybdenum co-factors.
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